China’s ride-hailing industry took a blow yesterday (May 3) when Uber competitor Didi Chuxing (also known as Didi Kuaidi) confirmed that one of its drivers had murdered a female passenger.
According to Chinese news site Techweb (link in Chinese), on May 2 an online forum user posted a “missing persons” message stating that his sister-in-law, a teacher surnamed Zhong, had disappeared after she hailed a Didi vehicle from her school in Shenzhen after 9pm that night. He added that the vehicle was a white Toyota and also listed its plate number.
The post circulated online, and police authorities launched an investigation with the help of Didi. They announced the next day they had successfully apprehended the person believed to be vehicle’s driver in a hotel room in the city’s Baoan district. The missing woman had been robbed and then killed by the time the suspect was caught.
Didi released a statement on Sina Weibo (link in Chinese) expressing its condolences to the victim and admitting responsibility for the incident:
As for this incident and the responsibility of the platform during this incident—We will not offload the burden and will place responsibilities upon us where responsibilities are due.
A Didi spokesperson tells Quartz that the driver had passed his background check and had no criminal record. The driver’s submitted ID, vehicle registration document, and license plate were all declared valid upon registration. But the license plate on the vehicle he used to pick up the victim was a different, forged one. It’s possible that if the victim did not take a photo of the vehicle’s plate before entering the car, the suspect would not have been caught.
Rapes, thefts, and assaults are common in the ride-hailing industry in China, as well as the US, India, and elsewhere. Last month Didi expelled over 3,000 drivers in Shenzhen from its platform after police discovered past histories of drug abuse, mental illness, or criminal records.
In the United States, Uber faced its biggest safety controversy in March after a driver went on a serial killing rampage in-between passenger pickups.
Industry advocates are correct when they argue Uber and Didi’s built-in tracking offers an accountability system superior to anonymous, unmonitored street-hail cabs. But that doesn’t necessarily make them safer.