Backlash After Didi Reintroduces Hitch Service But Restricts Access for Women

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Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing service company, announced on Wednesday that it would resume a modified version of its Hitch car-pooling service (顺风车 shùnfēng chē) in certain cities across the country by the end of November. The staggered rollout is set to first enter Harbin, Taiyuan, Shijiazhuang, and Changzhou as of Nov 20, and then Beijing, Shenyang, and Nantong starting Nov 29.

The feature was officially suspended in late August last year after two separate incidents, four months apart, in which male Hitch drivers sexually assaulted and murdered their female passengers. Both rides were hailed using the car-pool function, and the crimes triggered nationwide scrutiny of Didi’s safety mechanisms in the Hitch service.

Hitch is popular because it’s cheaper than the regular service and can be booked ahead of time, and drivers can pick up passengers who are looking to share similar routes. However, the service also poses an increased risk because drivers are not required to go through Didi’s otherwise more stringent registration requirements for full-time drivers; as long as the driver owns a car that is registered to their ID, they can provide Hitch rides.

The reintroduced service now includes some key changes: rides are limited to a distance of 50km in metropolitan areas, and women will not be allowed to use Hitch after 8pm, while their male counterparts can access the service until 11pm. It is this second amendment which according to Didi, is intended to “ensure female passengers’ safety” that has caused the most controversy.

The new rule has been perceived as both sexist and a poor attempt to cover up a bigger problem, leading to a heated discussion on social media. One post by Weibo account 我遭遇了性别歧视 (wǒ zāoyùle xìngbié qíshì “I encountered gender discrimination”) has received nearly 90,000 reposts, more than 500,000 likes, and over 30,000 comments.

Many female commenters are identifying this policy as victim-blaming, and are asking the same question: why is Didi effectively penalizing women, rather than dealing with the problem of unregulated male drivers?

Of course, never wanting to feel left out, some male users weighed in too, saying: “So only women get hurt or killed? We need protection too.” Some drivers meanwhile are asking: “Why are we always targeted? Our safety during the ride can be also threatened!” Basically, nobody is happy.

In response to the flood of criticism, Didi’s CEO Liu Qing posted an apology on Weibo, stating: “As a woman myself, I agree that it’s not the best solution for ladies, but we’re trying our best to solve our safety problems. On the issue of security, this a trial run. I kindly ask you to give us more time … We welcome everyone’s criticisms and suggestions so that we can better protect everyone’s safety and experience.”

While it’s laudable that Didi is trying to solve ongoing problems with the safety of their service, these new restrictions show that they still have a long way to go in ensuring fair and safe access to all of their passengers.

READ: How to Navigate Didi (and Your Driver)

Photos: VGC, Didi Chuxing

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the Beijinger Blog

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