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2018-05-22 12:03:13

China’s largest ride-hailing company, Didi Chuxing, has blocked drivers accused of sexual harassment by female passengers — but this seems to have done little to allay concerns from angry netizens.

The accusations follow the high-profile murder in central Henan province earlier this month of a female passenger who was using Didi Hitch, a cost-saving service that pairs passengers with drivers who are already taking that route. Afterward, Didi temporarily suspended the service, which included a passenger review system that allowed drivers to leave comments about customers’ appearances.

Didi Hitch resumed operation last week, but the car-hailing company is now under fire again. Over the weekend, a handful of female customers complained that they had been harassed by Didi drivers, who had registered with the platform to use their private cars to offer rides.

On Sunday, a 21-year-old college student surnamed Zhu posted on microblogging platform Weibo, complaining about her driver’s behavior in Changsha, the capital of central Hunan province. In the post — which received hundreds of comments — Zhu said she was trying to get home on Saturday night and had been picked up by a Didi driver surnamed Huang, who had a 4.9-star rating on the ride-hailing app. According to audio Zhu recorded on her phone and later posted online, Huang repeatedly asked her to go on a date with him, and even offered 500 yuan ($80) to touch her, despite Zhu repeatedly saying she wanted to get home as soon as possible. “I was really frightened,” Zhu wrote, noting that the car’s doors were all locked.

Then on Sunday, a woman in northeastern Liaoning province posted on Weibo complaining that she had also been verbally harassed by her driver during a one-hour ride last Friday. According to her, the driver even asked if she “had time for a quickie.”

On Tuesday, local media reported on a complaint involving another Changsha woman, who said that two weeks ago, a driver with a five-star rating began watching a pornographic video after she got into the car. Although a Didi customer service representative told her they would investigate, the female passenger said she never heard back from the company.

On Monday, Didi told The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, that the driver Huang’s account has been permanently blocked, and suggested that the passenger submit any relevant evidence to police. “We will actively cooperate with a police investigation and protect the passenger’s rights,” a Didi representative said. The accounts of the other two drivers accused of misconduct were also blocked, according to media reports.

But this wasn’t enough to satisfy users, with netizens slamming the company’s actions for being too lenient and expressing concerns that female passengers would still have to rely on themselves to escape from danger.

Didi has been under fire since May 6, when Li Mingzhu, a 21-year-old flight attendant, was allegedly killed by her Didi driver. The driver, who had used his father’s account in violation of the company’s rules, was later found dead in a river.

Didi has sought advice over possible new safety measures, including background checks on drivers. The China Consumers Association held a forum on Tuesday aimed at improving customer safety while using ride-hailing apps. The association told ride-hailing companies to strengthen their handling of complaints and blacklist all drivers who had harassed or been violent toward passengers in the past.

In the meantime, users have taken matters into their own hands, with women sharing precautionary tips online — like setting their gender to “male” and selecting an appropriate photo.

In recent weeks, 26-year-old Shanghai resident Zhou Sheng’en has used his account to call cars for his girlfriend, who often has to work as late as midnight. This allows him to check the driver’s information and monitor the car’s location on his phone. “It’s the worst way,” Zhou told Sixth Tone. “If Didi doesn’t start taking this seriously, it will lose all of its customers sooner or later.”

Editor: Julia Hollingsworth.

(Header image: A Didi Chuxing customer accesses the ride-hailing company’s mobile app in Beijing, Sept. 23, 2015. VCG)