Japan’s taxi drivers will no longer have to remove their white gloves to accept rides booked on Didi Chuxing.
The Chinese ride hailing giant rolled out a hands-free feature on Wednesday as part of its strategy to win over Japan. It allows drivers to accept rides by giving a voice command, instead of having to tap on a smartphone screen.
Apps like Didi and Uber are banned from using their own drivers in Japan, meaning they have to partner with official taxi services where drivers are often dressed formally in a suit, hat and gloves.
Didi rolled out cab-hailing services in the country last year. Drivers liked the app, but found it cumbersome to pull over and take off their white gloves in order to accept rides, said Zheng Bu, Didi’s chief security officer and vice president of international business technology.
Now, “the driver can can just say a word and (the ride) is activated,” Zheng told CNN Business on Wednesday, speaking on the sidelines of a tech conference in Hong Kong.
The hands-free feature will be introduced in “other markets including Australia” later this year, the company said, without elaborating.
Didi is best known for beating Uber at its own game in China. Uber sold its Chinese operations to Didi in 2016 after a long and costly battle, with each company taking a stake in the other.
“We’re actually already the largest ride-hailing platform in the world,” Zheng said. Didi has 550 million users and “last year alone, we got 10 billion rides,” he added.
He declined to comment on how many of those rides took place outside of mainland China.
“International growth is really encouraging, that’s what I can share with you. It’s much better than expected,” he said.
In its home market, Didi is still trying to reassure customers that its platform is safe, after two female passengers were murdered by Didi drivers last year.
The company will spend 2 billion yuan ($290 million) to upgrade safety and security systems this year, including better software and driver training and education. It has also removed more than 300,000 drivers from its platform since the murders.
“Ever since those unfortunate events, Didi put a lot of effort on safety and security,” Zheng said.