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GrabTaxi lets Singapore passengers hitch rides

Southeast Asian taxi booking service provider begins a beta carpooling service in Singapore, letting private car drivers pick up passengers at a moderated fee, with plans for an official launch by end-2015.

GrabTaxi has begun a beta of its new service that lets private car drivers offer rides to passengers for a moderated fee, in a move its says fills a gap in the market.

The Southeast Asian taxi booking company said the new service, called GrabHitch, would enable car owners to pick up others who were heading the same way and recover some of the cost of maintaining their vehicle.

"GrabHitch addresses a gap in the current market and provides a transport option at a price point between taxis and public transit options, such as trains and buses," it said in a statement Wednesday. "Passengers who want a convenient door-to-door service at an affordable price can choose GrabHitch. Drivers can share their ride with passengers going the same way to offset the cost of their journey."

It noted that there were more than 500,000 private cars in Singapore potentially providing vacant seats that could be filled with passengers.

To comply with local carpooling regulations, GrabTaxi said drivers would only be permitted to accept up to two GrabHitch rides a day. It added that fares would only cover the car owner's variable costs such as petrol and car depreciation, and would be calculated based on the distance of the ride. The calculated rates would be displayed upfront, so passengers would be able to decide whether to confirm the booking at that given fare.

GrabTaxi's co-founder Tan Hooi Ling said: "GrabHitch hits the sweet spot for people who want a door-to-door transport service, but prefer not to pay a premium above public train or bus fares. We think GrabHitch will attract users of public transit options, which will alleviate the crowds on trains and buses."

Through its app, the company would match GrabHitch drivers and passengers travelling on the same route or destination. Both parties would have to log into Facebook to tap the service, enabling each to view the other's profile, it said, noting that this would help establish user safety. Both parties also would be able to indicate a preference to ride with someone of the same gender.

Drivers who were keen to sign up for the service first would have to provide various documents, including driver's license, motor vehicle registration, and insurance, and would be checked to ensure they did not commit any major traffic offences.

Fares would be paid via the GrabTaxi app, and passengers would be able to pre-book a ride seven days in advance or up to 15 minutes before pickup. The company estimated that GrabHitch rides would come up to about half the cost of a taxi ride.

The new service is currently under beta and available for driver signups, with the official launch slated to take place before the end of the year. There currently are 160,000 drivers who are registered to accept GrabTaxi bookings in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Its app has clocked 9 million downloads across the Southeast Asian region.

Its latest service launch comes amid the Singapore government's ongoing review of ride-sharing services. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said in a post that such services should to be assessed to determine if the government, "where justified", would have to "level the playing field" for existing taxi drivers.

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GrabHitch matches private car owners and passengers heading the same way. (Photo credit: GrabTaxi)