Commuters: Easier, faster, often cheaper to snag a ride

This screen shot shows how UberX users can call for a private car to pick them up. More than half of the respondents in a Sunday Times online poll said they used booking apps as often as every day.
This screen shot shows how UberX users can call for a private car to pick them up. More than half of the respondents in a Sunday Times online poll said they used booking apps as often as every day.PHOTO: UBER

It has become easier, faster and even cheaper sometimes to get a ride since third-party ride-booking apps hit Singapore about two years ago, say commuters, adding that the choices available to them now have been a boon.

For 22-year-old flight attendant Katherine Solano, taking an Uber ride home from the airport is now her preferred mode of car travel as it costs less than a cab. Uber charges $1.50 extra for an airport pick-up, while surcharges for mainstream taxi operators, such as ComfortDelGro, range from $3 to $5.

Ms Solano is part of a growing number of people who prefer such third-party services to booking cabs through taxi companies.

In a Sunday Times online poll of more than 500 people, four in five cited ride-matching services for private cars such as UberX or GrabCar as their first choice.

 
 
 
 

More than half - 53 per cent - said they used private-hire cars provided through booking apps as often as every day.

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A survey by market research firm YouGov last month, which polled 1,929 online respondents, showed that 73 per cent of people got a taxi in September by flagging one from the street.

But it suggests that when they are unable to do so, more turned to third-party apps than taxi companies' booking services.

Around 42 per cent of respondents got a cab through a third-party app, while 28 per cent did so by booking through a cab company.

Such apps include Uber, GrabTaxi, Hailo, MoobiTaxi and newly-launched Pair Taxi.

In the survey, top reasons cited for the apps' popularity were that they are easy to use, show the availability of drivers nearby and make it easier to get a ride.

 

Lawyer Dominique Chua, 27, hardly uses taxis any more.

"Most of the time, I can get an UberX car in about five minutes. Booking a taxi can take around 10 minutes and sometimes, I end up using public transport instead," she said.

Incentives offered by app companies also encourage commuters to try them out.

Civil servant Wilbert Tedja, 25, started using UberX late last year because the company gave free credits for referring friends to sign up, which he later used to pay for rides.

Now, he looks to UberX first when he needs a ride urgently and cannot hail a cab on the streets.

Editorial coordinator Lim Jie Le, 22, likes UberX for its drivers' good service. Drivers are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 after a trip and must maintain an average rating of 4.3 or risk being suspended or banned.

But Ms Lim added that surge pricing, where charges rise according to demand, can be unpredictable as fares can rise by three to four times.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng explained that the apps come in to fill a gap caused by commuter behaviour.

"For bookings, people tend to go for Comfort because of the higher chance of getting a cab," he said.

ComfortDelGro accounts for nearly 60 per cent of Singapore's total fleet of around 28,500 cabs.

But because of this, Professor Lee added, the company's system may experience high demand during peak hours.

"I think the first step the Government should take is to have a common platform for the taxi supply to meet the demand," he said, citing London- and New York-based app Karhoo as a potential means to level the playing field.

Karhoo will launch here next year, enabling commuters to pick a cab or private-hire car across firms based on criteria such as cost, arrival time and vehicle type.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Commuters: Easier, faster, often cheaper to snag a ride'. Print Edition | Subscribe