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Chinese ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing admits ‘responsibility’ after passenger is raped, murdered

AFP-JIJI, Reuters

Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing said Sunday it will suspend its carpooling service after the rape and murder of a passenger, the second such killing this year.

Police have arrested a 27-year-old man who worked as a driver in the eastern city of Wenzhou on suspicion of raping and killing a female passenger who used the app to hail a carpool ride.

The company said it will suspend Didi Hitch — a service which allows passengers traveling in the same direction to share the cost of the trip — beginning midnight Monday.

The announcement came a day after the company admitted it bore “responsibility” for the crime, failing to act on a complaint about the same driver from another passenger, who claimed he drove her to an isolated area and followed her in his vehicle after she left the car.

“The incident shows the many deficiencies with our customer service processes, especially the failure to act swiftly on the previous passenger’s complaint and the cumbersome and rigid process of information sharing with the police,” Didi said in a statement Sunday.

“This is too high a cost to pay.”

The killing has sparked fresh criticism of the company — which muscled Uber out of the market following a bruising battle — as angry users voiced concerns about the safety of the service.

“Since the company can’t regulate itself, get out of the market,” wrote one user on the Twitter-like Weibo.

Didi said it has also fired the head of Didi Hitch and the vice president of customer service.

Didi had been stepping up safety measures, including for 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 Yueqing city, which is part of Wenzhou, said on their official microblog that the 20-year-old woman, surnamed Zhao, got into a Didi carpool vehicle at 1 p.m. on Friday, and sent a message to a friend at around 2 p.m. seeking help before losing contact.

Police said they found the suspect, a 27-year-old driver called Zhong, at about 4 a.m. on Saturday. They said Zhong confessed to raping and killing the passenger, and that the victim’s body had been recovered and an investigation is 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 license plate before the trip, the company said.

Didi Chuxing — which has been valued at $50 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 fact that Didi has a driver safety and security issue is a real problem for Didi . . . and an opportunity for new service providers who can better serve the mobility demand,” said Bill Russo, CEO of Automobility Ltd., a Shanghai-based consultancy.

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