No free rides over rape-murders

Editorial | Mary Ma 27 Aug 2018

Within less than four months, another young woman commuting by ride-hailer Didi Chuxing's carpooling service was raped and murdered, and the driver arrested.

It was a tragedy just waiting to happen.

On May 5, a 21-year-old flight attendant was raped and killed by a Didi driver. Following that, the firm suspended its Hitch service for a week to introduce extra security measures, including identifying drivers with facial-recognition technology, and limiting them to picking up passengers of the same sex during early-morning and late-evening hours.

The measures have obviously failed to deliver the safety promised as security hinges equally on the attitudes of the operators too.

It's rather common in the mainland for policies formulated at the senior level to be often distorted or half-heartedly enforced at the operational level. It's apparent that such malpractices are evident at Didi.

I seriously doubt Didi's reprimand by the transport ministry amid the public outcry after the second rape and murder on Friday will change an attitude that's so embedded in the official and commercial worlds.

In the latest case, the 20-year-old victim boarded the Didi car-sharing vehicle at 1pm on Friday in Wenzhou, Zhejiang. She messaged her friend at 2pm for help and lost contact afterwards.

At 4am on Saturday, police tracked down the driver, 27, who reportedly confessed to raping and killing the victim. Her body had been thrown off a cliff.

By Didi's standards, the victim should have had a safe journey because the suspect was a registered driver and the trip occurred in broad daylight.

But what subsequently happened proved otherwise, which raised a number of questions. First, only the day before, Didi's customer service received a complaint from a female passenger about the alarming behavior of the same driver, surnamed Zhong, who is now being held in connection with the Wenzhou murder.

The driver had asked her to sit in front, drove her to a remote area, and followed her in the car for a distance after she got out, until she threatened to call police.

Didi admitted it hadn't handled the complaint within two hours as promised. Would the course of events be different had the company taken the complaint seriously?

Second, a friend of the latest victim alerted Didi and called the company seven times over the space of an hour. In its condemnation, the Transport Ministry demanded Didi actively cooperate with police to provide up-to-date information -- amid reports it had been slow to pass information to the authorities.

So, what exactly happened during the critical moment? Was there a delay? If so, was it because of concern over possible damage to Didi's image, in light of the aftermath following the murder of the flight attendant in May?

Didi's head office has fired the general manager overseeing the hitch operation, along with the vice-president in charge of customer service in wake of the public anger, promising another review. But can a new review solve the problem?

I fear not if attitudes don't change.

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