ST check finds its rides slightly cheaper than Grab's without surge pricing as rivalry heats up
Gojek's lower fares, driver perks prove to be big draw A Gojek advertisement at Orchard MRT station. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Customer service agent Joena Shivani used to commute using Grab cars between her Tampines home and her workplace in Little India.

But since Gojek's arrival in late November, its lower prices have drawn the 41-year-old, who has saved about $240 in the six weeks since she made the switch.

While the Gojek beta app offered only rides beginning and ending in the eastern and south-central parts of Singapore initially, it has since gone nationwide - from Jan 2.

Its lower fares are the main attraction, said users.

Public relations consultant Gayle Lim, 23, who saves about $2 on every trip she takes with Gojek, said: "It's not much by itself, but a few dollars here and there really add up, especially if you are taking these cars very often because of work."

A check by The Sunday Times on prices at different times over three days found that Gojek's fares were slightly lower than Grab's when surge pricing was not in effect.

Some commuters said while Grab's other options GrabShare and GrabHitch are cheaper, there are downsides.

Undergraduate Mitchell Tan, 24, said: "I take cabs only when I need to go somewhere urgently, but the advance booking (feature) for GrabHitch does not allow that."

Despite the lower fares, private-hire drivers whom The Sunday Times spoke to said they have seen their earnings rise by between 15 and 40 per cent after switching to Gojek, due to the incentives offered.

Gojek operates a point-based incentive system that awards drivers a cash bonus for every milestone they reach in a day.

Non-peak-hour and peak-hour trips are one point and 1.5 points respectively.

Incentives are divided into five tiers, with the highest requiring 30 points to earn a $310 bonus.

In contrast, Grab's incentive system is based on the number of trips completed in a week and benchmarks vary based on what milestones they had previously reached, noted drivers who have previously worked for Grab.

Ms Debbie Ong, 50, said the daily incentive system is less stressful for drivers. She has worked as a private-hire driver for almost three years.

In an average eight-hour workday, she could pocket net earnings of around $200, about 40 per cent more than what she would earn with Grab.

She said: "I get to decide if I can rest once I hit my targets for the day. I don't have to worry about whether I can reach the trips required for the rest of the week."

Despite Gojek's presence, Grab remains bullish about its prospects.

Mr Lim Kell Jay, head of Grab Singapore, told The Sunday Times that its operations have been unaffected by Gojek's expansion.

He said: "Drivers and passengers continue to choose Grab, as we continue to focus on their needs and look at ways to bring more long-term value to them."

Grab had been rolling out improvements in the last few months even before Gojek's entry, amid rumours of the Indonesian firm's arrival.

It introduced a programme in October that gives drivers a guaranteed fare level should they meet preset benchmarks in terms of trips completed and time spent online on the Grab app.

Last Wednesday, the firm unveiled two subscription plans that Mr Lim said would give users more value. For example, a pass sold at $109 lets users enjoy $10 off 20 rides, which translates into savings of $91 monthly.

As a new player here, Gojek has had some hiccups. Drivers say the app loses to Grab in terms of matching them with nearby riders, and that waiting times in between trips are generally much longer due to a smaller pool of passengers.

Glitches sometimes occur on the beta app, with drivers complaining of occasions when incentive payouts were delayed, or when the points they earned were inaccurately calculated.

In addition, riders can cancel bookings but indicate that the drivers asked for it. This affects the drivers' acceptance rate, and the issue has been flagged as a major problem by many drivers.

Drivers who fall below an 85 per cent acceptance rating will not be eligible for their daily bonus.

A Gojek spokesman said it constantly reviews its drivers' incentive scheme to ensure it remains "fair and robust", and added: "If driver-partners have questions about the app, they should get in touch directly with Gojek via our in-app help function or hotline. This will help us create the best user experience for them and riders."

As Gojek continues to expand its base, it is unclear how long the honeymoon of financial incentives for users and drivers will last. Ms Ong said: "They will definitely be lower in the future, as this is how businesses work."