Carpool apps gaining popularity
More turn to carpooling to save money - and it's earth-friendly too
So what's the next big thing after Uber and GrabCar?
Mobile phone applications linking car owners to potential passengers have mushroomed, and those behind the apps say thousands are carpooling daily, with the numbers growing.
Some even take it to get to Johor Baru.
Carpool apps popped up after new road traffic regulations were passed in March last year.
The changes allow drivers to make two paid carpool trips per day on a cost recovery basis.
These apps join existing carpool services, including sites such as ShareTransport.sg, Tripda, CarPool King, Tompang Buddy as well as Facebook groups Executive Car Pool Club and SinJorean CarPool Group.
There is even an app - Lompang - that matches two-wheel riders with others who want a lift.
Carpool app providers say their numbers of users have been growing exponentially.
One app, Ryde, was launched last April. It already has 30,000 members in its network and the number is growing at a double-digit rate monthly, with about one in four users being drivers.
Its founder and chief executive officer, Mr Terence Zou, says: "We believe carpooling is the future of mobility.
"Ryde redefines the social experience, making the daily commute a refreshing experience."
Another app, SwiftBack, is still in its beta phase, but it already has more than 10,000 members.
More than 13,000 requests were made in the four months since its release, with a 150 per cent increase monthly. It currently has a ratio of four drivers to six riders.
While pick-up rate varies depending on demand, the acceptance rate can go up to 80 per cent on a regular day for advance requests, says co-founder and chief executive officer of SwiftBack, Mr Hyu Lim.
He adds: "However, we are working towards onboarding more users to boost the availability for all."
REDUCE CARBON FOOTPRINT
Ride-hailing platform Grab launched its carpool service GrabHitch last November. Since then, more than 2,000 people have signed up to become a driver.
Mr Lim Kell Jay, head of Grab Singapore, notes that both drivers and riders "see the value in filling unused seats and reducing the overall carbon footprint of commuting".
Uber's carpool feature, UberPOOL, is not available in Singapore yet.
Carpool app providers say users are from the younger age groups.
For Ryde, they are aged between 20 and 45 and range from students to working adults.
For SwiftBack, the drivers are mostly men aged between 21 and 34, while riders span a wider age range and gender.
As for GrabHitch, its drivers are aged between 28 and 35, and are typically white-collar workers in the Central Business District or other major industry or business clusters such as Changi Business Park and one-north.
Passengers The New Paper On Sunday spoke to say carpooling helps them save on cab fare and time, while drivers say it helps them with the cost of owning a car.
Both see it as a networking opportunity too.
Will carpooling become really popular here?
Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, says carpooling is an interesting initiative that is in line with the Government's vision of a car-lite Singapore.
He says: "However, it remains a concept in its initial phase with many questions on safety, reliability and regulation that will need to be sorted out."
But carpooling is not new.
In the past, people advertised in the newspapers for carpool partners, says Mr Ang Hin Kee, deputy chairman of the GPC for Transport.
He says: "When mobile apps come in, it makes the linkages easier. It's offering services that are available in the past, only to do it in a smarter way."
Measures to ensure smooth rides
Carpool drivers need to adhere to the new traffic regulations of not more than two paid carpool rides daily on a cost recovery basis.
And the onus is on the carpool matching service providers, says deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, Mr Ang Hin Kee.
"It's the responsibility of the app companies to flag out users with unusually high usage," he says.
"If there's an accident claim and you're doing it on a commercial basis, your private car insurance will not cover. You're putting yourself in a lot of risk."
MP Lim Biow Chuan says that allowing drivers to recover some costs makes sense.
Mr Lim, who is a member of the GPC for Transport, says: "However, I would be concerned if this turns out to be a commercial enterprise because the car owner's insurance may not allow hiring a car for commercial benefit."
Head of Grab Singapore, Mr Lim Kell Jay, says GrabHitch will ensure drivers make strictly two paid carpool trips per day.
He says: "The fares are calculated by Grab such that it will only cover the driver's variable costs, such as petrol."
For Ryde, a "proprietary algorithm" calculates the price based on variable costs of petrol, depreciation and maintenance.
Its co-founder and chief executive officer, Mr Terence Zou, says: "This is to ensure that drivers don't make a profit from carpooling. This also takes out the 'bargaining' in the process and creates a better user experience."
Similarly, SwiftBack uses an algorithm for an average cost recovery rate. It is usually half the price of a taxi or a private car hire, says co-founder and chief executive office, Mr Hyu Lim.
Among the safety features put in place by these apps are rider and driver verifications, same-gender matches and ratings and reviews from both parties.
While Ryde suspends any member with an average rating of below four stars for one month, GrabHitch has an in-app feature of "Share My Ride" to notify loved ones of their whereabouts.
And SwiftBack does not disclose individual telephone numbers freely to avoid a breach of privacy.
She's 'addicted' to carpool app
In just four months, Miss Serene Law Tian Pei, 32, has taken more than 100 carpool rideswith strangers for school, work and play.
From her home at Serangoon North, Miss Law carpools to her school at Dhoby Ghaut, her workplace at Newton and her boyfriend's home in Yishun on a daily basis.
On some days, the double degree student in hospitality and management carpools twice.
Miss Law, who works part-time as a personal assistant, started carpooling after her boyfriend introduced the app Ryde to her.
She says: "Since then, I have got addicted to it. It's the most used app on my phone."
Miss Law used to travel by bus and train to her school. It took her about an hour to get to school using public transport, but only about 15 minutes via carpooling.
Carpooling helps her save money too. A carpool ride from Serangoon North to Yishun costs her about $8, $2 cheaper than a taxi ride.
She saves even more during peak hours as there is no peak-hour surcharge and the Electronic Road Pricing charges are split between the driver and rider.
She says: "From Serangoon North to Dhoby Ghaut, a carpool ride costs about $8. Normally, I can pay up to $20 if I use a taxi."
But she has to plan her travel in advance. She puts in her carpool request about an hour to two hours earlier, or even the night before.
"It's easier for me to get rides, compared to last minute requests," she says.
Some drivers she took rides from have become close friends, with one even giving her and her boyfriend a gift each for Christmas last year.
As she takes the front passenger seat for carpool rides, she has to socialise with the drivers, she adds.
Miss Law says: "It brings us closer to the driver. We don't do our own stuff. We talk about our daily lives.
"They are not taxi drivers out to make money. Some even go out of their way to pick us up."