Grab extends booking service to ComfortDelGro drivers in Singapore

SINGAPORE, March 13 — In a move seen as an attempt to undercut a tie-up between its chief rivals, ride-hailing company Grab has opened its JustGrab booking service to ComfortDelGro taxi drivers — just weeks after the taxi operator and Uber launched a similar service.

The move, however, could be running afoul of regulations, which state that taxi drivers “can only accept flat fares set by registered third-party taxi booking service providers such as Uber and Grab if these are endorsed by the partner taxi companies.” ComfortDelGro does not have a partnership with Grab.

When contacted, ComfortDelGro’s group corporate communications officer Tammy Tan said its taxi drivers “are not encouraged to take JustGrab jobs as any fare that ends up being higher than the metered fare is technically in breach of (regulations).” She added that the company was, however, “unable to stop individual drivers from taking such jobs if they so wish.”

In the past year, the private-hire car and taxi industries have consolidated: Grab partnered five taxi operators — Trans-Cab, SMRT Taxis, Prime Taxi, Premier Taxis and HDT Singapore Taxi — to roll out JustGrab last March, while ComfortDelGro and Uber joined forces to launch UberFlash in January. Meanwhile, competition among the rivals has heated up, with Grab dangling carrots to entice thousands of ComfortDelGro drivers to jump ship.

In UberFlash’s case, the taxi operator had sought fare approval from the Public Transport Council — and this was confirmed by the council in response to TODAY’s queries.

Barring a specified fare or endorsement by the taxi company, drivers can offer metered fares via ride-hailing apps, a Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesperson said in response to TODAY’s queries. Up until the new feature was rolled out by Grab early last month, ComfortDelGro cabbies could accept only bookings via the ride-hailing firm’s GrabTaxi service, which uses a metered-fare system.

Melvin Vu, head of GrabTaxi Singapore, said the new feature was part of efforts to serve its drivers better through “improved earnings, support and tools.” It followed feedback from cabbies that they would like to participate in JustGrab or spend more time on it. The National Taxi Association was consulted on the move and the LTA was also aware of the feature, he said.

By default, the feature is turned off for ComfortDelGro drivers, who have to switch it on if they wish to receive JustGrab bookings.

While he said Grab has been reminding ComfortDelGro drivers of the regulations — via a blog post and calls to active drivers, for instance — several cabbies told TODAY they did not receive or see these messages, and admitted they were flouting the rules by accepting bookings via JustGrab above the metered fares.

A ComfortDelGro driver, who wanted to be known only as Ng, 42, said that a fortnight ago, he used the JustGrab service and accepted a fare of about S$29 heading towards Bukit Panjang, which was S$5 to S$7 (RM14.80-RM20.70) above the metered rate.

A fellow driver also earned a fare of S$30 from the service for a trip from Telok Ayer Street to Toa Payoh, which was up to double the metered fare, he claimed.

While fares were generally low on JustGrab, Ng said they could rise sharply in areas such as the Orchard Road shopping belt between 9pm and 11pm. This is because JustGrab is subject to dynamic pricing, which means fares go up when demand spikes.

“I didn’t read (the regulations),” Ng said. “Most of the taxi drivers don’t read them, because our job is to fetch passengers from Point A to Point B and finish our job. If any (booking) comes in … we will take (it).”

Another ComfortDelGro driver, who gave his name only as Mr Joseph, 41, said cabbies will go for the highest fare possible. “If not, there’s no point,” he said.

He saw Grab’s move to allow ComfortDelGro cabbies to use the JustGrab service as a response to the tie-up between Uber and ComfortDelGro, and signalled a “price war” between the rivals.

TODAY has sent queries to the LTA on whether it was aware of taxi drivers flouting the regulations, and what the penalties are if any.

Apart from communicating the rules to ComfortDelGro drivers, Vu said Grab was working to improve the feature, so as to flag to the cabbies bookings where the fares are higher than metered ones.

“We believe all taxi driver-partners should be given the flexibility and choice to accept JustGrab and GrabTaxi bookings to complement street-hail jobs,” he added. — TODAY