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Just last month, we talked about the launch of a local carpool service for school-going children, Schoolber.

Created by husband and wife team Toni and Charlemagne Teh, the service works very much like UberPOOL, except that the drivers are parents who are also sending their children to school.

With safety of the children as a priority, the corresponding app would also help notify parents of when the transport is arriving, and when the child is dropped off safely at school.

Schoolber's services / Image credit: Schoolber
Schoolber’s services / Image credit: Schoolber

The concept seemed to be a hit, and even at that point of time, Schoolber had received “200 parent drivers who’ve signed up their interest, and 1,000 parents who are planning to enrol their children with the service”.

However, some parents were also voicing concerns that the service, as compared to more ‘traditional’ private bus service providers, doesn’t seem to provide the much-needed insurance that will cover them in the event of accidents.

SSTA vs. Schoolber

Fast forward a month, and the startup has once again appeared on the news – this time, with the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) raising concerns on “whether the service […] was legitimate and covered by insurance”, pretty much voicing the sentiments of some parents in the previous coverage.

The Association has around 1,200 members consisting of self-employed bus operators and owners of transport firm, and they have a fleet of over 3,500 buses in total.

Image Credit: wanderlustandlipstick.com
Image Credit: wanderlustandlipstick.com

While its executive council chairman, Wong Ann Lin, said that “it welcomed the competition”, it also suggested that Schoolber is a ‘pirate’ service, stating that “If [parents] are willing to help [one another] voluntarily, then that is good… If they are collecting a fare, [then] it’s different.”

Wong also emphasised that school bus drivers are “vocationally trained and go through background checks”, and questioned if parents should be letting other parents drive their children.

However, he refused to comment when asked if their concerns are simply raised in light of a new competitor.

Inevitably, Schoolber’s co-founder Charlemagne Lim spoke out against SSTA’s statements, stating that “it adheres to carpooling laws as parents do only two pooled trips a day – what is legally permissible – and collects a fee only to cover costs”, and unsuccessful matches for carpools will be refunded.

She also reiterated the safe driving practices by parent drivers, given that “The parent is driving his own kids in the car, so he also has to ensure their safety.”

As for insurance, however, Lim mentioned that since the service is a carpooling arrangement, (which, by law, exempts drivers from the need of having vocational licenses) no commercial insurance is required by its drivers.

Singaporeans, And Singaporean Parents Respond

On social media, Singaporeans (most of whom are parents) seem to be taking on the side of Schoolber, many stating that the Association seems to be only bringing these concerns up because it’s facing a disruptor to the long-standing status quo.

"Take this competition as a wake up call."
“Take this competition as a wake up call.”
"Why do you think that the government has been telling people to upskill and multi-skill?"
“Why do you think that the government has been telling people to upskill and multi-skill?”
"Got cheaper alternative, why not?"
“Got cheaper alternative, why not?”

A few have also brought up their personal grouses about the currently-standing bus services, which they say are not only expensive, but require payment even during June and December month-long holidays.

"No choice for some parents, but not worth it."
“No choice for some parents, but not worth it.”
"If parents [are] pirates...then can I call them robbers?"
“If parents [are] pirates…then can I call them robbers?”
"Such monopoly is really uncalled for."
“Such monopoly is really uncalled for.”
"Still dare to complain, profiteering through high monthly fares, including school holidays"
“Still dare to complain, profiteering through high monthly fares, including school holidays”
"Time to break it up and make it a free market."
“Time to break it up and make it a free market.”

According to the Straits Times report, Schoolber’s fees are recommended to be set between $70-$150 a month, while bus fares currently range from $80-$300 per month.

For the former’s model, fees are stopped during the June and December holiday months.

While many have stated that the disruption is inevitable and it was only time that the ‘monopoly’ was broken, some have also suggested that as compared to complaining, bus operators could sell their strengths and use it as a chance to improve instead.

"You knew this was coming, it's a matter of time."
“You knew this was coming, it’s a matter of time.”
"We all need to fight for survival"
“We all need to fight for survival”

In the end, all’s fair in love and business, and this comment summed it up perfectly:

"If it is beneficial to the students, then it works."
“If it is beneficial to the students, then it works.”

Who Will Prevail?

From general comments, it does seem like the previous concerns about insurance have been cast aside – but perhaps only temporarily.

Either way, it’s clear that many are embracing the disruption and have taken SSTA’s statements rather negatively. But as for whether Schoolber will bring about a significant dent to the current hold of the industry by bus operators – only time will tell.

Feature Image Credit:wadheramagicalmysterytour.wordpress.com

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