On-demand app lets owners book rides for pets

Mr Adrian Goh (far left), receiving his two dogs from PetMate driver Sydney Fong Kah Woh, who had brought the dogs home after they had been groomed at Petitudo. PetMate's drivers are screened to ensure they have experience with pets and are put throu
Mr Adrian Goh (far left), receiving his two dogs from PetMate driver Sydney Fong Kah Woh, who had brought the dogs home after they had been groomed at Petitudo. PetMate's drivers are screened to ensure they have experience with pets and are put through a one-hour orientation.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Ride requests are matched with a pool of drivers who ferry pets in their spare time

A local start-up has launched its own version of "Uber", but for pets instead of human passengers.

PetMate, which started operating in Singapore last month, is an on-demand transportation service that allows people to book rides for their dogs and cats using a mobile app.

The app matches ride requests with a pool of car drivers - 300 strong - who have signed up with the company to ferry pets in their spare time to earn some extra income.

It provides an additional option, on top of existing pet taxi services, for people who need rides for their pets and have difficulty finding them. Fares start at $27 for a single trip, while return trips are priced between $60 and $70, depending on the distance. Pets can be picked up unaccompanied for trips to the vet or the groomer, or owners can opt to join the ride.

PetMate is a spin-off from CarPal, a local on-demand delivery service which was started by Dutchman Maarten Hemmes in May last year. Car drivers for the parent company courier small items, such as cakes and flowers. For hygiene reasons, PetMate and CarPal have entirely separate pools of drivers.

On why he set up PetMate, Mr Hemmes said: "It's a big challenge for people with pets to get cabs. You have to call first and ask the driver if he is okay with it, and most are not, especially if it's a big animal.

"We thought - if we can find a group of drivers who have pets themselves... and are enthusiastic about dealing with animals, why not let them function as drivers?" he said.

While pet taxi services have been available in Singapore since the 1990s, Mr Hemmes said PetMate's proposition is different. "We have a large database of drivers, so we can meet pet owners' requests. In some cases, we may be cheaper too," he said.

There are close to 20 companies and individuals offering pet taxi services, with vehicles ranging from saloon cars to vans. Prices range between $15 and $50 for a single trip.

Moving forward, Mr Hemmes said he is exploring the possibility of making PetMate truly on-demand when the driver pool is bigger. Currently, pet owners are advised to make bookings six to 12 hours in advance, but there is an emergency number for urgent rides, he said.

Businesses have already started tapping PetMate, but admit that it will take time for owners to warm up to the concept.

Ms Sharon Low, managing director of pet grooming service Petitudo, uses the service about three to four times a week.

While Petitudo has its own van and full-time driver, she said there is high demand from owners to have their pets sent home from the salon on weekdays, when they are at work, and PetMate can help address this.

"We offer customers the option. Some of them may not want their dogs to be picked up by other people," she said. "But we work with PetMate to ensure procedures are followed - such as disinfecting the carriers and requiring drivers to snap a photo of the dog when it has reached home."

Mr Hemmes said PetMate's drivers are screened to ensure they have experience with pets and are put through a one-hour orientation. They are also guided through their first job by staff, and feedback is gathered from both driver and customer.

Senior payroll officer Melisa Tan, 34, who owns a cavoodle, said: "If I do use PetMate, I'll prefer to accompany my dog, as I'd rather not leave my dog in the hands of a stranger. I'll wait to see if this service is successful, before I let my dog travel alone."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2015, with the headline 'On-demand app lets owners book rides for pets'. Print Edition | Subscribe