Saturday, July 20, 2019

Death puts ride-hailing giant in retreat

Aug 27. 2018
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DIDI Chuxing, China’s largest online car-hailing platform, has decided to suspend its “hitch” ride service nationwide after the alleged rape and murder of a female passenger by a Didi driver in Zhejiang province over the weekend.

The company has halted its online hitch ride services across the country and re-evaluated its business model, the company said in a statement.

Didi’s slow response to emergency calls has been widely blamed in the Zhejiang case, the second such homicide this year after a flight attendant was killed by her hitch service driver on May 5 in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

The company also dismissed Huang Jieli, general manager for its hitch riding business, and Huang Jinhong, vice-president for client services, from their duties, according to the statement.

The Ministry of Transport, together with the Ministry of Public Security and related agencies in Tianjin, where Didi Chuxing is registered, summoned senior company executives on Sunday for face-to-face discussions, and urged it to rectify its online hitch riding services, enhance security measures and release improved measures in a timely fashion to the public.

The two murders exposed perils of passenger safety and serious loopholes in Didi’s management and operations, Xu Yahua, director of the transportation services department of the Ministry of Transport, said while meeting Didi representatives.

The Transport Ministry urged Didi to launch a thorough investigation into recent cases and severely punish those responsible, according to a ministry release on Sunday.

From now on, no unauthorised vehicles and drivers are allowed to use the company’s platform, and those already admitted will be expelled if they fail to meet requirements, the ministry said. 

Didi is also required to connect its operational information and data to a national supervision platform, and ensure the quality and accuracy of the information.

Didi promised to complete and submit its rectification plan by September 1, and enhance input to improve and upgrade its current client service system. It will also launch a channel to help passengers contact police in case of an emergency, according to the ministry release. 

The latest deadly case occurred on Friday in which a 20-year-old woman surnamed Zhao in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, was allegedly raped and killed by her driver, surnamed Zhong, a 27-year-old from Sichuan province, according to local police.

She was scheduled to meet her friends in Yongjia, which is also part of Wenzhou, to attend a classmate’s birthday party.

Zhao entered a hitch-ride vehicle at 1 pm on Friday, and sent a message to her friend at 2 pm, saying the driver was driving her to “a depopulated mountainous area”.

“Help! Save me!” This was the last message before her friend lost contact with Zhao. 

Hangzhou-based Dushikuaibao newspaper reported on Sunday that one of Zhao’s friends contacted Didi seven times between 3:42 pm and 4:42 pm on Friday, but Didi did not provide detailed information about the driver due to privacy protection concerns.

At 5:42 pm, Didi called back and said they called the driver Zhong, but Zhong said Zhao never entered his vehicle.

Wenzhou police said they found the suspect at about 4 am on Saturday. They said Zhong confessed to raping and killing Zhao, and the victim’s body had been recovered.

Zhong confessed that he raped Zhao then stabbed her with a dagger in the neck at around 2:50 pm at Danxi town in Yueqing. He then threw her body off an elevated expressway. Zhao died of massive bleeding from the neck, according to the police.

Didi said the driver had passed background checks and had logged in with his authentic ID, and he had also been confirmed by facial recognition on Friday. However, the driver had altered the car’s licence plate before the trip.

The company also revealed that on Thursday, another passenger complained to Didi that Zhong had repeatedly requested that she sit in the front seat, drove her to a remote area, and then followed her “for a distance” after she got out of the car. However, the customer service representative who took the complaint failed to investigate within two hours, as the firm promises.

“No matter what the reasons, we shoulder a responsibility that can’t be shirked,” Didi said in the statement.

On Saturday, local transportation management authorities in Zhejiang banned Didi’s hitch service in the province due to safety concerns.

Management flaws 

“Didi’s hitch service was first designed as a co-sharing, mutually beneficial civil activity. But there is no doubt that systematic security issues have emerged as a prominent problem as the service evolved,” He Guangyun, division chief for policies and regulations at the Hangzhou transportation bureau, told China Daily on Sunday. For example, during the process of the formation and distribution of hitch service orders, both drivers and passengers can cancel orders on their own without notification, which poses a security danger as the platform then has no way to track the whereabouts of both vehicles and passengers.

In addition, Didi lacks an immediate and effective emergency response system. 

This leads to problems in providing details on drivers, vehicle types and plate numbers, he added. 

Didi’s hailing app also lacks an effective external security assurance system.

For example, it could have embedded a one-click button on its app to allow passengers to directly contact police, the division chief said.

“This would psychologically intimidate and deter drivers, and prevent impromptu criminal acts when both drivers and passengers are inside the confined space of a car,” he said.

Yi Shenghua, a lawyer with Yingke Law Firm in Beijing, said Didi needs to do more to protect pasengers.

“Didi should bear more supervisory responsibilities in such services,” Yi said. 

The China Taxi Industry Alliance, an organisation composed of over 50 taxi companies nationwide, issued an open letter on Saturday calling for related authorities to investigate and look into the responsibilities that online ride-hailing platforms should bear.

“The chaos and misconduct of some online hailing services should be fixed,” said the open letter.


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