Didi passenger raped and killed amid China ride-hailing safety concerns

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China says its largest ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing had “unshirkable responsibility” for a carpool passenger being raped and killed by a driver.
The incident took place as Didi Chuxing has been stepping up safety measures including for its carpooling service, Didi Hitch. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A ride-sharing passenger in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou was raped and killed, allegedly by a driver for the country's largest ride-hailing firm, local police said on Saturday (Aug 25), the latest violent crime to fuel safety concerns about the service.

Didi Chuxing, the biggest ride-sharing firm globally by number of trips, was "immensely saddened by the tragedy", it said in a statement.

"We are deeply sorry. We fell short of your expectations. We can't and we won't shirk from our responsibilities," it said.

The incident took place as Didi has been stepping up safety measures including for its carpooling service, Didi Hitch, after the murder of a flight attendant in May sparked wider community outrage.

The steps include limiting Didi Hitch drivers to picking up passengers of the same sex during early morning and late evening hours.

Police in Wenzhou's Yueqing city said on their official microblog that the 20-year-old woman, surnamed Zhao, got into a Didi carpool vehicle at 1pm on Friday (Aug 24), and sent a message to a friend at around 2pm seeking help before losing contact.

Police said they found the suspect, a 27-year-old driver from Sichuan province surnamed Zhong, at about 4am on Saturday. They said Zhong confessed, and that the victim's body had been recovered and an investigation was continuing.

Didi said the driver had passed background checks and had logged in with his authentic ID and had been confirmed by facial recognition on the day. However, the driver had altered the car's licence plate before the trip, the company said.

A day earlier, a passenger had complained to Didi that the same driver had repeatedly requested that she sit in the front seat, drove to a remote area, and followed her "for a distance" after she got out of the car, Didi said. It said the customer service representative who took the complaint had not followed up with an investigation within two hours, as the firm promises.

Didi Chuxing - which has been valued at US$50 billion (S$68 billion) and counts SoftBank Group Corp as a major investor - is aggressively expanding overseas, targeting new markets in Mexico, Brazil and Australia, going head-to-head with Uber. In 2016, Didi acquired Uber's China business.

The latest case was also trending on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, with seven related topics in the top 50 on Saturday afternoon.

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