Didi Chuxing is making big changes to Hitch, its inter-city carpooling service, following the murder of a passenger at the hands of a driver earlier this month.
Last week, Didi — China’s dominant ride-hailing service by some margin — expressed its “deep remorse” for the murder, and suspended Hitch for a week to conduct a review of the service.
Hitch, as the name suggests, is a hitchhiking-style service that groups people who are headed in the same direction together. Unlike Didi’s other services, it isn’t commercial; passengers give the driver their share of fuel and any other costs they want to cover. That makes it affordable and hugely popular, but it has also made the service less professional than Didi’s other modes of transport. Indeed, many in China have claimed the service is ‘sleazy,’ with many comments left about passenger appearances, particularly those who are female.
The primary change will see Hitch available limited to daytime when the service resumes, with no new rides able to start between the hours of 10pm and 6am.
In an apparent nod to the unsavory elements, Didi is scrubbing all Hitch driver and passenger reviews and ratings. Personal information for users will no longer be public, and profile photos will be replaced by generic images, Didi said.
Beyond Hitch, Didi is also making changes to its driver authentication program.
That’s down, in a large part, to the fact that the suspect in the murder of the passenger was not a verified Didi driver. He was able to use the app (on more than one occasion) by taking the smartphone belonging to his father, who is a verified Didi driver. Didi’s facial recognition technology, which verifies a driver’s identity before granting them access to the service, failed in this instance — Didi said it was “defective” that day.
Didi is closing down the option for its drivers to use other people’s cars with their permission, and implementing a “zero tolerance policy” on matching cars with their registered owners — a strange loophole that drew concern.
The Didi service added an SOS button two years ago, and now it is aiming to refine that further by introducing automatic audio recording which is passed in real-time to a customer support agent once an SOS is activated. The firm said it is also weighing adding video in the future. Conscious of privacy concerns, the company said the audio would be stored remotely, not on a passenger’s device, and deleted within 72 hours if not needed for longer.
“We understand that not everyone is comfortable with having their trips recorded. Additional user authorization may also be needed if in-vehicle video monitoring were to be introduced in the future,” the company said.
“Nevertheless, this could be a most effective means to enhance safety standards, and to ensure adequate evidence support for potential dispute resolution,” Didi added. “Would this be an acceptable solution in the eyes of our users?”
That’s one of a series of questions put out by Didi, which said it will solicit opinions for potential safety measures. The company said it has booked “proactive consultation sessions with relevant authorities and experts” and it will also put out a call for comment on its social media channels.
Didi is facing pressure from rival Meituan Dianping, which started out in local services but recently introduced ride-sharing services and moved into dockless bikes with the acquisition of Mobike.
This is not the first time that Didi, which became China’s single-largest ride-hailing company when it bought out Uber’s local business in 2016, has dealt with the murder of a customer. Two years ago, a woman in Shenzhen was robbed and murdered by a Didi driver.