Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi vows to do better after fleet owner attempts suicide, blaming company in note

Sarah Dai

China’s largest ride-hailing platform Didi Chuxing has promised to improve its policies for selecting car leasing partners after a fleet owner attempted suicide, blaming the company for allowing unqualified vehicles to operate on its platform while refusing to work with companies such as his that use licensed cars.

Yan Baocai, who owns a car leasing company in Shanxi province, tried to kill himself by taking pills and alcohol last Thursday but survived after family members rushed him to hospital, according to Chinese media outlet Lie Yunwang.com.

A suicide note said to be written by Yan has since gone viral on China’s Twitter-style microblog Weibo – in it, the car fleet owner said he was “exhausted” from dealing with the company’s troubles. “I never thought I would be forced into this pitiful state by illegally operated private hire cars,” he wrote in the note, which Yan’s company provided to Lie Yunwang.com.

“I don’t understand why Didi won’t accept legitimate cars that comply with government regulations, but the roads are flooded with unqualified Didi cars … You want to kill off law-complying car rental companies and drivers, using your monopoly to defy regulations? Then fine, I will die,” he said, adding that he was giving his life to apologise to drivers in his company and show the world Didi’s “evil face”.

Beijing-based Didi expressed concern for Yan and his family in an open letter on Monday, acknowledging the incident.

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The incident is the latest controversy to hit China’s most popular ride-hailing platform, which is known for pushing global market leader Uber out of the country. The company has struggled to regain the trust of the public since 2018, when two female passengers using its Hitch car-pooling service were raped and murdered in separate incidents months apart.

“I read through your letter carefully and was ashamed for not doing our job properly,” said Chen Ting, general manager of Didi's auto service unit, in the open letter posted on WeChat’s platform in response to Yan’s suicide note. “Although there was some misunderstanding, this is still essentially our responsibility.”

Chen explained that Didi had declined to work with Yan's company as the latter's management processes did not meet its standards, but did not clearly and formally communicate this to him.

Didi also said in a statement that company representatives had met with Yan in person to better understand the issue and help find solutions for him as well as leasing partners and drivers with similar problems.

“We will improve our way of communication to leasing partnership around partnership evaluation, and make the process more transparent and thoughtful,” the company said, adding that Didi would invite leasing partners to form an advisory committee and consult them closely.

“There is a lot of work to be done but we will spare no effort.”

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Since the passenger murders in 2018 the company has undergone a safety overhaul, including introducing compulsory in-trip audio recording and a panic button linked directly to local police stations. With the stricter rules it has removed about 306,000 drivers from its platform since August last year, or one in every 100 registered drivers as of 2018, according to company statistics. Didi resumed its Hitch car-pooling service in November last year.

Still, many ride-hailing vehicles have been found flouting local registration requirements, with Shanghai’s transport watchdog fining major platforms including Didi a total of 7.23 million yuan (US$1 million) last August for such violations.

Among vehicles that have been blacklisted by the Shanghai transport commission, over 82 per cent had been listed on Didi, while 15 per cent were hosted by rival Meituan.

If you, or someone you know, are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page.

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