Ride-hailing giant Didi will resume operations of its carpooling service Hitch on a trial basis this month, the company announced on Wednesday. The relaunch comes a year after Didi suspended the service indefinitely over safety concerns.

Why it matters: Didi halted its Hitch service last year after two separate incidents involving female passengers using the platform who were raped and murdered by their drivers.

  • The first incident took place in May 2018 in China’s central Henan Province, with the second taking place three months later in Zhejiang, on the country’s east coast.
  • Didi faced public outcry and government censure after the incidents, leading it to halt the carpooling service.
  • The murders led China’s transport ministry to say that the ride-hailing giant had “lost control” of its drivers and vehicles.
  • Didi subsequently introduced more stringent background checks for its drivers and underwent a round of restructuring to increase its focus on safety.

Details: Operations of the rebooted service will be limited to seven cities, including Beijing, eastern China’s Nantong and Changzhou, and the northern cities of Harbin and Taiyuan, among others.

  • Nevertheless, usage of the platform is limited to between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. for men and 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. for women. It is unclear how this will be enforced.
  • Trips are not permitted to exceed 50 kilometers and are restricted to metro areas.
  • The company also announced that it would be piloting a “women’s safety program,” which includes using models that identify high-risk scenarios and trip anomalies. Didi plans to roll out the features to its other services in the future.

Context: Didi has removed more than 300,000 unqualified drivers from its platforms following a government crackdown on the industry in the wake of the murders.

  • Jean Liu, Didi’s president, said in July that the company planned to spend an additional RMB 2 billion (around $286 million) on safety enhancements in 2019.
  • Didi reportedly lost RMB 10.9 billion last year as a result of subsidies and a clampdown on non-compliant drivers.

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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