24 March 2019
Didi Chuxing has vowed to improve its systems and driver checks after a second murder incident involving a female passenger in three months. Photo: Reuters
Didi Chuxing has vowed to improve its systems and driver checks after a second murder incident involving a female passenger in three months. Photo: Reuters

Didi grapples with fallout of another terrible driver crime

Chinese ride-hailing services giant Didi Chuxing is facing a huge backlash following news of another terrible crime involving one of its drivers.

According to media reports over the weekend, a 20-year-old woman was raped and killed by her driver while she was using a Didi car-pooling service in Wenzhou city.

It marked the second murder of a Didi passenger in China in three months, after a previous incident in May which saw a flight attendant allegedly killed by her driver.

Following the latest disaster, Beijing-based Didi, which was founded in 2012, has apologized to the public and vowed to overhaul its services.

It promised to put in place a new compliance system that will result in improved background checks on its drivers and ensure better passenger safety.

But that hasn’t quelled a volley of criticism from state media, regulators and the general public, with some netizens even calling for deletion of the Didi app from mobile devices.

Car-pooling service is not quite the same as Didi’s main business–car hailing.

In the case of car hailing, all drivers are required to register and their information is verified. Also, all data about the route, the point where the passenger gets on and off are recorded in the system.

There were no smartphones or surveillance cameras in the old days, and passengers would not note down the car plate numbers when they got into a car in China. Therefore, it was very difficult for the police to track down criminal drivers.

In Hong Kong, there was a notorious taxi driver who killed four women passengers between February and July in 1982. Police struggled to find the criminal as there were about 10,000 cab drivers in the city.

Authorities did eventually manage to track down the person, but only because the killer made the mistake of going to a photo shop to get some prints made of images of dismembered victims.

With today’s technology, car-hailing is supposed to be safer than traditional tax service.

Additionally, passengers can check the driver’s name, photo, car plate numbers and comments from other passengers on online platforms.

In the worst case, if something bad happened, the police will have more information to back their investigation.

That’s why there were only few criminal cases involving online taxi-hailing platforms like Didi or Uber in recent years.

But car-pooling service is another thing. It’s more like ride-sharing, which pairs drivers and passengers traveling the same route. That enables passengers to pay much less than a normal taxi fare, while private car owners can earn some pocket money to compensate the fuel costs.

But there is no stringent screening procedure, and almost anyone can participate. Many have underestimated the risks of such service.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 28

Translation by Julie Zhu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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