GRAB and Uber will be pumping in millions of dollars to help their private hire car drivers apply for the Private Hire Car Driver Vocational Licence (PDVL) at zero cost - accelerating the already exorbitant ridesharing war for drivers and riders.
While Grab said it will be investing S$10 million to support its private hire car segment GrabCar, Uber did not share an investment sum; the latter would only say that it will "spend as much as it takes to get all drivers safely past this post-regulatory era".
Both ridesharing companies unveiled their respective initiatives on Thursday, in response to the same-day announcement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) that applications for the PDVL will open on March 13. This follows LTA's regulation last April that all drivers who wish to provide private hire car services must apply for and obtain a PDVL.
Grab's S$10 million investment will cover four driver-support initiatives. The first will help GrabCar drivers defray all PDVL-related charges, including the S$40 PDVL application fee, medical check-up costs, as well as training and test fees.
This is similar to Uber's FastLane programme. Launched on Thursday, it provides a digitalised application process (said to help drivers get their PDVL in 2-3 weeks compared to the estimated 4-6 weeks if they apply independently); free medical check-ups at Raffles Medical clinics; free and flexible training options; and 24/7 support via phone and WhatsApp.
Uber Singapore general manager Warren Tseng said: "Speed is most important right now, that's why the programme is called the FastLane."
According to LTA, private hire car drivers whose applications reach LTA by June 30 will have up to a year to attend and pass the PDVL course, during which they can continue to provide private hire car services. Those whose applications reach LTA after June 30 must obtain a PDVL before they can provide such services.
Grab Singapore head Lim Kell Jay said that assisting drivers with their PDVL applications will offer them peace of mind and better care for their medical needs, which will in turn make the provision of ridesharing services a "long-term sustainable option for more in Singapore".
Lee Der-Horng, director of the NUS-LTA Transport Research Centre, told The Business Times that the investment by both companies is significant. "To ridesharing companies, other than riders, drivers are their most valuable assets. They have walked away from the conventional mindset of treating their drivers as come-and-go to more of employees."
He added: "It is clear that Grab is doing more than Uber."
On top of covering PDVL-related charges, Grab is also creating the Road Stars programme, for which it will use a fifth (S$2 million) of its total investment. Road Stars aims to rapidly build a driver-support network, by matching up to two experienced drivers with new drivers in teams of five to win cash prizes, based on completed rides and service quality.
As a third initiative, Grab will provide MediSave to its GrabCar drivers. It will match a percentage (about 5 per cent) of a driver's earned incentives, subject to the driver's own contribution to his individual MediSave account and a maximum monthly cap of S$200. This is only for GrabCar drivers who are exclusive to the Grab platform.
Fourthly, Grab will use part of its investment to introduce app enhancements to boost the operational readiness of its GrabCar drivers. For instance, these drivers will be required to verify their profiles via biometric or facial recognition, and will receive automated reminders when their PDVL or commercial insurance policies are nearing expiry.
To boot, Grab on Thursday also announced an exclusive partnership with mifold, maker of the ultra-compact, portable child car safety seat. Under the partnership, all GrabCar vehicles will be equipped with the seat, and be part of the GrabFamily fleet, said to be Singapore's first child-friendly private hire car service for families with young children.
Dr Lee said: "Local taxi companies are facing their greatest-ever competition from private hire vehicle companies. Powered by venture capital, such companies can do things more spontaneously than taxi companies. I feel that some taxi companies may be phased out in this war."
Uber's Mr Tseng added that LTA's ruling is validation that the ridesharing industry is here to stay. He said: "Uber has done its job."