More choices for commuters on first day of ComfortDelGro, Uber tie-up

While promising cheaper and faster rides for users, UberFlash also uses surge pricing, in which prices rise during periods of high demand. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Commuters making use of UberFlash, the new service pooling Uber's private-hire cars and ComfortDelGro's taxis which debuted on Friday (Jan 19), would have found rides that showed up quickly, but were not necessarily cheaper than other taxi or ride-hailing services.

While promising cheaper and faster rides for users, UberFlash - a service on the Uber app which matches commuters with the nearest Uber private-hire car or ComfortDelGro taxi - also uses surge pricing, in which prices rise during periods of high demand.

In a comparison by The Straits Times of various ride-hailing options at different times on Friday, waiting times between the different services were comparable.

However, UberFlash did not always come out on top for price.

Because of surge pricing, a trip from Punggol to Raffles Place cost $32.30 on UberFlash during the morning peak of 9am. This was cheaper than the ride-hailing service's UberX platform, which cost $33.91 during the same period.

However, it was more expensive than a ride on JustGrab - which like UberFlash allocates the nearest taxi or private-hire car to customers - which was priced at $26 and did not indicate higher demand at the time.

ComfortDelGro's own fixed fare, which does not fluctuate based on demand, was $27.50. A metered taxi cost $27.95 for the same trip.

An off-peak afternoon trip between Toa Payoh and Paya Lebar cost $10.41 on UberFlash, compared to $10 using JustGrab and $12.55 on a metered taxi.

The evening peak coincided with a rainy spell, which tends to increase demand and thus prices.

A trip from Toa Payoh to Novena at the time cost $12.34 using UberFlash, compared to $21 on JustGrab and only $9.35 using a metered taxi.

Singapore University of Social Sciences transport economist Walter Theseira felt more could be done to improve the transparency of dynamic pricing.

"We have no assurance that two commuters travelling the same journey at the same time would pay the same price," he said, and suggested the authorities impose regulations that would require private-hire car firms to reveal their pricing framework to ensure that commuters are not being taken advantage of.

National University of Singapore transport lecturer Lee Der Horng said the alliance of Uber and ComfortDelGro, as well as the tie-up between Grab and the other taxi firms, had effectively created a duopoly in the point-to-point transportation sector, but felt this could benefit consumers.

"Neither will want to give away their market share, so this is likely to mean cheaper prices and more incentives for riders."

Commuters were hopeful that UberFlash would mean less waiting for a cab, especially at peak periods.

Regular Uber rider Mike Unger said it might now be more difficult to get a metered taxi during the peak, but felt UberFlash would on the whole be good for commuters.

"It will make it easier to get a ride," said the 26-year-old investor.

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