Ride-hailing giant Didi will set up a team of 2,000 service staff to increase its focus on offline driver management and support, the latest in a series of attempts to improve safety for both drivers and passengers on the company’s platform.

Fu Qiang, CEO of Didi’s Ride-hailing Business Group, said in an open memo to its drivers that the company aims to “help drivers solve the problems they encounter in their work,” while soliciting their feedback.

“We firmly believe that only by serving the driver well can the driver serve the passenger well,” Fu said.

The company said it would continue providing its drivers with safety training, which Didi hopes will enable them to protect themselves while “providing passengers with safer and better service,” according to Fu. In March, a Didi driver was murdered by a passenger in the central Chinese city of Changde, calling into question the safety of drivers as well as passengers. The incident followed two others in which drivers were targeted in 2017 and 2018.

Didi’s safety work has so far mainly focused on passengers, following the high profile murders of two Didi users on separate occasions in 2018. The company’s safety features include a driver-passenger blacklist function, emergency contacts, an in-trip panic button, and facial recognition systems that link a driver with a vehicle, among others. The company also pledged to spend $20 million on customer service in the wake of last year’s murders.

Didi CEO Cheng Wei said in an internal meeting in February that the company planned to lay off 2,000 employees, or 15% of its workforce, following a restructuring that aimed to improve safety and compliance. Sources told TechNode at the time that Didi planned to hire an additional 2,500 employees following the layoffs, which included headcount for offline driver management.

As Didi faces tougher regulations governing its drivers at home following the murders, the company has sought to expand its footprint abroad. Latin America has become a key battleground for Didi as it seeks to take on international rival Uber. The company has launched operations in Mexico and Brazil, with plans to expand to Peru, Chile, and Colombia.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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