Public outrage at Didi boils over with second passenger killing

Society & Culture

Didi Chuxing, China’s biggest ride-hailing company, is in hot water again. Over the weekend, the public’s outrage over its safety problem reached a fever pitch, fueled by the news that a 20-year-old female passenger was raped and murdered by her driver, who was arrested by local police on Saturday morning and confessed to the crime.

Shorty after the incident, Didi published a statement on Weibo, apologizing to the victim’s family for its “mistakes” and vowing to “conduct a thorough internal investigation.” It also announced that it had fired two high-profile executives at the company and suspended its carpooling service Hitch nationwide.

But as the People’s Daily commented (in Chinese) on Weibo, Didi has made so many promises that have not been sufficiently realized. In May, after a 21-year-old flight attendant was reportedly raped and murdered by her Didi driver, the car-hailing giant released a statement that reads disturbingly similar to the recent one, in which it also apologized and pledged to have a comprehensive rectification of its operation and customer service departments.

Numbers show (in Chinese) that despite Didi’s frequent lip service to the fight against security problems, over the past four years, at least 50 sexual harassment and assault cases were reported by Chinese media. Of the 50 drivers who attacked female passengers, at least three of them successfully registered on the platform with previous criminal records. Apparently, while Didi made some efforts in the past few months to ensure the safety of its customers, such as limiting its Hitch service only to same-sex rides, the company still needs to root out some systemic issues that have been putting its users at constant risk.

One of the pressing issues facing the company is its egregious mishandling of customers’ complaints. In the case that happened in May, the assailant was once accused of verbal harassment by a female passenger — but after Didi customer service attempted to contact the driver five times, it dropped the case. In the recent case, only one day before the tragedy occured, Didi’s customer service department received a complaint filed against the murderer, who repeatedly asked a female passenger to sit in the front passenger seat and stalked her after the ride concluded.

In addition, Didi’s branding of its Hitch service is deeply problematic and dangerous. Huang Jieli 黄洁莉, former head of the company’s business development, fully endorsed the idea of making Didi a social platform before she got fired over the weekend. “Just like coffee shops and bars, cars can be semi-open and semi-private social spaces,” Huang said (in Chinese) in 2015 when introducing some exclusive benefits of the Hitch service. “This is a futuristic and very sexy prospect. We were clear about what it would look like from the very beginning.” In another interview in 2017, Huang stressed that the biggest motivation for Didi drivers is to “make friends with passengers.” Or, as its fleet of drivers apparently saw it, to hit on female passengers and find potential dates.

On August 24, in a meeting with several government departments in Shenzhen, including the local Internet Information office and Traffic Management Bureau, Didi was ordered (in Chinese) to complete an overhaul of its system by the end of September, which entails a comprehensive clampdown on illegal cars and drivers registered on its platform, a suspension of its carpooling service, and significant improvements on how it handles customers’ complaints.

But given Didi’s lack of meaningful action to address problems in the past and an onslaught of criticism on social media calling it an irresponsible company, it still remains to be seen whether Didi will fulfill its promises this time around and win back the trust of its users.