(Nov 6): Didi Chuxing, operator of China’s largest ride-hailing platform, is ready to relaunch its Hitch car-pooling service, more than a year after two passenger deaths plunged the company into a crisis over safety.
The once controversial service will resume in seven major Chinese cities on a trial basis, starting from Nov 20, the Beijing-based start-up announced on Wednesday.
First launched in 2015, Hitch enabled private car owners on Didi’s platform to give passengers going in the same direction a ride for a fee. Last year it was put on indefinite hold over safety concerns.
In August last year, a Hitch driver was arrested by police and confessed to raping and killing a 20-year-old woman passenger in China’s eastern Zhejiang province. That tragedy came about three months after a 21-year-old flight attendant was raped and killed in central Henan province by a man using his father’s Didi account.
Public scrutiny has focused on Didi’s promotion of Hitch as an alternative to social networking. The former head of Hitch, Huang Jieli, resigned and was criticised over an online media interview she gave in 2015, in which she described the service as a “very sexy scenario” for people to meet.
The company, which once pushed Uber out of the country in exchange for a minority stake, has undergone a year-long overhaul as it sought to regain public confidence that was shaken by the tragedies.
New safety measures introduced over the past year include compulsory in-trip audio recording and a panic button linked directly to local police stations. Didi has also 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.
The relaunch follows a “comprehensive safety review” and product revamp that began last year, the company said on Wednesday. The redesigned service now features improved safety features, as well as more rigorous driver and passenger verification and rating mechanisms.
Service time for female users will be limited to between 5am and 8pm, while male users can hail a hitch ride till 11pm, according to the company. The trial will restrict trips to under 50 kilometres in metro areas in cities including Beijing, Harbin and Taiyuan.