Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

My Grab Grouses

Grab Car

Commuters have aired a lot of grouses with Grab Car after the latter announced a change in their pickup grace period policy. Passengers who are late for their pickup will have to pay $3 for every 3 minutes, down from 5 minutes previously.

I’m a bit late getting on the complain-train. I’ve been busy but I want, too, to pen my thoughts. I have a lot of complaints. I think many others too. But I still take Grab. We don’t really have too many other options.

The main problem I think is that Grab has become too big. They don’t have much serious competition, and they don’t care to much to be customer-oriented anymore. It is just business. All businesses aim to maximise profit, and surely, it is no different with Grab. I don’t have a problem with that, as long as the business continues to be reasonable and provide fair value. Notice that I say “fair value”, not “cheap”.

When a business has no serious competition, they can just change things, and not worry too much about losing customers, because, having no serious competition means the customers don’t really have much choice. Even if they make a change that is purportedly meant to solve a problem, they don’t really need to give too much thought about the fallout.

I appreciate that there is a problem, and it is unfair to drivers, that a passenger is nowhere to be found when their ride has arrived at the pickup point. In fact, I would even agree that three minutes grace for waiting could be fair, provided that Grab was fair to the passenger in the first place.

For example, while I might be all set and ready to go before I book my ride, but when the app tells me my ride is 10 minutes away, it seems reasonable that I be allowed to do something else (e.g. go grab a drink, go to the washroom, etc), so long as I am ready again well before 10 minutes. Let’s say I get back to my pickup point in 6 minutes. Then, for the ride to instead suddenly show up in 3 minutes, and end up waiting another 3 minutes for me, and then consider me late, I think, there’s at least a case for me to argue that it is not fair.

The problem of drivers arriving early is probably not at all common. The problem is that Grab’s estimate of arrival time is, at times I’m quite convinced, possibly random. When my ride is booked, the app may say 10 minutes with one drop off before me. The 10 minutes becomes 15 minutes. Eventually, the driver only shows up 20 minutes later. To be clear, I’m not blaming the driver. Maybe, the passenger he dropped off caused some delay. Maybe, there was some unexpected traffic problem. Though, you’ve got to admit, sometimes, it is truly the driver that is the one causing the delay.

Some people have suggested if passengers are faulted and financially penalised for being late, then how about applying the same to drivers. This makes sense only if the driver is truly at fault, but it is hard to automatically determine that. It is an interesting though, if the fairness can be addressed.

Instead, I think it may be better to look at it from another angle. The problem, at least to me, is with Grab. Grab is giving inaccurate estimates, because it is unable to determine road conditions, and I feel assigning a ride even before the previous passenger has been dropped off makes the time estimates even worse. Sometimes, I get a ride with the driver heading in the wrong direction to drop off the previous passenger. Sometimes, I can see the estimate isn’t really sensible because of how the driver will need to turn back after being in the wrong direction.

I know the time estimates may be inaccurate. In fairness to passengers, don’t count the waiting time before the original estimated arrival time of the ride? Or, if we really want to fine tune this mechanism, allow estimates to be updated but not penalise the passenger if it is wildly different from the original. For example, if the original estimate is 15 minutes, which would seem more than fair for me to detour to get a drink, you don’t tell me 3 minutes later that the ride will come in 3 minutes. The best is for Grab to just get better at estimating.

Grab also seriously needs to address the problem of drivers claiming to have arrived when that is totally untrue. I have almost never had a driver physically at the pickup point when the app tells me that the ride has arrived. I understand this message is sometimes automatically generated because Grab determines that the driver is nearby (which is not the same as having arrived), but sometimes it is the driver who falsely indicates he has arrived. I hate this dishonesty. If the ride is not there, don’t tell me it is there.

I don’t mind it if the driver actually is truly arriving, and maybe I can actually see the car, and which will physically be at the pickup point in the next few seconds. But seriously, this doesn’t happen often.

It is far more often that the driver is still a few minutes away. Other times, he could be 100 metres away, but he is stuck in a queue getting to the pickup point, and doesn’t get there for another 3 minutes. It even happens, the car that is said to have arrived is actually on the wrong side of the road, stuck in a queue waiting to u-turn to get to the pickup point. I could go on. How about drivers waiting at the wrong pickup point (e.g. at the wrong building).

(If the ride is 3 minutes out, the message ought to be that “the driver is arriving soon”. I’m quite displeased with the “arriving soon” message when the ride is clearly not arriving soon, but maybe “soon” is subjective, so I’ll not pick a bone with that.)

Seriously, what is so difficult about telling me you’ve arrived only when you’ve actually arrived? Having arrived at the pickup point is not something that is up to subjective interpretation. You are there, or you’re not there. I don’t think there is a question of, like, where the pickup point is.

I want to suggest this to Grab. If the app says the ride has arrived, let me give you photo or video evidence if that is not true. Pay me $3 every time I can prove that. Deduct this from the driver if he lied about the arrival.

While I’m at it, I want to also complain about drivers who cancel on me. Look, passengers are charged $4 for cancelling a ride after 3 minutes of getting a driver allocated. How about paying me $4 when a driver cancels 3 minutes after a successful booking?

(PS: Random photo of a Grab Car above. That was not my ride.)

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