SINGAPORE - Transport giant ComfortDelGro is adding 25 private-hire cars to its fleet as part of a trial scheme that will take the fight to the door of ride-hailing services like Grab and Gojek.
The cars will be available on its booking service from Feb 4 but they will not be allowed to do street hires.
The trial announced on Thursday (Jan 28) will run until March and could see the taxi firm gradually open up to more private hire cars and enter into more direct competition with Grab and Gojek.
ComfortDelgro said it will assess the response to the service when the month-long trial ends.
Passengers using the app can choose a familiar taxi - a process that is already operational - or be open to being ferried by one of the private-hire cars.
Only in-app cashless payments are accepted.
Adding more private cars allows companies like ComfortDelGro to quickly expand their fleets without having to actually own the vehicles.
ComfortDelgro is already the biggest taxi company here with more than 10,000 cabs. Grab, likely the largest ride-hailing operator, has not been forthcoming about how many drivers it has.
The 25 drivers in the ComfortDelGro trial will undergo a two-hour training session, where they will be familiarised with the booking app.
The commission fee for booking jobs will be lower than the market rate during the trial, which will mean more earnings for these early joiners of the scheme.
ComfortDelgro was awarded a ride-hail service operator licence last year, allowing it to use its existing app for commuter bookings. Grab, Gojek and Tada were also awarded the same licence.
ComfortDelgro's latest move further blurs the distinction between traditional taxi firms and the fast growing ride-hailing companies, with the two increasingly converging since the entry of Uber in 2013.
The National Taxi Association (NTA) said there are some concerns among ComfortDelgro taxi drivers about the trial as it could mean increased competition.
Demand for rides is hovering at about 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, noted the Land Transport Authority.
Older drivers also continue to struggle with using mobile apps, despite more bookings being made on them as passengers like the convenience.
The NTA suggested that ComfortDelgro should reduce its rent for taxis if there is a further drop in earnings.
It said: "While ComfortDelgro has been supportive of government schemes and is proactive in rolling out assistance for taxi drivers affected by the pandemic, lives and livelihoods of our drivers remain a top priority to the NTA.
"We will also continue to gather feedback and engage ComfortDelgro to ensure that this can become a win-win for taxi drivers and commuters."
The Straits Times has contacted Grab for comment. Gojek said it has nothing to add.