Didi acts in wake of passenger's killing

Didi Chuxing will make daily facial recognition checks mandatory for all drivers, as it looks to win back trust after a female passenger allegedly killed by a Didi Hitch driver.

China’s biggest ride-sharing company, Didi Chuxing, will make daily facial recognition checks mandatory for all drivers, as it looks to win back trust after a female passenger allegedly killed by a Didi Hitch driver.

Didi Hitch is a car pooling service that allows registered drivers to pick up passengers on the street going in their direction. Contact is made via an app.

Driver facial recognition will be made compulsory for every Hitch trip to minimize the risk of unapproved account use, Didi said yesterday. All users will be encouraged to report any mismatch or any discrepancy during a ride. A “report and reward program” will be put into effect.

A flight attendant surnamed Li, 21, was killed in the wee hours of May 6 after hailing a private car using the Didi Hitch service in Zhengzhou, Henan Province.

Zhengzhou police said last Saturday that they found a body believed to be that of the driver surnamed Liu, suspected of killing Li and then abandoning his car before jumping into a river.

Didi admitted its facial scanning feature failed to work in the Zhengzhou case, where the suspect used his father’s account to pick up the passenger — but still managed to pass the account screening process and was verified by the platform.

“Ensuring passenger safety is the ‘bottom line’ for hitch-hiking services,” Cai Tuanjie, vice director of the transport service department at the Ministry of Transport said in an interview with China Central Television.

The ministry will guide local traffic authorities to step up scrutiny of ride hailing service providers and to vet unqualified vehicles and drivers. Officials said rules for car pooling services are left for the local traffic watchdog to draw up and implement, but added that service providers won’t be allowed to turn car pooling into “for-profit businesses.”

Didi’s hitch-hiking service will be suspended from 10pm to 6am every day, and passengers and car owners who are still on trips that begin earlier than 10pm will receive safety reminders before they set out. Hitch riders and drivers are assured that all personal information and profile pictures of passengers and car owners will not be made available to third parties.

In a much disputed function, Didi Hitch allowed drivers to leave comments visible to other drivers about passengers’ appearances, which included descriptions like “goddess” or “sweet looking.”

The comments, usually not noticed by riders themselves, drew fire online over whether the Hitch service had become a sleazy operation far removed from its transportation modus operandi.

Users, especially female riders, had begun to change their profile pictures to those of male relatives and cartoon figures, and many even listed their gender as male.

The comments feature is to be removed as part of Didi’s safety enhancement measures.

The company said its “emergency help function” will be redesigned and will be more prominently displayed in the app interface for all rides on Didi.

The company added that it is already working with law enforcement authorities to screen drivers through background checks to make sure those who have committed violence against people, property or public security be excluded from the platform.

Didi will also set up a support fund in addition to its existing policy that offers up to 1.2 million yuan (US$188,000) to cover insurance, pre-payment for medical expenses, humanitarian aid in case of accidents, and special support in case of driver death.

Didi received a complaint against the driver in the Zhengzhou murder case for sexual harassment before Li was killed, but the complaint failed to proceed because the suspect didn’t answer calls from Didi service staff to verify details of the dispute.

The company said it will be seeking opinion from industry insiders and relevant authorities on whether the voice-recording function should be enabled on all rides to help to obtain evidence in case of disputes.

It is also soliciting comments and advice through social media platforms regarding whether people with previous criminal records not involving public security and property safety should be allowed to become Didi drivers.

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