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Mixed responses from taxi drivers on new street-hail service GrabNow

SINGAPORE: A new scheme from Grab will be coming to Singapore in the second half of this month, which will allow passengers to treat taxi rides they hail from the street as Grab rides.

But taxi drivers Channel NewsAsia spoke to were generally doubtful about whether it will help increase customer pick-up rates. 

With GrabNow, customers in Singapore will be able to earn reward points, as well as use their credit card stored in the app to pay for their rides. Collected reward points are then used for discounts on future rides.

Participating GrabTaxi drivers can be identified by a special GrabNow decal, said a press release from Grab on Monday (Aug 7).

“So the concept of GrabNow is that, when you do a street-hail, the passenger can actually convert that street hail into a Grab ride,” said a Grab spokesperson.

The service stems from GrabBike, first launched in Indonesia where passengers use the Grab app to pay for rides from motorbikes they hailed from the street, the spokesperson added. 

To use GrabNow, passengers simply need to launch the Grab app, select the “Standard Taxi” service, followed by the “GrabNow” option. This will prompt the passenger’s and the GrabTaxi driver-partner’s mobile devices to pair.

Pairing will “take no more than ten seconds and can be done either via Google Nearby, or a 6-digit code issued from the driver’s app, which the passenger can enter into their device”, said Grab.

The trip will then be registered as a GrabTaxi ride and can be paid for seamlessly using Grab’s in-app cashless payment feature GrabPay, or by cash.

The cost of the ride will be based on the taxi meter. When the passenger has reached their destination, the driver will key in the amount reflected on the meter and the metered fare will be charged to the choice of payment method. No booking fee will be added to that amount.

According to Grab, fares from GrabNow rides will be paid to taxi drivers in full.

Taxi driver Mr Leow isn’t optimistic about the new service. He has been using Grab for two years but said GrabNow probably won’t increase customers. 

“There’s no benefit for us,” he said. “The passenger is troubling the driver and themselves.

“Who has time to wait so long for the app to pair before you can start your journey? And the driver doesn’t get booking fee either, why would I go through the trouble of pairing with you.”

He also expressed fears that private-hire vehicles would be able to use it. “For now, LTA says they cannot, so Grab will just go for taxis first,” said Mr Leow. “If it’s just for taxi drivers, then obviously that is a good thing, but I don’t know how many people will actually use it.

“If a passenger wanted to use GrabNow with me, I’d tell them ‘no, I don’t know how to use it’. If they insist then I’ll just tell them to find another taxi.

“It’s quite troublesome for us.”

“My friends also don’t think it will help. When you flag us off the street, why need to pair? Can just go,” he said.

Mr Leow added that passengers may use it in the beginning with promotions by Grab, but they wouldn’t use the service just for Grab points. He said they wouldn’t use it for Grab’s cashless payment method either, since there are other ways to pay – be it cash or cashless. 

On the other hand, taxi driver Mr Lim, who has also been using Grab for about two years, said the new service is “no harm to us”.

“I have the Grab app, so if customer has it too then I can use it too. No problem,” he said. “It’s just an additional option of payment for those who want to use their credit. It’s no different than if I use my own machines.

“Most of the passengers I get from the street, I don’t think they bother to use Grab or will want to pair up. They are those that don’t use booking apps, that’s why they flag off the street,” he added.

He also noted that the older generation may not pick it up, even if it is a street-hail service: “I don’t think old people will use it,” he said, referring to commuters and drivers. “Majority of them don’t use these booking apps.

“Even my daytime driver, he is about 70 years old and he doesn’t use a smartphone. Just based on flag-down, I do feel they (the older drivers) will lose out, but they probably don’t care as much.”

Mr Rosland added it is a “win-win situation for passengers”, but drivers may get frustrated when passengers refuse rides with them because they don’t have the service. 

“Passengers can get into a cab, but if the driver doesn’t have the Grab app, it’ll be up to the passenger whether they choose to get out or not,” said the taxi driver who has been using the app for about one year. 

He also noted that drivers may get frustrated when passengers skip their taxi because the Grab decal is not on their car. 

Speaking on the long wait time for the driver and the passenger’s app to pair, Mr Rosland said it would be wasting time to wait for the app to pair first: “You can start your journey first, while the app is pairing, but the passenger has to bear in mind that if it the pairing fails then they’ll have to use other methods to pay, other than the Grab services.

“Why should I wait by the street or at the taxi stand for it to pair first before I start the journey? It will also cause the queue to lengthen.”

“VALUE-ADD SERVICE”: GRAB

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, Grab said it sees the service as a “value-add”.

“The issue is that if you just do a normal street-hail, you don’t get Grab points for the ride,” said the spokesperson. “So that’s how we see GrabNow becoming a value-add. We’re just digitising the front part of it. And I think for drivers, it helps them slowly get more involved in the whole cashless society.

“It will also allow drivers to capture and address the ever-growing base of consumers who are using the Grab app daily to get around.”

There are currently no plans to roll out GrabNow to private-hire cars, especially as such services are not allowed to accept street hails, as stated in the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) regulations. 

GrabNow is available in beta and will be progressively rolled out to all Grab users this week, said the Grab statement. 

“STILL EARLY DAYS”

Adviser to the National Taxi Association Ang Hin Kee said it was too early to make a definitive call on the new service. 

“If the income is better and the frequency of hits is better and it equals less empty cruising for cabbies, I think it will be well received,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “Cabbies are monitoring to see if the new service will draw in new customers and make it more convenient for existing ones too.”

Mr Ang said the cashless payment system and pairing of the phones between the driver and the passenger may also help to reduce disembarking time and incidences of fare evasion. 

He said he has got mixed responses from drivers who have gone for training.

“Some are giving it a shot to see if it does make it easier for commuters and bring in more income,” said Mr Ang. “But others fear private-hire vehicles might try and make use of it by picking up customers off the street.”

When asked about possible delays caused by the 20 seconds needed to pair the driver and passenger’s phone, Mr Ang said “all rides should be picked up or dropped off when it is safe to do so”.

He added that for seniors who are not used to such digital initiatives – be they the passengers or the drivers – more needs to be done to help bridge the digital gap.

Responding to concerns of cashless systems and drivers favouring cash over credit, Mr Ang said: “If it is peer payment that gets deposited into your bank account instantly or comes with very short waiting time, I think it will be fine, especially if it draws in new commuters.”


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