Public also urged to avoid carpool services they suspect to be illegal
LTA sheds light on grey carpool sector Grab has finally ceased its year-old GrabHitch Inter-Country Service - a service the Land Transport Authority had deemed illegal. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Grab has finally ceased its year-old GrabHitch Inter-Country Service - a service the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had deemed illegal soon after it was launched.

On June 21, the ride-hailing app posted a notice on its website that it would no longer provide matching services for drivers and passengers carpooling across the Causeway to Johor.

The LTA said, when the service was first launched, that carpool drivers are not allowed to provide cross-border services for any fees.

So as not to contravene LTA's rules, Grab decided to offer such a service on its platform as a "fare-free pilot". It is unclear if passengers and drivers still negotiated payments between themselves for these rides.

Carpooling is legal within Singapore, but drivers can collect only enough "to cover costs incurred for making a trip". Also, they cannot offer more than two trips a day.

Offenders face stiff penalties of a fine of up to $3,000, a jail term of up to six months, or both, for "driving a public-service vehicle without a public-service vehicle licence".

In addition, they may face penalties for "driving a public-service vehicle without a vocational licence". This attracts a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail term of up to three months for first-time offenders, and $2,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months for repeat offenders.

Offenders may also risk having their vehicles forfeited, the LTA noted.

Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao reported last month that Grab had terminated the services of some 200 GrabHitch drivers for breaching carpooling rules.

The LTA, in response to queries by The Straits Times on how it was policing carpooling operations like GrabHitch and Ryde, advised commuters not to use a carpooling service if they suspect it is illegal.

"We encourage the public to use taxis or duly-licensed chauffeured private-hire cars affixed with decals and which display Private Hire Car Driver's Vocational Licences or concession letters, if they are unsure if private car owners are offering carpooling trips within the ambit of the law," an LTA spokesman said.

As at June 30, there were 63,259 private-hire cars here. Of these, 43,385 were chauffeured private-hire cars and 19,874 were self-driven private-hire cars.

The LTA, however, was unable to say how many cars were providing carpooling services.

"LTA adopts a light-touch approach to carpooling, as it is done on a non-commercial basis," said the LTA spokesman.

But lawyer Anthony Chey, an insurance partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said: "The same concerns and problems before LTA rolled out the regulations for the 'regular' private-hire drivers exist in the case of these 'carpooling' drivers.

"These include the identity and experience of the drivers, and whether there is sufficient insurance coverage. LTA should adopt a uniform approach to regulate all private-hire services and not have an exception for 'carpooling' drivers."