China halts carpool services after deaths

SHANGHAI • China has ordered the suspension of carpool services offered by ride-hailing firms until tighter safety measures are implemented, seeking to ease fears after two users of sector leader Didi Chuxing's Hitch service were murdered.

Local governments across the country were ordered to review the backgrounds and qualifications of all drivers signed up with Web-based carpooling and other private car-share services.

Drivers deemed unqualified will be removed from such services by the end of this year, said a joint directive issued on Monday by the transport and public security ministries.

Service operators, in the meantime, must implement safety measures, including strengthening alarm and rapid-response mechanisms, to enable passengers to indicate when they are in danger.

They will also be required to establish 24-hour safety management and emergency response teams and must furnish real-time information on drivers and passengers to police.

It was not specified how long the suspension would last.

Carpooling services such as Hitch pair up people heading in the same direction so they can share travelling costs.

Hitch is separate from Didi's main ride-hailing service, which is not affected by the government suspension order.

Didi, used by hundreds of millions of people in China, came under fire last month after a 20-year-old female passenger was raped and murdered by her Hitch driver.

Didi faced boycott calls after it emerged that the company did not act on a complaint about the driver just one day before the killing.

The episode fuelled pressure for greater regulation of carpooling services, which generally face less stringent requirements and oversight than regular ride-hailing ones.

Didi was already under the gun after the police said in May that a Hitch driver killed his passenger, a 21-year-old female flight attendant. State media reported she was stabbed at least 20 times.

Following last month's murder, Didi suspended Hitch and has temporarily halted all late-night ride-hailing for a week, beginning last Saturday, while it implements safety measures.

A Didi spokesman said the company had no new comment on the government-ordered safety drive.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2018, with the headline 'China halts carpool services after deaths'. Print Edition | Subscribe