Didi Chuxing, China’s biggest ride-hailing service platform, on Tuesday said it was launching a RMB 100 million initiative to install protective plastic sheets between driver and passenger seats to minimize the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Why it matters: The program could help ease widespread fears among Chinese users, who have been avoiding public transportation including ride-hailing amid the outbreak, and assist the company with recouping some of its hugely disrupted business.

  • The ride-hailing sector has been a vertical which has taken a significant hit from the recent Covid-19 outbreak on shrinking demand.
  • A female driver from Geely’s ride-hailing service Caocao in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou said her earnings dropped by around four-fifths over the week-long Spring Festival holiday compared with the holiday season last year, reported Chinese media.
  • Didi on Monday announced it was expanding its February lease payment waiver to all drivers with its 3,000 leasing partners nationwide.

Details: Didi is ramping up its response to the virus, investing an initial RMB 30 million ($4.3 million) to install protective plastic sheets in rise-sharing cars, the company said in an announcement released Tuesday.

  • Didi said multiple medical experts have agreed that the protective sheeting will help prevent the spread of the disease via airborne droplets from infected individuals.
  • The ride-hailing giant began piloting the initiative beginning Feb. 8 in a dozen cities including Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, and Zhengzhou, capital of central Henan province, and is now rolling it out nationally, as it has been “welcomed by both passengers and drivers.”
  • Drivers can now buy plastic sheets themselves, install it according to direction provided in the Didi app, and request reimbursement from the platform. The reimbursement is about RMB 15 for the first installation, Didi said in the statement.
  • The sheeting may need to be replaced from time to time, the company said, and it plans to invest a total of RMB 100 million to cover the costs for the initiative.

Context: Didi has implemented a series of measures to support Beijing’s efforts in controlling the epidemic.

  • Drivers are not allowed to offer rides without wearing a mask. Other rules in place include daily temperature checks and regular vehicle disinfection, the company said.
  • The ride-hailing platform has been providing transport services for more than 20,000 medical workers in six Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, bearing the cost of the service during the outbreak.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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