China's Didi to relaunch Hitch service in November

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s Didi Chuxing said on Wednesday it will relaunch its Hitch carpooling service in seven Chinese cities at the end of November, with improved safety features and more rigorous driver and passenger verification mechanisms.

The ride-hailing giant suspended the service last year following the murder of a female passenger by her Didi driver.

The case badly dented Didi's image as it tries to expand overseas to compete with foreign rivals such as Uber UBER.N, and prompted the company to pledge to prioritize safety over growth.

The Hitch service was popular before its suspension, with Didi saying that it had run more than 1 billion trips in the three years after it was launched.

Didi said the trial, which would take place in cities including Beijing and Harbin, would start with trips under 50 kilometers (31 miles) in metro areas between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. for female users. Male users would be able to use the service between 5:00 a.m. and 11:00 pm.

The service would have improved safety features and would be the testbed for a women’s safety program that Didi eventually intended to roll out to other services.

Didi's backers include Japan's SoftBank Group Corp 9984.T, Apple Inc AAPL.O and U.S-based ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies, whose China business Didi acquired in 2016, making Didi the dominant operator in the world's most populous country.

Reporting by Brenda Goh and Yilei Sun; Editing by Kim Coghill and Stephen Coates