China’s largest ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing announced today (Nov. 6) a trial re-launch of its popular hitchhiking service scheduled for later this month, more than a year after the company suspended it following the murder of two female passengers.
According to a statement, the trial starts with trips under 50 kilometers (31 miles) in metro areas between 5am and 8pm for female users, and until 11pm for male users. The trial will be rolled out in seven cities in China, including Beijing and Shenyang.
Didi rolled out its Hitch service in 2015, and marketed it as a more socially networked version of ride-hailing. “Like a coffee shop, or a bar, a private car can become a half-open, half-private social space. It’s a very sexy application scenario,” said Huang Lijie, the former general manager of Hitch, in 2015 (link in Chinese).
But its sexually aggressive messaging drew criticism following the two passenger killings, with people blaming the firm for not doing enough to prevent attacks on its service. Earlier ad campaigns were filled with innuendos, including a suggestion that women with short skirts would get free rides, and another ad that posed the question, “Are you wet? Are you tight? Are you hard?” An earlier version of the app even included a feature that let drivers tag passengers with phrases like “long legs” and “hot as hell.”
Along with the relaunch of Hitch, Didi is also introducing a women’s safety program, including providing detailed information on drivers and passengers, and a system that identifies riskier scenarios such as evening rides and rides with remote destinations so that interventions can be made if necessary, a Didi spokesperson said, adding that the aim of the trial is to gather information about the new safety features in the real world.
“This is not the final form of the product… We are not at full-service status. When we are at full-service status everyone will have the same level of service,” the spokesperson said.
Update: Responding to the reaction on Chinese social media over the difference in service hours for men and women, Didi announced on Nov. 7 (link in Chinese) it would end service for men also at 8pm. This story was also updated on Nov. 6 with comment from Didi.