Rent a car for $2 an hour: Tribecar offers short-term rental service, allows hirers to offer paid rides

A Tribecar employee demonstrating how to unlock one of the start-up's vehicles using her smartphone yesterday. The company, which currently has a fleet of 23 cars with 210 hirers signed up, aims to expand to 500 cars by year end.
A Tribecar employee demonstrating how to unlock one of the start-up's vehicles using her smartphone yesterday. The company, which currently has a fleet of 23 cars with 210 hirers signed up, aims to expand to 500 cars by year end.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Ultra short-term rental service allows hirers to offer paid rides and could be another taxi rival

It is a car-rental, car-sharing and chauffeur service all rolled into one - and it is shaping up to be another rival to traditional taxi operations.

Two-month-old Tribecar, set up by a family which runs Malaysian conglomerate Insas, is offering short-term car rentals ranging from $2 to $6 an hour. That is a fraction of what other car-sharing plans charge, and far less onerous than the $1,500 a month most traditional rental companies levy. The starting price is even lower than any taxi flagdown fare.

Tribecar currently has a modest fleet of 23 cars (mainly Toyota Corolla Altis sedans which are five years or older), and has signed up 210 hirers who place a $100 refundable deposit with the operator.

Tribecar director Thong Mei Chuen said: "So far, no one has asked for his deposit back."

Ms Thong, 34, who runs the start-up with her brother Weng Sheng, 26, said: "We noticed an underserved group of hirers - those who want ultra short-term rentals.

"They range from mums dropping their kids off or doing grocery shopping to night-shift workers who may pick up a couple of Uber jobs to offset the cost of rental."

An investment banker for 10 years before starting Tribecar, Ms Thong said business has been encouraging, with fleet occupancy hovering at 60 per cent to 70 per cent. "We have done zero advertising," she said.

Tribecar aims to grow its fleet to 500 cars by the year end, and is looking to tie up with other rental firms.

By the time it hits 200 cars, Ms Thong said hirers will no longer have to return the vehicle to its original pick-up point and can simply leave it near their destination. Another hirer in the vicinity will pick up the car.

Ms Thong said the fleet has to be of a certain size for this operating model to work. Right now, its 23 cars are parked in high-demand areas such as Housing Board towns.

Tribecar uses a system that allows hirers to access cars just with their smartphone. Once a hirer books a vehicle at a desired location and time slot, he can unlock it by keying in a PIN on the phone.

"You don't need a stored-value card; you don't need to fiddle with a key box," Ms Thong said, referring to methods employed by other car-sharing operators.

Payment is via an e-wallet account with the company.

Ms Thong said the majority of Tribecar hirers offer paid rides through one of the many third-party ride-booking apps here.

"Increasingly, people need alternative sources of income, and this is one way they can do it," she said.

Tribecar claims all its vehicles have the proper documentation and insurance for such services.

Uber driver Jerry Yeo, 43, said that while the short-term rental concept is "brilliant", whether it will become profitable is a question mark as what draws people to drive for Grab or Uber is the "idea of having access to a set of private wheels".

Car-Sharing Association (Singapore) president Lai Meng said the new start-up was "inevitable". "It is an underserved market, and there is plenty of room for growth."

Tribecar is believed to be the first car-sharing outfit that allows its hirers to offer paid rides.

Asked if its members could use its cars to offer paid rides, car-sharing firm Whizzcar (part of Popular Rent A Car) said it is exploring the option.

Managing director K.K. Ho said: "We are not into that right now. It doesn't make sense because of the cost. We start from $13 an hour."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'Rent a car for $2 an hour'. Print Edition | Subscribe