Ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing said Wednesday it was reinstating a carpooling service suspended in China last year after two female passengers were murdered by drivers, but critics slammed new safety rules as discriminatory against women.
While men can use the revamped "Hitch" service -- which is separate from Didi's main ride-hailing platform -- until 11pm, women will only be able to use it between 5am and 8pm at night.
In a statement on social media platform Weibo, Didi said it had added 330 "feature optimizations" in the 435 days since the service was suspended, and received 300,000 suggestions from users.
The new pilot operation will be launched in seven cities this month, Didi said, and will offer users "safe, economical, friendly and environmentally friendly ways to travel."
As part of its new safety drive, Didi will also limit the length of journeys available in the carpool service to less than 50 kilometres (30 miles).
The news that women were restricted to shorter hours than men was met with angry reactions online.
"It's disgusting. I get the point. The root cause of sex crimes is that women go out at night," said Weibo user.
"If the driver grabs money, do you want to tell the passengers not to take valuables with them?" wrote another.
"This is called discrimination," raged a third.
Responding to criticism, a Didi spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the company aimed to "extend full service to all Hitch riders and drivers as we continue to improve on product and safety functions."
Didi's ride-hailing services are used by hundreds of millions of customers in China.
But the company came under intense criticism after two young female passengers were murdered last year in two separate cases by drivers using the Hitch carpool service.
Didi apologised, suspended Hitch and strengthened its safety features.
The episode fuelled pressure for greater regulation of carpooling services, which generally face less stringent requirements and oversight than regular ride-hailing.
In February this year Didi, which muscled Uber out of China in 2016, said it was planning to make around 2,500 "new hires" in areas including safety technology, product engineering and driver management.
It claims more than 31 million drivers and 550 million users across its various services.
While men can use the revamped 'Hitch' service - which is separate from Didi's main ride-hailing platform - until 11pm, women will only be able to use the carpooling service between 5pm and 8pm at night