Grab tries out on-demand bus service in Punggol

After making a GrabShuttle Plus booking on their smartphone, users can expect a shuttle bus to arrive within about five to 10 minutes.
After making a GrabShuttle Plus booking on their smartphone, users can expect a shuttle bus to arrive within about five to 10 minutes.ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

Users can book a shuttle bus to travel between any two bus stops there

Four months after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced it was looking into trying out on-demand bus services, Grab has started trials for such a service in Punggol.

The new service - GrabShuttle Plus - was launched yesterday.

After making a booking on their smartphone, users can expect a shuttle bus to arrive within about five to 10 minutes to take them between any two bus stops within Punggol.

GrabShuttle Plus rides cost $1.20 each and are available between 6am and 10pm.

It differs from the previously launched GrabShuttle, a collaboration with the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, which operates only on fixed routes and timings.

The new service comes after the LTA said in August that it would begin trials of "on-demand, dynamically routed" bus services in the second half of next year, beginning in areas with low demand during off-peak hours.

Mr James Ong, head of GrabShuttle Singapore, noted that Grab is taking part in a tender for the LTA's on-demand buses.

Its Punggol trial, he added, would help it "garner insights to deliver a superior service, if selected".

GrabShuttle Plus complements the broader public transport network, he said.

"We share the same belief with the LTA that dynamic bus services can provide a better commuting experience and optimise resources and operating costs," he added.

Mr Ong described Punggol as a "natural test bed" for the new service, noting that its residents are regular Grab users.

While the trial may later include other neighbourhoods, he said Grab is currently focused on getting more people to use the service so as to study commuting patterns for dynamic bus services.

The new GrabShuttle Plus app is available for iOS and Android.

Observers say they are not surprised by Grab's latest service.

On-demand buses are like ride-sharing services GrabShare or UberPool "on steroids", said Singapore University of Social Sciences senior lecturer Park Byung Joon, who specialises in urban transport.

Dr Lee Der Horng, a transport researcher at the National University of Singapore, said that with Grab's experience in offering ride-hailing services, it has more experience in dealing with big data as well as handling commuter demand.

Having private firms offer such services reduces any potential revenue risk to the Government, he added.

However, Dr Park noted that Grab, being a commercial enterprise, must see whether on-demand buses have the potential to turn a profit before deciding if it wants to continue offering the service.

Commuter Azmi Mohamed, 35, said on-demand bus services are not an attractive replacement for feeder bus services, which are already "very regular" and inexpensive, with fares capped at 77 cents per trip.

But the IT specialist noted that such on-demand bus services could be a boon when travelling between places that are nearby, but which are not served by a direct bus service.

"I can see a use for a service like GrabShuttle Plus," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2017, with the headline 'Grab tries out on-demand bus service in Punggol'. Print Edition | Subscribe