SINGAPORE - Students and school staff have a new option to get to school as ride-sharing service Grab has launched a new shuttle service, touting it as more convenient and flexible than conventional school-bus services.
The new service adds a four-seater taxi option to the existing GrabShuttle service, which now offers rides on 13- or 23-seater vehicles.
The taxis on the new GrabShuttle for Schools service give passengers up to four drop-off points, compared with the maximum of 13 or 23 stops on the usual GrabShuttle vehicles.
Students and school staff who opt for the taxi shuttle service - dubbed Cheetah Express - can thus look forward to waking up later as they can get to school faster.
With existing school bus operators, their fixed schedules and pre-determined bus routes often mean that some students have to wake up at the crack of dawn just to catch their bus, and still face a long journey to school.
Prices for the new service start from $130 a month for one-way trips and go up to $230 a month for one-way taxi rides and $420 a month for two-way taxi rides.
All users will have to pay a one-month deposit. The minimum commitment to the service is two months.
This arrangement differs from that of traditional school-bus operators, who usually require quarter-year payments, and who may even collect fees during school holidays, The Straits Times understands.
Grab's foray into the school transport sector, however, does not faze Mr Huang K, who has been in the industry for close to a decade.
"Personally, I welcome the entrance of GrabShuttle for Schools. I believe that they meet a demand in the current school transport market that traditional bus operators cannot."
For instance, school bus operators cannot accommodate students who live in areas too far-flung or remote, or whose homes are in cramped one-way streets that bulky school buses cannot access.
"Traditional bus operators often have to turn down these students. With the introduction of GrabShuttle for Schools, these students may finally be able to get shuttled services to school."
But parents of students who now use traditional school buses to get to school may have slightly different concerns.
Hotel director Irene Lau, 42, who has a son taking a school bus to and from his school, says: "The GrabShuttle service is more expensive for me, as currently I pay less than $100 a month for my son's two-way transport."
Mr Huang K agrees that pricing is a concern. "It's a matter of weighing one's priorities. Most bus operators do charge for a full year, but only at $50-$6o per month. This is much cheaper compared to the prices Grab is offering.
Referring to the new Grab service's shorter travelling routes, he says: "But for those who value an hour's more of sleep over a few hundred dollars, the GrabShuttle services may be for them."
Another feature offered by the new school shuttle service is flexibility in scheduling, says Grab. Instead of designated pick-up and drop-off points, as well as fixed departure timings, GrabShuttle for Schools allows for the shuttle service to be customised, accommodating weekly variations in the schedule.
Students can, for example, opt for a later pick-up on the days where there are extra co-curricular activities after school. Those with weekly tuition sessions after school can arrange for drop-offs at their tuition centres instead of at their homes.
Mr Matthew Chee agrees that the idea is a novel one. However, he is still hesitant of the new service.
The 50-year-old business owner cites the familiarity with his current bus drivers, and trust in their safety procedures, as the main reason why he chooses to stick with traditional bus operators.
"You do not know the qualifications of the Grab drivers, but for school buses you are able to trust that."
A Grab spokesman assures the public that it also prioritises the safety and security of children, especially the younger ones.
Those who apply to be GrabShuttle for Schools drivers have to go through several rounds of screening before they are selected, Grab says.
The selected drivers will also have to go through additional training, so that they are well-equipped to handle younger children, it adds.
Parents are also able to track, in real-time, the location of their children, and contact the driver directly whenever necessary.
Mr Alvin Wee, head of GrabShuttle Singapore, said: "Since we launched GrabShuttle over a year ago, we have had parents and teachers requesting routes to and from school, as well as a more personalised service that better meets their needs."