Chinese authorities say Didi bears 'unshirkable responsibility' for passenger's death

FILE PHOTO: A man is seen in front of a Didi sign before a promotional event of its Hitch service for the Spring festival travel rush, in Beijing, China January 24, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s police and transport ministry said on Sunday the country’s largest ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing had “unshirkable responsibility” for a ride-sharing passenger being raped and killed by a driver in the eastern city of Wenzhou.

The company met with both ministries in Beijing and the nearby port city of Tianjin and ordered to carry out a complete reform of its platform to ensure safety standards, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A Didi representative said the company felt deeply responsible and would complete by Sept 1 a new compliance operation to be inspected by the ministries and the public, according to Xinhua.

Earlier on Sunday, Didi Chuxing said it would suspend its Hitch carpooling service from Aug. 27 due “disappointing mistakes” while the company reevaluated the product’s business model.

Huang Jieli, Hitch’s general manager, and the company’s vice president for customer services, Huang Jinhong, have been removed from their positions, Didi’s statement said.

The suspected murder of a 20-year-old woman, who Wenzhou police identified only with the surname Zhao, is the latest in a series of violent crimes that have fuelled safety concerns about the service.

Zhao got into a Hitch carpool vehicle at 1 p.m. (0500 GMT) on Friday, and sent a message to a friend at around 2 p.m. seeking help before losing contact, according to a local police statement.

A 27-year-old driver named Zhong was detained at about 4 a.m. on Saturday and confessed to raping and killing the passenger, the local police statement said, adding that the victim’s body had been recovered and an investigation was continuing.

Didi said on Sunday that the suspect had no prior criminal record, had provided authentic documentation and passed a facial recognition test before starting work.

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.

The Hitch carpool service has run over 1 billion trips in the past three years, the company said. Didi is the biggest ride-sharing firm globally by number of trips.

STATE MEDIA CRITICISM

China’s state-backed media criticised Didi’s safety record on Sunday, while celebrities took to social media and pledged to delete the application.

“You’ve had so many incidents,” an unnamed family member of Zhao was quoted as saying in the Qianjiang Evening news, an official Zhejiang province publication.

“What are you going to do about your safety and service problems?”

Wang Chuanjun, a famous Chinese actor, on Sunday shared a screenshot of his phone as he prepared to delete the application. His post was shared over 58 thousand times on China’s Twitter-like Weibo and the hashtag “Wang Chuanjun uninstalls Didi” had been viewed nearly 9 million times by the evening.

China’s official Xinhua News agency criticised Didi for not doing more to prevent such incidents and said the company should face legal punishment if it failed to put customer’s safety first.

Didi has increased its safety measures for Hitch after the murder of a flight attendant during a Hitch ride in May sparked outrage. These included limiting Hitch drivers to only picking up passengers of the same sex during early morning and late evening hours.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Jane Merriman)

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