Didi Chuxing’s inter-city carpooling service will resume night operations on a limited basis about a month after a female passenger was allegedly murdered by an unregistered driver who accessed the platform using his father’s account. Called Didi Hitch, the service will return on June 15 with new safety measures, including one that only allows drivers to serve passengers of the same sex during late night hours. Didi Hitch will also began piloting a new feature later this month called “guardian mode” (not “escort mode” as reported by some publications) that automatically shares ride details with a passenger’s emergency contacts.
The company says Didi Hitch will resume partial nighttime service between the hours of 10PM to 12AM and 5AM to 6AM on June 15, but with what Didi says is a “tentative safety measure.” During those times, drivers will only be able to accept ride requests made by passengers of the same sex. In other words, male drivers can only accept male passengers, while female drivers can only accept female passengers.
Guardian mode will launch on June 22 as a smale-scale pilot. When a passenger turns it on, their route is automatically shared with their emergency contacts. Didi also says its platform can monitor routes in real time and “intervene in case of any unusual activity.” Another new feature, called the shared information card, will launch on the same day and display photos of both the driver and passenger and vehicle information, with the aim of allowing both parties to verify each other’s identities.
DiDi also said it will start trialing a voice recording feature for its other services, including Express, Select, ExpressPool and Minibus, in some cities.
One of the most highly-valued startups in the world, Didi now claims about 30 million daily rides and 21 million driver partners. For some passengers, however, these new safety measures may not be enough to reassure them. For one thing, last month’s murder meant that the alleged perpetrator was able to overcome several safety measures. First, he used his father’s verified driver account to access the platform. Secondly, Didi Chuxing’s facial recognition technology, which it has used since 2016 to verify drivers when they first sign up and then when they log in to start shifts, failed. Didi also said that the account had received a sexual harassment complaint before the murder, though it was unclear if that was while the father or son was using it. Didi apparently failed to contact the account despite making five efforts, but the platform nevertheless continued to allow it to accept rides.
While the new safeguards might placate some users, they don’t address the core issues brought up by the murder: making sure potentially dangerous people aren’t allowed on the platform in the first place, or are dealt with promptly when complaints surface. This is not the first time a murder has been linked to a Didi driver. Two years ago a driver allegedly confessed to robbing and killing a female passenger in Shenzhen.
In a statement emailed to TechCrunch, a DiDi spokesperson said:
“After revamping our core safety functions (including enhanced facial recognition, upgraded in-app emergency buttons, and many more), we are taking cautious steps to gradually extend DiDi Hitch’s service hours in response to demands from users. This recent update will increase the range of mobility options available to passengers during these hours.
As we do so, DiDi Hitch is trialing with a number of safety initiatives based on feedback and advice from riders, drivers and other members of the public in China. We understand some of the tentative initiatives that have attracted a lot of public support in this round of consultation might have never been tried before. We will closely monitor and review the results from such experiments with the public, and make continuous adjustments. Our focus is on ensuring the Hitch service is brought back in a safe and responsible way; and that users understand–and join us as we work through–the challenges involved in providing sustainable, fair and safe mobility services. The Hitch and other teams will continue to work around the clock for ever more satisfactory solutions. We will keep you posted.”
TechCrunch has asked for further information about the sex ratio of drivers on Didi’s platform, since if they are predominantly male (as is the case with many taxi or ride-sharing services), then that may impact how many female passengers are able to get a late-night ride using Hitch, and will update this article if we hear back.
DiDi also confirmed today that it has placed RMB 1 million (about $150,000 ) into a fiduciary account of the Beijing Global Law Office to reward informants who are able to give information that can help police solve the case. if no information or evidence has been confirmed by police by September 1, then Didi says the money will be donated to the China Foundation for Justice and Courage, which is overseen by the Ministry of Public Security.