Passengers' safety must be above profit
A 20-year-old woman was raped and killed by a Didi Chuxing hitch carpooling driver in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, on Friday. On May 5, an airline stewardess was raped and killed in Zhengzhou, Henan province, by the driver of a car registered under his father's name with Didi Chuxing, China's largest online car-hailing platform.
After the Zhengzhou case, many people expected the operators of the car-hailing service to take precautionary measures to guarantee passengers' safety, by installing the local positioning and emergence calling systems in the cars. In fact, after the May 5 tragedy the company said it would introduce measures to improve the safety of passengers. These measures included enabling passengers to share their routes and destinations with emergency contacts, extending facial recognition requirements to other services, redesigning its emergency help function, limiting the hours during which carpool drivers can pick up passengers of the opposite sex and testing an "escort mode" on its app. But most of these are still to be implemented.
The Ministry of Transport's department in charge of managing the taxi industry once warned that a monopoly in the internet-based car-hailing service sector could compromise the safety and interests of consumers. But such services are an inevitable part of the sharing economy, and cannot be banned as they offset the shortage of traditional taxis in cities. So the authorities must make full use of the social resources to ensure only registered vehicles and qualified and verified drivers enter the car-hailing sector, so as to ensure passengers' safety.
As Didi's hitch-riding service was initially designed as a co-sharing service, a kind of mutually beneficial civil activity, specific provisions should be worked out for its management. And the transport authorities and the providers of such services have to find a way to distinguish hitch-ride service from normal online car-hailing services so that the spirit of mutually beneficial civil activities do not conflict with that of profit-making activities. It is a pity that the operators seem interested only in making profits from the hitch-ride service, without paying attention to mutual benefit.
If Didi, as the operator of the hitch-ride service, was so desperate to turn the service into a purely profit-making business, it should have strengthened its management by equipping registered vehicles with the local positioning and alarm systems, conducting regular inspections on them, and carrying out identity identification tests for the drivers.
Only in this way can the company ensure that the drivers comply with their contract obligations, ensure the safety of the passengers, and protect their rights and interests.
It is shocking to see the hitch-ride service operator managing the service the way it manages its social network platform, with no tracking of the vehicles or necessary real-time investigations into the personal conducts and characters of the drivers.
It even failed to install an emergency call system in the vehicles registered with it. That means a passenger facing danger cannot send an alarm signal to the operator's information platform－and, as a result, the operator cannot respond in a timely and correct manner. Since such an act could be considered criminal in nature, the judiciary should launch investigations to determine its criminal responsibility, if any.
Didi, as an online car-hailing service provider, must be made aware that if the interests of consumers are harmed due to serious loopholes in its safety management measures, it has to bear criminal responsibility for that. This way it can be forced to install emergency systems in the vehicles to ensure passengers remain safe, and their rights and interests are protected.
The two tragedies are related to the monopoly in the internet-based car-hailing service sector, which has made the company lax about improving its operation and management model. So the country's anti-monopoly law enforcement authorities should launch investigations into the problems caused by such kind of concentrated business operations and mete out measured administrative penalties if the companies are found to have violated the rules.
Whenever the market regulator finds out the car-hailing service provider has harmed the interests of consumers, it should intervene according to the provisions of the Law on the Protection of Consumers' Rights and Interests.
China's traditional taxi industry is in a transformation period, and the government should help the sector to upgrade its structure. Also, the government should withdraw the unreasonable rules that limit the access of other players to the taxi service sector, and support taxi operators to build their own network calling system, in order to cultivate fair competition between them and internet-based car-hailing services as soon as possible. These measures are important because they can prevent a possible monopoly from seriously damaging the interests of passengers.
The author is a professor of law at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.