Safety concerns: A mascot of Didi Chuxing at the Chinese company’s headquarters in Beijing. Picture: REUTERS
Safety concerns: A mascot of Didi Chuxing at the Chinese company’s headquarters in Beijing. Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — China’s largest ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing is suspending its Hitch services nationwide, the company said on Sunday, a day after police said a ride-sharing passenger in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou was raped and killed by a driver.

Didi Chuxing said it was sorry that the carpool service would be suspended from Monday due to "disappointing mistakes" while the company re-evaluates the product’s business model.

The suspected murder of a 20-year-old woman, who Wenzhou police identified only by the surname Zhao, is the latest in a series of violent crimes that have fuelled safety concerns about the service. Zhao got into a Hitch carpool vehicle at 1pm local time on Friday and sent a message to a friend at about 2pm seeking help before losing contact, according to a local police statement.

A driver named Zhong was detained on Saturday and confessed to raping and killing the passenger, the local police statement said, adding that the victim’s body had been recovered and a probe was continuing.

Didi said the suspect had no prior criminal record, had provided authentic documentation and passed a facial recognition test before starting work.

But the company said on Saturday there was a prior complaint made against the driver on Thursday by a passenger who alleged the driver took them to a remote place and then followed the passenger after she got out of 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," the company said.

The Hitch carpool service has run m ore than 1-billion trips in the past three years, it said. Didi is the biggest ride-sharing firm globally by number of trips.

China’s state-backed media criticised Didi’s safety record while celebrities took to social media and pledged to delete the application.

"You’ve had so many incidents," an unnamed family member of Zhao was quoted as saying in the Qianjiang Evening news, an official Zhejiang province publication. "What are you going to do about your safety and service problems?"

Wang Chuanjun, a famous Chinese actor, shared a screenshot of his phone on Sunday as he prepared to delete the application. His post was shared more than 58,000 times on China’s Twitter-like Weibo and the hashtag "Wang Chuanjun uninstalls Didi" was viewed nearly nine million times.

China’s official Xinhua News agency criticised Didi for not doing more to prevent such incidents and said that the company should face legal punishment if it failed to put customers’ safety first.

Didi had increased its safety measures for Hitch after the murder of a flight attendant during a Hitch ride in May sparked outrage. These included limiting Hitch drivers to only picking up passengers of the same sex during early morning and late evening hours.