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Didi brings back its controversial carpooling service for limited trial

Didi Chuxing, China’s biggest ride-hailing provider, is restarting a carpool service it temporarily shut down last year after two female passengers were killed. But it still won’t allow women to ride late at night.

The company said Wednesday that it would relaunch Hitch, a popular ride-sharing service, on a trial basis at the end of this month. The test will first roll out to users in seven Chinese cities, including Beijing and Harbin.

Didi has been treading carefully since last year, when it was forced to suspend the service after two female riders were killed in four months. In May 2018, a young flight attendant was found dead after hailing a Hitch ride in the central city of Zhengzhou, and in August of that year, a driver was accused of raping and killing a passenger in the eastern city of Wenzhou.

That sparked a huge public outcry. Transportation officials demanded that Didi overhaul its service, and on social media, some users called for a boycott of the company.

Now, Didi is hoping to win back customers’ trust. The relaunch of Hitch this month “follows a comprehensive safety review and product revamp,” it said in a statement.

The app will return with a slew of new safety features, including more rigorous checks on both drivers and passengers, and a virtual “safety assistant” that will allow users to see more detailed information on their drivers and fellow riders. Users will also be able to check in with support staff in real time through a safety hotline.

Didi, one of China’s biggest tech startups, will also use facial recognition to prevent people from faking their identity on the app.

The firm is attempting to pitch more safety features especially to female riders. Most of the measures being introduced this month will roll out to all users eventually, but “are now in service first for women,” said a company spokesperson.

The trial will also have an earlier cutoff time for female users — letting them ride between 5:00 am and 8:00 pm. Male users, on the other hand, will be able to book trips between 5:00 am and 11:00 pm.

In the future, “in late-evening, remote-destination scenarios, women riders and drivers will get more special alerts and safety checks,” Didi told CNN Business in a statement. “We will also try to test higher-sensitivity criteria in matching women riders with drivers with higher performance ratings in special scenarios.”

The service, which first started in 2015, boasted a sizable user base prior to the crisis last year.

Before its suspension, Hitch had logged over a billion total rides and frequently clocked in up to two million daily orders, according to the company. During the week-long Chinese New Year holiday last year, almost 31 million passengers used Hitch, Didi said.

CNN

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