SINGAPORE: On average, fewer than two people occupy each car on the road, according to figures from the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Filling up those empty seats through carpooling could be a way to achieve Singapore's car-light vision and apps are making it easier to connect drivers with passengers, allowing them to share transport costs and even make a friend or two on their daily commute.
Mr Kelvin Ke first started using one of these carpooling apps, RYDE, in October last year, after chancing upon it on Facebook and the Google Play Store. Thinking that being a driver could make the work commute interesting for a couple of days, the 35-year-old auditor has since clocked over 50 rides over the past few months, with some passengers even becoming regulars.
What the RYDE app looks like on a mobile phone. (Photo: RYDE's website)
"Using the app as a driver, you can get to defray and offset some of the travelling costs, the petrol costs and the ERP," said Mr Ke. "It also actually helps to save the environment because you can reduce congestion on the road. Best of all you can get to meet new people along the way from all walks of life."
He added: "One of my passengers was a polytechnic student doing a course on entrepreneurship and we had a very interesting conversation. She was trying out a new business selling goods online and we had a good talk and brainstormed some ideas. Eventually, I ordered some stuff from her."
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Part of the appeal lies in its matching system, which takes into account personal interests like a love for travelling or movies, among others. This allows potential passengers such as Ms Teo Wei Xuan to know more about the person she is getting a ride from, helping to allay safety concerns and possible awkwardness between strangers.
Prior to using RYDE, the 19-year-old student relied heavily on public transport and while she has always liked the idea of hitching a ride from others, she felt that it has not quite caught on in Singapore yet.
Said Ms Teo: "Especially during peak hours, you can miss up to two or three consecutive buses and everyone around you starts to get really frustrated because we all want to get home to our loved ones or for dinner. Then you see cars going past you and they're mostly empty and you wonder whether they're going the same direction as you."
RYDE said its network has grown to more than 20,000 users since it started in April last year, doubling across the months of November and December. It estimates this figure to pass 50,000 by mid-year.
RYDE is not the only player in town, with various platforms and apps such as GrabHitch, Tripda and ShareTransport.sg catering to demand.
"If you think about other options like increasing the number of taxis or private car hires on the road, you're actually targeting the 30,000 taxis (in Singapore) and trying to increase the supply in that regard," said RYDE founder Terence Zou. "It might solve the (transport) problem during the peak periods, but for the rest of the day the taxis are under-utilised and optimised so it does not actually reduce road congestion. It might even add to the problem."
Mr Zou said that with 600,000 private cars in Singapore, filling those empty seats would make a bigger difference to both road use and the need for car ownership.
Carpooling also tends to be a cheaper option than taxis or private car hires, with trips costing about 50 per cent less on GrabHitch, or even free should the driver so wish.
LTA allows carpooling drivers to accept payments from passengers to offset the cost of such journeys on a not-for-profit basis, and for no more than two rides each day.