Ride-hailing giant Didi has backtracked on plans to impose gender-specific operating hours when relaunching its carpooling service Hitch later this month, following public outcry blasting the company for limiting women’s freedoms.

Why it matters: Didi suspended its Hitch service indefinitely last year following two separate incidents in which drivers on the platform raped and murdered their female passengers.

  • The murders sparked outrage from the public and prompted regulators to launch an industry-wide crackdown aimed at improving safety in the ride-hailing industry.
  • Shortly after the incidents, China’s transport ministry lambasted Didi, saying the company had “lost control” of its drivers and vehicles.
  • The company has subsequently launched and upgraded a series of safety features and introduced more stringent background checks for its drivers.

Didi to restart operations of its carpooling service Hitch

Details: Didi on Wednesday announced that it would relaunch Hitch on a trial basis later this month, more than a year after suspending the service.

  • However, while men would be able to use the service between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m., women would not be permitted to hail Hitch rides after 8 p.m.
  • The move prompted widespread pushback on social media, with female users calling the practice unfair.
  • Responding to the criticism, Jean Liu, Didi’s president, said in a post on microblogging platform Weibo on Wednesday that the current rules for Hitch are “not useful to women,” but added that the trial will function as a safety test.
  • A day later, Didi said in a statement that it would standardize operating hours from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. for all users, thanking netizens for their feedback.

Context: Didi has faced scrutiny in the past for allowing sexist practices to creep into its services.

  • In an early iteration of its Hitch service, drivers were able to review passengers, a feature that was often abused to include inappropriate comments about a riders’ body and looks.
  • Didi has struggled with the fallout of last years’ murders, pivoting from pushing for growth to an increased focus on safety.
  • The focus on safety has had a significant effect on the company, resulting in reported losses of nearly RMB 11 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2018.

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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