Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, the $60 billion-valued company that bought out Uber’s China business, has suspended its carpooling service after the murder of a female passenger. The fatality is the second such incident this year after a passenger was murdered in May.
Police this weekend arrested a man who is accused of raping and killing a 20-year-old female who rode with him via Didi’s Hitch service on Friday in Zhejiang, a province in the east of China. Reuters reports that the woman had messaged her friend earlier in the day asking for help before she disappeared.
Authorities in Zhejiang city Leqing suspended the service before Didi later announced it would suspend Hitch nationwide. Didi’s other (commercial) carpooling and ride-hailing services are not affected by this suspension.
“We are sorry the Hitch service… would be suspended for now because of our disappointing mistakes,” Didi said in a statement.
Hitch is a modern take on hitchhiking that lets a passenger ride for free with a driver headed in their direction. Passengers are encouraged to leave a tip to cover petrol, but the idea is to make each car ride more efficient. Didi doesn’t monetize the service, but it is a strategic way to attract passengers and drivers who may use other services that the firm does draw revenue from.
Didi claims Hitch has handled over a billion trips in the past three years, but there are major safety issues.
This latest murder occurred a little over three months after an air stewardess was killed in Henan province by a driver who got on to Didi’s platform using an account belonging to his father, a verified Didi driver. Following that incident, Didi suspended Hitch for six weeks. The service resumed in June with a number of restrictions, in particular, one that only allowed drivers to serve passengers of the same sex during late night hours.
This fatal Zhejiang ride occurred at 1pm, according to police, and there’s plenty to be concerned with.
Didi said in a statement that the alleged murderer, who does not have a criminal record, had been flagged to Didi’s safety team just one day before. A female passenger complained that the driver had requested her to ride in the front seat and then followed her for some time after she left his vehicle.
The Didi safety center representative who handled the complaint had not followed company policy of initiating an investigation within two hours, according to Reuters. That policy was introduced during the suspension period after Didi discovered another passenger had flagged suspicious behavior from the driver who then went on to commit the murder in May.
“The incident shows the many deficiencies with our customer service processes, especially the failure to act swiftly on the previous passenger’s complaint and the cumbersome and rigid process of information sharing with the police. This is too high a cost to pay. We plead for law enforcement and the public to work with us in developing more efficient and practical collaborative solutions to fight criminals and protect user personal and property safety,” Didi said in a statement.
The company confirmed that it has fired two executives following the murder: the general manager for Hitch and the company’s vice president of customer services.
Didi said it will launch a “co-supervisory process of our operations” which it invited members of the public and experts to take part in.
Following the murder in May, Didi said it has booked “proactive consultation sessions with relevant authorities and experts” as it sought to shore up its safety processes.
Didi has operated a virtual monopoly on ride-hailing services since it acquired and integrated Uber’s China business in 2016, but this year it has seen increased competition.
In particular, Didi is facing pressure from rival Meituan Dianping, which started out in local services but recently introduced ride-sharing services and moved into dockless bikes with the acquisition of Mobike. Meituan recently filed to go public in Hong Kong, with some reports suggesting it could raise as much as $4 billion.
Meituan is involved in a dogfight with Alibaba to win China’s local services market — Alibaba just amped up its efforts with a $3 billion raise for its Ele.me business unit — but no doubt Meituan will now doubly focus on its own safety and security measures to push its case as a legitimate alternative to Didi.
Didi has gone to great pains to emphasize that Hitch is well used — it hamfistedly shoved a mention of the service’s ride completion numbers into its apology statement — but at this point it seems best to shutter the service if it can’t guarantee the safety of all passengers, no matter how popular or strategic it may be.