Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi has detailed further safety measures incoming to its platform following a second murder of a female passenger last month.
The 20-year-old woman had been using Didi’s Hitch carpooling service in Zhejiang, a province in the east of China, during the day.
Another female user of the p2p service was murdered in May, after getting a late night ride back from her job as an air stewardess. The unverified driver had apparently been using an account belonging to his father (who had been verified by Didi).
The new safety features, which include a button to call the police, are set to be phased in over the coming days.
Didi says it will temporarily suspend late-night Taxi, Express, Uber China, Didi Select, Didi Express Pool, Premier and Luxe services each day, between 23:00 until 5:00 — from September 8 to 15 — on the Chinese mainland while it does this. So it’s temporarily shutting down a large swathe of its mainland China services overnight for a week on safety grounds.
During this time, it says its Bike, Designated Driving, Bus, overseas Car Rental and used-car services will remain operational, and it urges users to plan their travel accordingly.
After the first murder Didi made some changes to how the Hitch service operates, temporarily suspending late night rides before resuming them in June — but only allowing drivers to pick up passengers of the same sex.
The second murder in August triggered a nationwide service suspension, and a spokeswoman confirmed to TechCrunch today that the Hitch service remains indefinitely suspended (“until there is a safety protection mechanism that is accepted by our users”).
In the wake of the murders, Didi’s handling of passenger safety has come in for acute criticism.
In the second case, it emerged that the driver had been flagged to Didi’s safety team by another female passenger the day before the murder — yet the customer service representative had failed to follow the new company policy of initiating an investigation within two hours — a policy that had been instigated after the earlier murder in May.
Didi fired the general manager for the Hitch service and its vice president of customer services. But it also managed to sound horribly tone-deaf in its response last month when it shoehorned ride completion numbers into its apology statement as if any metric could justify its failure to ensure passenger safety.
While Hitch remains suspended the company offers a plethora of other ride-hailing services and the measures announced today look intended to reduce the risk for users across its service more broadly.
Among the new safety measures it’s announced is a change to the operation of an SOS button — which it only updated in July (Didi says the feature originally launched in 2016). Instead of the one-click button alerting a user’s chosen emergency contacts it will directly dial the police in future.
Didi says it will also be added a Safety Center to its passenger app to offer quick access to various safety features, including the new “call police” button, as well as itinerary sharing.
It also plans to run a nationwide awareness campaign to ensure users know about the new features and are encouraged to set up contacts for itinerary sharing.
Additionally, the company says it will start trialing an on-route audio recording function on its Express and Premier services. “This will help to protect drivers and passengers while ensuring the recordings are encrypted and stored according to rigorous data protection protocol,” it writes.
Other changes to its operations are an upgrade to its driver safety education program — with the company saying drivers must complete a safety knowledge test every day before they start service.
Didi also says it will step up its driver background checks and daily use of facial recognition tech as part of its inspection checks to pick up driver-vehicle mismatch, which was launched in May (after the system had failed to picked up the driver who was using his father’s account).
The company adds that it will continue to cooperate with the police to “crack down on criminal offenses at all costs”, adding: “We will adopt a zero-tolerance policy against lawless behavior.”
It also flags additional investments in customer service — saying it will beef up its in-house team to 8,000 staff by the end of the year up from 5,000 currently, although it has also leaned on 10,000 subcontracted customers service reps — so is evidently seeking to bring more of that operation in-house (presumably to shrink the risk of any similarly fatal complaint handling errors in future).
“Didi will make all-out efforts to build an extensive societal partnership to ensure our core safety standards and protect the interests and rights of our law-abiding driver-partners in accordance with the authorities’ expectations,” it writes. “We will share progress and reviews of the rectification period with the public.”
Last month, after the second Didi murder, the Chinese government announced incoming reforms of the transportation industry to improve passenger safety. So the threat of tighter regulation is looming.
This report was updated to clarify that Didi first launched an SOS button in 2016