Ride-hailing firm Grab makes debut in Cambodia

Grab drivers stand beside their vehicles during the launch of the ride hailing-firm's services in the country, in Phnom Penh on Dec 19.
Grab drivers stand beside their vehicles during the launch of the ride hailing-firm's services in the country, in Phnom Penh on Dec 19.PHOTO: AFP

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Southeast Asia's top ride-hailing firm Grab launched its service in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Tuesday (Dec 19), as it looks to lock down regional domination against main rival Uber.

The debut follows Uber's launch in September and expands Singapore-based Grab's presence to an eighth country in South-east Asia, where it says it controls 71 per cent of the private-vehicle hailing market.

While ride-sharing giant Uber is largest firm of its kind with a presence in more than 600 cities, the US-based company has been rocked by scandals and is facing fierce competition from rivals in Asia and Europe.

Sun Chanthol, Cambodia's transportation minister, hailed Grab's launch as a move towards "modernising Cambodia's transport infrastructure".

"These new online services will save time and generally bypass the bureaucracy that has previously been a burden to our citizens," he said.

Grab said it signed a deal with the government to support infrastructure development, including sharing anonymised traffic data to help authorities control road congestion.

Phnom Penh lacks subway services and its roads are routinely clogged by cars, motorcycles and tuk-tuks, causing regular headaches for the capital's two million residents.

Competition between ride-hailing apps has been heating up in South-east Asia's rapidly expanding market, which is forecast to grow more than five times to US$13.1 billion (S$17.6 billion) by 2025, according to a 2016 report by Singapore investment firm Temasek.

Grab, which launched in 2012, has poured money into expanding its regional fleet and now has more than 2.1 million drivers in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.

It offers locally tailored services such as motorcycle taxis, package and food deliveries and cash payment.

But despite their huge popularity, both Grab and Uber have run into regulatory problems and hostility from local taxi drivers in the region.