China’s largest ride-hailing platform Didi Chuxing has shifted its focus to safety after two female passengers were raped and murdered by their Didi drivers in two separate incidents between May and August last year.
Nearly one year later, the company on Tuesday invited media outlets to its headquarters in Beijing, explaining what it has done to improve safety, as reported by 36Kr. Information about the event was also published on Didi’s WeChat account, a platform for the company to share information with the public.
Didi made big statements about where it went wrong.
“We once expected to solve all safety problems for good, leveraging on Didi’s extraordinary algorithms and we found this mindset did not work,” said Hou Jinglei, Didi’s Chief Safety Officer, who once worked for China’s State Administration of Work Safety for 11 years.
“Safety is not something you can achieve overnight. It needs hard work. It needs down-to-earth work in a step-by-step manner,” said Hou. He conceded that Didi’s processes and systems needed to be improved in several areas.
Now, the firm expects to invest a total of RMB 2 billion (USD 290.6 million) on safety-related work in 2019. Financial data leaked from the company shows that it generated a deficit up to RMB 10.9 billion (USD 1.61 billion) in the 2018 financial year.
Thousands of employees were laid off earlier this year as the company’s strategy shifted towards safety, but meanwhile, new positions opened for safety-related technical positions, management positions, as well as for managing positions that oversee drivers, KrAsia reported in January.
New safety measures, including audio and video recordings
Since the criminal cases, Didi says it has ramped up its safety measures on multiple fronts.
For one, it says it’s improving its response processes to customer calls that regard safety. There’s now a separate hotline for emergency calls that bypasses the other service hotlines. Didi says it has safety experts who can intervene on site if the situation escalates to a certain point. It’s also improving the processes with which it collaborates with the police in criminal investigations–Didi had caught flak for failing to quickly provide the necessary records in the previous rape-and-murder cases.
There are also changes to the artificial intelligence-powered order-distribution system and surveillance in the car.
For example, when Didi’s system sees that a female passenger needs a ride late at night, it would prioritize directing this order to a female driver to reduce safety risks. The system is also trained to identify abnormal behavior such as drivers deviating from the planned route, or lingering in one place for too long, or finishing an order ahead of the schedule and enters into a four-step intervention process, according to Lai Chunbo, another Didi executive in charge of safety. These include notifications in-app and automated calls to check out what’s going on.
Didi has asked drivers to make audio recordings of each ride since September 8th last year.
By now, a total of 99% orders have met this requirement, Lai said. Records will be deleted automatically after seven days if there is no dispute between driver and passenger. Didi has tried to persuade drivers and passengers to videotape the ride with in-car cameras, with 20% of orders having been recorded in this way now, according to Lai. He expects this percentage to reach 50% by the end of this year. Video recordings will also be deleted automatically after seven days.
Separately, Didi has also recently invested in a new ride-hailing app called OnTime, which features brand-new electric vehicles with an emergency button to call the police.