Didi suspends late-night ride-hailing services for a week after second killing
The safety revamp comes in the wake of the death of a young female passenger at the hands of a driver, which brought the company back under scrutiny after its previous efforts to step up safety failed to prevent the crime
Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing platform, will suspend all late-night services on the mainland for a week to effect an overhaul of its safety practices, following the killing of a second passenger in three months by one of its drivers.
The suspension will apply to taxi-hailing and other car-on-demand services on its platform between 11pm and 5am, starting from this Saturday to September 15, the Beijing-based company said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
The week-long halt in late-night services is meant to allow Didi to phase in added safety measures, which include an upgrading of a panic button to a direct link to the police. The company will also trial in-trip audio recording and intensify background checks of drivers, according to the statement.
Other measures include expanding an in-house customer service team from 5,000 to 8,000. Last month, the company handled a daily average of 2.12 million incoming user calls, 71 per cent of which were processed by AI-enabled chatbots.
The revamp comes in the wake of the death of a young, female passenger at the hands of a driver, which brought the company back under scrutiny after its previous efforts to step up safety failed to prevent the crime. A review of public court records by the South China Morning Post showed at least a dozen sexual assault convictions involving Didi drivers and their passengers.
Police in Yueqing city, in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, last month found the body of a 20-year-old female surnamed Zhao, and arrested her Didi driver who confessed to her rape and murder. In May, another woman, aged 21, was raped and killed in Zhengzhou, in central China, allegedly by an unregistered Didi driver whose body was later found in a river.
After staying silent for three days, Didi’s founder Cheng Wei and president Jean Liu issued a written apology for the second death last week, blaming the “breathless expansion” and pursuit of scale as the underlying reason that led ultimately to the lapses in security and safety.
The start-up that was celebrated in China for beating back Uber in a subsidy-backed price war had let “vanity” overtake its “original beliefs”, they said, and the company will now prioritise safety as the most important performance indicator and abandon scale and growth as their measurement of success.
The business model of Hitch, the service akin to an online version of hitchhiking, will be “thoroughly re-evaluated” and “suspended indefinitely” until there is a safety protection mechanism that is accepted by users, the statement noted.
The National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement last week that various government agencies will coordinate the regulation of ride-hailing operators, while expanding use of the country’s nascent social credit system across the transport sector.
Separately, an inspection team led by the Ministry of Transport began on-site investigations with Didi on Wednesday morning. The inspection aims to identify potential public security and passenger safety hazards.
Counting shareholders including Tencent Holdings, Baidu and Alibaba Group, Didi is said to be exploring an IPO and is locked in a battle for users with emerging rivals including Dida Chuxing, UCAR, Geely’s Caocao and Meituan-Dianping in ride-hailing.
Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.