Didi under fire after second murder in 3 months

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/29 18:43:40

Latest murder of a female passenger sparks widespread public criticism, prompts authorities to consider tougher regulations

Photo: IC

Recent incidents in the ride-hailing sector have aroused widespread online debate in China. The Global Times spoke with a group of Didi Hitch drivers and employees concerning the safety issues of this growing internet giant, the most valuable unicorn backed by Alibaba and Apple. Some observers have suggested that Didi should have done more to improve its services, carry out tighter driver background checks and enhance emergency measures. However, the public is divided on who - authorities or the company - is responsible for the recent murders and rapes of female passengers. Some experts have also questioned current regulations and industry policies.

When Huang Lijie, former general manager of Didi Hitch, was invited to a wedding ceremony in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province in March, she made a speech saying that she was proud of the couple, who met each other during a ride-sharing experience.

The groom was a driver of Didi Hitch, the carpool division of Didi Chuxing, while the bride was his passenger.

The two soon fell in love and decided to get married - a perfect outcome of the fast-growing car-hailing platform's titillating marketing campaign for its Hitch services. 

However, Didi is now confronted with a trust crisis, after two female passengers were killed by Hitch drivers within in just three months.

A 21-year-old female flight attendant was raped and fatally stabbed after she booked a Hitch car in May in Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province.

On Friday afternoon, a 20-year-old woman took a Didi Hitch service car in Yueqing, East China's Zhejiang Province. She was later raped and killed by a Didi driver before the police came to her rescue.

"Ten minutes trade for a lifetime," "Hitch car leads me to meet you," "Early or late, I'm yours"… These are some of the flirtatious slogans that Huang has used in advertisements to define the car service as a sexy scenario that can play a big role in one's social network.

Inevitably, these seductive slogans and the above wedding anecdote have further infuriated the public in the past days, especially after Didi suspended its Hitch services following the latest incident in a slew of murder and sexual harassment cases.

"Inside the company, some people disagreed with the idea of marketing the car-hailing platform as a place to meet other people and make friends," a former employee of Didi Chuxing told the Global Times on Tuesday, who preferred not to be identified.

Didi, the Chinese counterpart of US car-hailing service Uber, has been growing rapidly thanks to booming transport demand and abundant capital amid the rise of the sharing economy in the country.

In the aftermath of the recent rapes and murders of female Didi passengers, the company's management loopholes and operation defects have aroused heated public discussion.

"After the flight attendant incident in Zhengzhou, Didi also suspended its Hitch services then, but I only saw small changes," Liu Gang, a white-collar worker in Dongguan, a city in Guangdong, told the Global Times on Monday.

The 31-year-old, who also works as a part-time Didi driver, said it is easy to register as a driver on the company's Hitch platform.

"[Hitch driver] applicants have to provide ID cards and driver's licenses while the vehicle [the applicant intends to use] does not necessarily need to belong to them. This low entry level shows the company is irresponsible," he said. 

Besides public outrage, Didi on Monday was also urged by Chinese authorities to fix its "deadly loopholes," after another female passenger was murdered just three months after the flight attendant lost her life.

Bad services

On Friday afternoon, the victim got into the Hitch car at around 1 pm. She then sent an SOS message around 2 pm to her friend expressing concern for her safety before becoming uncontactable. The information of the murder suspect - a 27-year-old Didi driver - was only forwarded to the local police about four hours later.   

Didi's customer service has been widely criticized for its lack of efficiency in handling the emergency, which delayed police rescue time and possibly cost the young woman her life.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said an industry insider who is close to Didi and preferred not to be identified.

"Didi's customer service employees and operating managers often help to modify personal information of some Didi drivers to meet related requirements, a major way to increase the number of drivers," he told the Global Times on Monday. 

Low entry levels, the lack of ability to anticipate security risks and inadequate emergency measures have resulted in Didi's recent fatal incidents, Shen Lijun, director of Urban Think Do Tank, told the Global Times.

Didi has recorded at least 17 rape and murder cases, according to open legal cases and company statements, Phoenix Weekly reported on Tuesday.

But Didi should not be the only one being blamed, said the former Didi employee. "When new regulations concerning car-hailing services take effect in different cities, the number of qualified drivers in turn largely declines," he told the Global Times.

For instance, if Beijing had enough driver supply, the company, of course, would choose the most qualified drivers to serve the public, he noted. "But Didi does not have that choice."

Who is responsible?

Some experts have noted that Didi, faced with snowballing public outrage and service boycotts, should not be the only party held accountable.

"It is still hard to clarify who is in charge of regulating online car-hailing platforms, which has been a new thing for policymakers," Li Yi, a senior research fellow at the Internet Research Center under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.

In 2016, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) released provisional rules on ride-hailing firms, specifying requirements for private cars that charge for services. Following this, local authorities came up with detailed rules in a number of cities across the country.

Critical qualifications for drivers and their cars in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, such as the possession of local household registrations, or hukou, and local plate numbers, as a result lifted the threshold for driver applications.

"If Didi strictly followed those rules, however, the company would have been dead, as some policies are not exactly market-driven," said the former employee.

Some cities might have compromised with applicants and tolerated some illegal operations for the sake of the supply issue, which needed to be addressed, Xu Kangming, an urban transportation expert close to the MOT, told the Global Times.

"Take the taxi industry as an example. Although the tariff has been kept under control, the supply of taxi drivers is still scarce," he said, noting that authorities should continue to encourage qualified drivers and vehicles while taking a harsh stance toward illegal activities.

Newspaper headline: Didi in dilemma


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