Carpooling now illegal after Transport Ministry waives exemption; largest Telegram group halts operations

The Transport Ministry revoked a law allowing carpooling under some conditions. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Carpooling is now illegal after the Transport Ministry revoked a law allowing it to be carried out under some conditions.

Offenders caught offering carpooling services face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or jail of up to six months under new rules that came into effect on Thursday (April 16) as part of regulations aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19.

Commercial operators and other smaller groups halted services amid the escalating outbreak, according to checks by The Straits Times.

The largest carpooling chat group here, SG Hitch with around 56,000 members, had still been active until Thursday afternoon, with both drivers and passengers actively posting.

But following the publication of ST's report at about 5pm on Thursday, the group banned its members from sending messages and deleted all previous carpool requests.

Drivers are deemed to be carpooling if they use private cars and charge for ferrying passengers, whether from one or multiple pick-up locations.

Carpooling had been allowed as long as drivers collected only enough to cover the cost of a trip. They also could not offer more than two trips a day.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Wednesday in an advisory that it had classified carpooling as a non-essential service, following consultation with the Trade and Industry Ministry.

"Drivers operating such services must comply strictly with the circuit breaker measures," the LTA added.

"This includes non-commercial carpool arrangements between people who do not live in the same residence."

In response to queries, LTA told ST that enforcement action will be taken against drivers who do not comply with the updated regulations.

"We encourage members of the public who come across non-compliance of such practices to help report to LTA through the OneMotoring portal," added LTA.

Private-hire operators Grab and Ryde have already stopped carpooling services.

Two other chat groups set up to facilitate carpooling - SG Hitch-Premium, which has almost 16,000 members, and SG Hitch Female Drivers Riders with about 10,100 - have stopped operations as well.

A Telegram user named Sheryl who administers the group for women said she suspended the service on her own initiative, as she wanted to do the right thing in fighting the spread of Covid-19.

The number of requests in the SG Hitch group can go up to the thousands in a day although there have been fewer recently following the circuit breaker measures.

The group's continued operation had drawn the ire of some private-hire drivers, who questioned why it was allowed to do so.

The group is run by a team called SGTGN, which also runs several other chat groups.

One of the team's administrators, who declined to be named, told ST that it had kept SG Hitch running to help drivers.

The administrator noted that the group does not profit from the carpool arrangements, adding: "SG Hitch might be carpooling in the Land Transport Authority's eyes, but we see it as networking and finding (good deals).

"We are still thinking about how to help our drivers on the road who are aimlessly waiting for calls... We are sorting out arrangements to help them deliver food and groceries."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.