Didi hitch services murders show greater regulatory efforts needed to ensure safety in China

By Xiao Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/27 22:23:39

The rape and murder on Friday of a 20-year-old female passenger by a driver for Didi Chuxing's Hitch service, the second such incident in three months, shows the urgent need for a real overhaul of the Chinese ride-hailing behemoth. More importantly, it calls for a rethink by the government to tighten its grip on all areas related to safety, security and health in China. That means changes to the regulatory framework and much harsher penalties for all parties that are legally accountable for acts that damage safety and security.

Rather than making the usual response of calling for rectification and suspension of relevant services, the authorities should have the foresight to put safety, security, healthcare and environmental protection, among other issues involved with quality growth, on the front burner as they ponder regulation of the huge new sharing economy. Prior to the tragedy on Friday afternoon in Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, a 21-year-old flight attendant was raped and killed by a Hitch driver in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province late at night on May 5. In both cases, previous female passengers complained to Didi about the drivers harassing them. Apparently, Didi failed to respond effectively.

The meteoric rise of the ride-hailing provider, now the world's largest in terms of the number of trips, has in recent years been hailed as a hallmark of China's vibrant sharing economy. The pitiful deaths of the two female passengers, however, have the public riled up over the star company, which is now valued at $56 billion.

Didi apologized and halted the Hitch service after the May incident. This time around, the company also issued an apology and announced the suspension of its hitch services. It also removed two senior executives. But one wonders what difference such steps really make.

Over the past few years, there have been continued calls for the country to avoid excessive regulation that might strangle the growth of the new economy, which highlights peer-to-peer-based sharing. It makes good sense, in that a sharing economy boom dovetails nicely with the Chinese economy's shift toward being driven by innovative, quality growth. But the sharing economy, while bringing enormous convenience and efficiency to everyday life, has posed immense safety challenges.

The latest murder drew a rebuke against Didi from the government, with the Ministry of Transport posting two editorials on its website on Sunday that accused the car-hailing company of having serious loopholes in its operations and management. The ministry called for action to plug the deadly leaks.

But such rebukes to Didi - and many other businesses that have thrived amid a rebalancing Chinese economy but have yet to put safety ahead of profits - aren't enough. Coordinated government oversight is needed, along with harsher penalties for all parties involved in an incident. For instance, if Didi had to pay huge fines for negligence involving the two deaths, then it would do its utmost to deal with safety and security. That suggests more fundamental regulatory efforts are needed, as well as the wisdom to identify problems and solutions and put them on top of the agenda.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. bizopinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Newspaper headline: Didi hitch services murders show greater regulatory efforts needed to ensure safety


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