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Are dedicated carpooling apps doomed to fail?




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Ride-hailing giants such as Grab and Uber already have carpooling features. Can a startup that offers only this service survive in a small market like Singapore?


Many commuters in Singapore are already familiar with carpooling options such as GrabShare, GrabHitch and UberPool. But before the ride-hailing giants debuted these services, there had already been numerous attempts to popularise carpooling.

Check out this local carpooling site called Tompang Buddy (a variation of the Malay word ‘tumpang’, which means “to hitch a ride”) below.


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The company was founded in 2013, but the clunky and dated UI looks like it was designed for military operations rather than for a person trying to hail a ride. It is easy to see why this never really took off.

Then, there is a deluge of other apps such as Lompang, Tripda, CarpoolSG, Pool My Ride and SwiftBack.

Most people have never heard of these apps — and for good reason too. Many of them are either, 1) under the radar due to low user engagement and poor marketing, or 2) inactive.

US-based Tripda expanded to Singapore, but only briefly — the company hit the brakes late last year. Singapore-founded SwiftBack sent its drivers over to Grab’s social carpooling service GrabHitch after it shuttered.

Suffice to say, dedicated carpooling apps are not exactly adept at generating sustainable growth.

I asked Terence Zou, co-founder of one the last few standing carpooling app in Singapore, RYDE, about possibility of being Grab’s next meal. He said:

“We do not see other third-party transport providers as direct competitors due to our unique value proposition of carpooling. The entire fleet of vehicles on RYDE are fully owned by its respective drivers…RYDE drivers are non-commercial drivers, and are only offering the carpool service along the way to their destination or vicinity of it.”

Also Read: 77 per cent of drivers carpool to save money: RYDE survey

Nice explanation, but it is still difficult to identify RYDE’s uniqueness against the likes of GrabHitch and the now-demised SwiftBack.

RYDE is like the lovechild of GrabHitch and SwiftBack. The former allows users to request for carpooling rides up to 7 days in advance — with no surge pricing. It matches them with a driver that is also travelling along the same route during that period.

The latter lets users contact specific drivers and the drivers are free to dictate their own fees. For RYDE, that fee is automatically calculated using an algorithm.

RYDE also recently partnered local taxi company ComfortDelGro to offer the option of hitching with a cab for a flat or metered fee. But that, again, is nothing fresh. Grab offers JustGrab taxi rides at flat fees. For metered fees, well, there’s GrabTaxi of course.

That being said, RYDE has its supporters: It also participated in INFINITI LAB’s 8-week “Smart Mobility” programme. Currently, it has over 100,000 users and 30,000 registered privately-owned cars. The addition of ComfortDelGro will add 16,000 vehicles to its fleet.

RYDE also has new features in the pipeline to keep up with Grab and Uber, such as an e-payments platform, limousines and airport transfer.

But let’s be honest here, the ride-hailing giants are its competitors. RYDE is not offering a complementary service; it’s offering exactly the same service as Grab, albeit with different bells and whistles.

Grab declined to disclose details for GrabHitch, but claimed that it was used for over 90 per cent of social carpooling trips — so if this is not the definition of competition, I don’t know what that word means.

And let’s not forget that commercial carpooling options have been a massive hit with commuters. Grab said over 8 million GrabShare rides have been taken across six of its markets.

Social or commercial carpooling, their nuanced differences are not apparent to most users. Commuting is about getting to Point A to Point B for the best price or fastest time; making friends is secondary.

And if Grab and Uber are taking the lion’s share of carpooling requests, what room is there for RYDE to navigate?

Consider this, if US smartphone user trends are any indication, most people are not downloading new apps. So the idea of having to install a new app for rides — especially if there are no significant cost differences — may not seem enticing.

That being said, if RYDE’s core users continue to be sticky, it could still carve out its own niche. But it is really difficult to forecast a high-growth trajectory for the company, and if it can’t scale, it won’t get additional backing, and if Bloomberg reporting is true a dearth of funding could be bleak for the company.

The road for RYDE is going to be narrow and bumpy, and if this is all it is going to offer, expect it to run out of gas in the near future.


Copyright: libertos / 123RF Stock Photo

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