Chinese ridesharing service Didi Chuxing has suspended Hitch, it’s free/tip-supported carpooling component that allows passengers to ride along with drivers headed in the same direction, after the second murder of a passenger this year.
Per the South China Morning Post, authorities in Leqing city in eastern Zhejiang province have arrested a suspect identified by the family name Zhong, who they said confessed to the rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman named Zhao who entered his car on Friday. Reuters reported that company officials have conceded their responsibility in the incident, saying that though the suspect had no criminal record, possessed valid identification, and passed a facial recognition test, they failed to act on a prior complaint about him:
But the company said on Saturday there was a prior complaint made against the driver on Thursday by a passenger who alleged the driver took them to a remote place and then followed the passenger after she got out of the car.
“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,” the company said in the statement.
As the Post noted, just three months ago a driver killed another female Didi Hitch passenger in Henan province. That incident prompted the app to make a number of changes, such as removing creepy personalised tags and ratings drivers could leave on passengers’ profiles, as well as suspending Hitch nighttime service for six weeks. The service also implemented the mandatory facial recognition scans, restricted drivers to only picking up passengers of the same sex at night, and added an emergency button that records audio and allows riders to contact Didi staff or authorities.
Those measures failed to prevent this week’s incident. Staff failed to launch an investigation after the prior claim of disturbing behaviour by the driver. Police said that the suspect had “authentic ID, driver licence and vehicle registration certificate,” the Post wrote, though he modified his licence plate before picking up passengers on the day of the killing. The ride occurred at 1 pm, outside the hours of the new restrictions on same-sex rides. The missing woman sent a text message to a friend asking for help, but Didi staff allegedly told friends and relatives they could not do anything unless a police report was filed first.
In 2016, Didi bought out Uber’s Chinese business in a deal worth tens of billions, and more recently it’s been trying to expand overseas, launching a branch in Mexico this year. However, as Reuters noted, widespread outrage in China over the murders has included criticism from the state-run Xinhua News agency and a social media campaign to delete the app. Per TechCrunch, the company has fired two executives working on Hitch, and it seems likely it will have no option but to close down the carpooling service given it seems unable to guarantee users’ safety.
“These two vicious incidents that have violated the life and safety of passengers [have] exposed the gaping operational loopholes of the Didi Chuxing platform,” the Chinese transport ministry said in a statement to AFP, per the BBC. “The Ministry demands that Didi… stops making empty promises and takes concrete steps to ensuring passengers’ safety.”