Jean Liu Qing, president of China’s largest ride-hailing platform Didi Chuxing, said the murder of two female passengers last year and subsequent safety crisis at the company hit harder than her personal struggle with cancer three years earlier.

Liu recalled facing her battle with breast cancer in 2015 with “a little bit of anxiety, pity and fear”, but the experience was “personally far from the crushing blow from [the Hitch service] last year,” she said in a recent interview with Chinese tech media Huxiu.com. “Everyone has the feeling of guilt,” Liu added.

First launched in 2015, Hitch enabled private car owners on Didi’s platform to give passengers going in the same direction a ride for a fee. It was put on hold over safety concerns after two passengers were murdered.

In August last year, a Hitch driver was arrested by police and confessed to raping and killing a 20-year-old woman passenger in China’s eastern Zhejiang province. That tragedy came about three months after a 21-year-old flight attendant was raped and killed in central Henan province by a man using his father’s Didi account.

The company logo of ride hailing company Didi Chuxing is seen on a car door at the IEEV New Energy Vehicles Exhibition in Beijing, China on October 18, 2018. (Picture: Thomas Peter/Reuters)

On Wednesday Didi verified the authenticity of the Huxiu.com interview.

Liu’s remarks are the first she has made comparing the impact of the passenger deaths to her own health struggles. The car-pooling service resumed in several selected cities, including Harbin, Taiyuan and Changzhou, on trial basis this month.

Didi, which in 2016 pushed Uber out of China in exchange for the US ride sharing giant taking a minority stake, has undergone a year-long overhaul as it sought to regain public confidence that was shaken by the tragedies.

New safety measures introduced include compulsory in-trip audio recording and a panic button linked directly to local police stations. Didi has also removed about 306,000 drivers from its platform since August last year, or one in every 100 registered drivers as of 2018, according to company statistics.

The relaunch of Hitch follows a “comprehensive safety review” and product revamp that began last year, the company said earlier this month. The redesigned service includes more rigorous driver and passenger verification and rating mechanisms.

However, the comeback has not been smooth sailing. Didi’s earlier decision to let male passengers use the service until 11pm while woman had an 8pm curfew ignited a public backlash, prompting Didi to reverse the decision and operate between 5am and 8pm for all users.