Commercial carpooling is not something new to Singaporeans, but for Grab, the introduction of GrabShare earlier this month marks the first time that the on-demand ride-hailing company is diving into this concept.
Their eternal rivals, Uber, has had carpooling for some time now in the form of uberPOOL in select countries, and Singaporeans finally got a taste of it earlier in June.
To be fair, Grab already had carpool option GrabHitch, although it not being considered as a direct competitor, given that it didn’t use private-hire drivers, but merely ordinary people who didn’t mind giving a stranger a lift for some pocket money.
Now with GrabShare, private-hire drivers are now on the carpool bandwagon, and this has enabled Grab to quickly grow the service among its users since its launch 3 weeks ago.
Being new to carpooling myself, and given that GrabShare is a new service, I decided to try it out.
Getting Started With GrabShare
This part is a no brainer. Simply load up the Grab app on your smartphone and do all the usual steps such as typing down pickup and dropoff addresses, and choose the GrabShare option from the bottom row.
The experience is pretty much the same as going on regular GrabCar rides. The app will also tell you the location of the second rider if you are the first to be picked up.
I typically didn’t have to wait long before the app found me a driver – maybe it’s because I wasn’t going to some ulu location for all my rides so far.
Thereafter, actually waiting for the driver to arrive at my pickup point usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes; slightly longer if a phone call is needed to find out where the driver has stopped.
After getting in, it’s off to pickup the second rider before going to my destination.
The Awkward Silence
I’ll just come out to say this, those ads showing how carpooling is all rainbows and sunshines of fun and laughter probably happens only 1% of the time.
More often than not, people are more preoccupied with their mobile phones than the person beside them.
A typical ride will more often than not consist of an awful lot of awkward silences, with the occasional directional query by the driver.
In fact, I found myself talking to the drivers more than my fellow passengers, especially before picking up, or after dropping off the other rider.
Conversations will usually revolve around the GrabShare service or Grab and Uber comparisons (which I will elaborate more on later), peppered with the usual small talk about life in Singapore.
These were some of the mutterings I got from my fellow riders in response to a question I asked of them, which was about why they chose to take GrabShare over other alternatives.
“I wanted to see if there was a difference to uberPOOL.”
“Because its a lot cheaper due to the promos.”
“Just trying out this new service, because why not.”
Fairly generic and expected answers, but important insights nonetheless. The more interesting conversations, though, were with the drivers themselves, and this is what they said.
A Mixed Bag For Drivers At The Moment
On my first ever GrabShare ride, after dropping off the other rider, the middle-aged uncle behind the wheel (aka my driver) struck up a conversation to ask about my thoughts on the service and how it compares to uberPOOL.
I told him that that the very ride I was then on was my first ever using a carpool service, and before that, I’ve only ever been on GrabCar and Uber. So since I couldn’t really offer him any perspectives aside from those as a first time carpool-er, he instead shared with me how it had been for him.
He used our ride that day as an example.
According to him, a typical drive on GrabCar with my destination would have taken at most half an hour, yet there we were 45 minutes in, still a good distance away from my drop off point, though it was relatively nearby.
Having attended Grab’s media event where Singapore Head Lim Kell Jay launched GrabShare, the official statistics for additional travel time was listed as “20% more”. Then, I didn’t really think much about it because that was my first time, and I was not in a hurry anyway.
Another point that the driver pointed out was that rider matches can sometimes be a bit ludicrous. This was a sentiment echoed by the other drivers in the 3 weeks that I took GrabShare.
Personally, all my matches have been “along the way”, which aside from my very first ride, I have only seen an additional 10 minutes in traveling time.
For the drivers though, some of their journeys have taken them on an extended scenic route around Singapore.
One driver recounts an instance where he had 2 riders, one dropping off at Ang Mo Kio (in the North-East), and the other in Orchard (in the Central area). Another driver shared of a journey which had him send riders to Punggol, and then to Changi Airport.
While Singapore may be a small country, Singaporeans can agree that examples such as the above are by no means “nearby”.
Despite all the shortcomings of GrabShare, though, I feel that all these issues will be ironed out over time.
Grab is absolutely serious about improving rides across all their services through data – so much so that they now count on 3 R&D facilities in Singapore, Seattle and Beijing as part of their efforts.
Like I’ve mentioned earlier, I have been lucky that my GrabShare rides haven’t taken me on a grand tour of Singapore – yet.
The drivers agree too, and have said that for the most part, it has largely been a positive experience for them, aside for the occasional mismatch of rider locations, while most of the time drop-off locations can sometimes be quite some way off.
Also, I’m proud to say that I have experienced the joy of carpooling… solo, though it happened only once.
I think that the major appeal factor of carpool is definitely the lower cost. I mean we are already sharing a cabin with strangers when we are taking the MRT and buses daily anyways, so what’s wrong with sharing a car?
In my rides thus far, the difference in cost can clearly be seen between GrabShare and GrabCar. On average, I am saving about $4 to $5 per trip, judging by the fare estimates on the Grab app.
Until today I have never tried carpooling, and thanks to Grab I have.
Now, I am curious to find out how it’s like over at uberPOOL.
Watch this space.