ComfortDelGro could lose more drivers, as number keen to jump ship hits over 3,000

SINGAPORE — The number of ComfortDelGro cabbies who may switch camps to its rivals has climbed to more than 3,000, TODAY has learnt. And for a second time in two weeks, ride-hailing firm Grab is extending its offer of heavily discounted rentals to entice drivers.A fortnight ago, TODAY broke the news that more than 2,000 ComfortDelGro drivers had signed up for a Grab driver account as part of the recruitment drive, the first step to making the switch.

At that time, the campaign, which began earlier this month, was extended by two weeks. On Friday (Sept 29), Grab extended its promotion by another week to Oct 6 to “cater to incoming requests” from drivers.Transport experts who spoke to TODAY previously said that the sizeable number of drivers involved could deal a major blow to ComfortDelGro’s revenue.

The taxi fleet of ComfortDelGro, Singapore’s largest taxi operator, recorded its seventh straight month of decline in July, the latest statistics from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) showed. The company had 15,472 cabs under its Comfort and CityCab brands.Last August, ComfortDelGro said that it had 37,000 drivers.

Earlier this month, in an effort to counter Grab’s move, ComfortDelGro ran an advertisement in Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao, dishing out rental rebates totalling S$3,600 over six months — which comes short of what Grab is offering.

Under its offer, broadcast by phone text messages to thousands of ComfortDelGro’s drivers, Grab is giving a S$50 daily discount for six months on rents for drivers to join any of Grab’s five partner taxi firms: Trans-Cab, Prime Taxi, SMRT Taxis, Premier and HDT Singapore Taxi. This amounts to about S$9,000 in savings.The discounts are higher if drivers take on a private-hire car through Grab’s rental arm, GrabRentals. Grab will fund the rebates, TODAY understands.When approached previously for comment, ComfortDelGro’s spokesperson Tammy Tan said that the company does not comment on “competitive issues”.

To accommodate the large numbers of drivers, Grab opened a new space at its Sin Ming office earlier this week, which is dedicated to serving drivers keen on the promotion. Previously, sign-ups were done at its driver centre nearby. Sign-ups are also available at Prime’s office on Loyang Drive.
When TODAY visited the space at 3.45pm Friday (Sept 29), seven drivers were there, and there were various stations for sign-ups and rental rebates.

Taxi driver Harvey Tham, 48, who has been with Comfort for two-and-a-half years, said that he was drawn by the discounts. He will collect his new Premier cab in the second week of next month.
Mr Tham’s monthly earnings have fallen from S$4,000 two-and-a-half years ago to between S$2,200 and S$3,000 now. He pays a daily rent of S$109 for his Hyundai Sonata cab.

The S$50 rental rebate will snip his rental bill by 45 per cent to just S$60 a day. Mr Tham, who hopes to set aside about S$10,000 over half a year on top of his earnings, said: “Comfort has not been doing things for the old guys like us.”If ComfortDelGro comes up with a new scheme, Mr Tham will consider returning after his one-year contract with Premier.

Another Comfort cabbie, who gave his name only as Mr Lek, 62, is also switching to Premier. Mr Lek, who has been with Comfort for 17 years, told TODAY in Mandarin that drivers would switch to whichever operator offers the cheapest rentals.His monthly earnings have also tumbled from S$2,000 to S$3,000 five years ago to between S$1,000 and S$2,000 now.Asked about his plans when the Grab offer lapses, he said: “Six months later, (Grab) will have other rebates. They’re scared you’ll return the vehicles.”

Speaking to TODAY earlier this week, National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee said that the association hopes ComfortDelGro will come up with a package to attract and retain its drivers.Many drivers had told him that they wanted to stay on, but for now, ComfortDelGro’s terms seemed less attractive.“If people haven’t quite responded the way you wanted, you have to rethink what is an attractive package,” he said.

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