China's Didi vows to prioritize safety over growth after murder of passenger

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s dominant ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing Technology Co Ltd said on Tuesday it would prioritize safety over growth as a measure of success after a 20-year-old passenger was murdered by her Didi driver last week.

A Didi Chuxing driver checks the information on the application in his car in Beijing, China August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

The case sparked outrage on social media and concerns over safety issues in the fast-growing ride-hailing sector in China, prompting Didi to say that it would suspend its Hitch service indefinitely until it comes up with a safety mechanism acceptable to its users.

“The tragedy reminded us we have walked this path without enough respect or humility,” Didi founder Cheng Wei and President Jean Liu said in an emailed statement.

“We see clearly this is because our vanity overtook our original belief. We raced non-stop, riding on the force of breathless expansion and capital, through these few years; but this has no meaning in such a tragic loss of life.”

The company said it would now prioritize safety as the single most important performance indicator, and shift the organization and its resources towards building strong safety and customer service systems.

Didi will make upgrades to safety products like its SOS button and itinerary share function, and plans to work closely with China’s law enforcement agencies to, among other things, set up a system to allow its passengers to call the police during any threats of danger, it said.

Founded in 2012, Didi has through rapid expansion and a series of mergers become the world’s largest ride-sharing firm by rides, making 30 million trips a day.

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The killing of a 20-year-old passenger who rode in the Didi vehicle on Friday in the eastern city of Wenzhou was the second such incident since May.

It triggered widespread online criticism of the firm and prompted Chinese regulators to announce they would tighten oversight of its transport industry.

Chinese media reported on Tuesday that Didi had met with regulators in at least 10 Chinese cities -- including Chongqing, Guangzhou and Tianjin -- and in some meetings was told that its local operating license could be taken away if it did not improve passenger safety and dismiss unqualified drivers.

Didi had declined to comment on the meetings.

The incident has remained a hot topic of discussion on Chinese social media.

Earlier in the day, police said they had detained two men accused by Chinese social media users of making offensive remarks about the Didi victim.

Police in the southern city of Shenzhen said they arrested a 22-year-old man who posted comments in a chat group on Tencent’s messaging service QQ. The group has over 1,000 members and calls itself the “Shenzhen Didi Exchange Group”.

A 29-year-old man was arrested separately in the central city of Wuhan after he made comments in a QQ group named the “Wuhan Didi Official Group”, Wuhan police said on their official Twitter-like Weibo account on Monday.

It was unclear whether the two men were Didi drivers, but such groups are regularly used by Didi drivers to communicate while on the road.

Didi said it did not have any official driver WeChat or QQ Groups and said it would work with the authorities to identify the men. “Any Didi-registered driver involved in this will be permanently banned,” a Didi spokeswoman told Reuters.

Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional Reporting by SHANGHAI and Hong Kong Newsrooms; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Jan Harvey