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Singapore’s New Answer to Uber

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Has this Singapore-based start-up beat Uber at its own game?

With the emergence of Uber and Grab in the last few years, getting around town has become increasingly easier. In Singapore, however, it may be getting cheaper as well.

Founded in 2014 by Harvard graduate Terence Zou, RYDE is a real-time carpooling app that matches drivers and passengers going to the same place. At the time, it was the first such carpooling app in existence as well.

Zou’s motivation for the app was to reduce road congestion and the carbon footprint in big cities worldwide. According to Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, a car ride emits 187 grams of carbon dioxide per km on the road. RYDE helps to reduce a country’s carbon footprint by optimizing resources by filling up cars with empty seats: “Every major city faces the same congestion and pollution problems to a certain degree. If we do it well in Singapore, RYDE can be the solution for other cities,” said the 40-year-old.

The app has experienced phenomenal growth since its launch in Singapore, with its membership base growing by 40 percent month on month, and it has even begun expanding in Hong Kong. As of January 2015, the company was the largest carpooling network in Singapore, with about 20,000 members. It aims to eventually amass 90,000 car owners, which is about 15 percent of the car population in Singapore.

The basic idea is this: say you are going to work in Singapore’s CBD, at 8am on a Monday. You could sign up with RYDE and share your trip with someone else going to same place as you. Not only does the app benefit the driver (you get paid for your driving expenses at little extra cost), but it helps the passenger find a cheaper alternative to getting to his destination.

Passengers pay only a nominal distance-based fee (calculated by the app) to split the cost with the driver. Singapore law allows car owners to accept payment from passengers who hitch a ride, but only for up to two trips a day. RYDE does not charge a transaction fee for each successful match. 

The early success of the Singapore start-up has drawn big players into the market. One prominent example is GrabHitch, a ride-sharing service introduced by taxi-booking company GrabTaxi.

“The big companies are following in our footsteps. Think about it. This is an affirmation that we identified the right trend before others, and we have a first-mover advantage,” said Zhou.

RYDE differentiates itself by placing great emphasis on the social element. For example, one recent promotion gave drivers and passengers a chance to win dining vouchers if they shared a ride to a restaurant. 

RYDE recently partnered with Singapore’s largest taxi operator ComfortDelGro to launch a third party taxi booking app.

“It will boast a fleet size of over 45,000 vehicles, comprising 30,000 privately owned vehicles and about 16,000 ComfortDelGro taxis, making up about 60 per cent of the total taxi fleet in Singapore,” said RYDE. RYDE will now offer two services: An existing option for private-hire carpooling and a new option to book a taxi, paying either a flat fare or a metered fare, which gives customers a better experience. It also enables users to get a taxi fast, should they be unable to find a carpool in their area.

RYDE may have stiff competition, but with its interesting ideas to differentiate itself, and a big market to play with in the bustling city of Singapore, this startup can certainly go a long way, should they play their cards right.

Avneesh Moghe writes about business, particularly as it pertains to Hong Kong and Singapore.

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