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China's Didi apologises, vows changes after passenger killing

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China's ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing issued a public letter of apology and said it would prioritise safety over growth after a second passenger in three months was allegedly killed by a driver while using its services.

[SAN FRANCISCO] China's ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing issued a public letter of apology and said it would prioritise safety over growth after a second passenger in three months was allegedly killed by a driver while using its services.

"Today, Didi will stop using scale and growth as our measurement of success," the company said in a statement from chairman Cheng Wei and president Jean Liu. "We shall prioritise safety as the single most important performance indicator."

The ride-hailer has been criticised by state media, regulators and social-media users, who have begun to publicly delete the app, after a woman was killed while using its Hitch car-pooling service, the second customer death in three months. The company announced on Sunday it would suspend the service and removed two executives in light of the Aug 24 death. A driver in the eastern city of Wenzhou suspected in the killing has been detained, Chinese state media reported.

Didi first announced it was overhauling safety procedures after a May incident where a female customer was killed using Hitch, marketed as a social ride-sharing service that allowed drivers and passengers to rate one another by appearance. One of the changes was to involve the redesign of its emergency help button to display it more prominently on the app. In Tuesday's statement, entitled "Our Deepest Apologies" and more than 500 words, the company said it hadn't succeeded in protecting its passengers and had to "take on our responsibility" in light of the deaths.

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"We see clearly this is because our vanity overtook our original beliefs," Didi said in the statement posted on its Weibo account. "We raced non-stop, riding on the force of breathless expansion and capital through these few years; but this has no meaning in such a tragic loss of life."

Since the second murder, Didi's also come under fire on social media for past tongue-in-cheek advertising campaigns that carried salacious messages or suggested Hitch could double as a dating service.

Didi is the most valuable startup in Asia at US$56 billion, according to researcher CB Insights, and is said to be considering going public. The company said the business model for Hitch would be "thoroughly re-evaluated", and the service would be suspended "indefinitely until there is a safety protection mechanism that is accepted by our users".

"Throughout the company we start to question if we are doing the right thing; or even whether we have the right values," the company said.

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