Bloomberg Businessweek


I used to think about ride-hailing apps in terms of price and convenience. Then I nearly died using one

On March 26, 2018, the news in my world was all about Grab. The local ride-hailing startup had just announced it was acquiring the Southeast Asian operations of its biggest competitor, Uber Technologies Inc. In return, Uber would get a 27.5 percent stake in Grab Holdings Inc.

It looked like a clear win for the hometown company. Founded in a Kuala Lumpur storage room as a taxi-booking app, Grab had moved its headquarters to Singapore and survived Uber’s relentless price wars in the region. As it expanded its operations to eight countries, its valuation had risen to $6 billion. “Today’s acquisition marks the beginning of a new era,”

Chief Executive Officer Anthony Tan said in a statement about the deal.

I wrote the story for Bloomberg News, where my beat is startups. But Grab had become such a part of life in Singapore that it barely registered that I was using its app the next morning when I ordered a ride to my daughter Anika’s kindergarten graduation. The cost, S$24 (about $17.50) for a 12-minute trip, seemed a bit high, but I had a promo code to get S$4 off. Thanks to price wars, there was always a promo code.

Discounted fares are only part of Grab’s appeal. If there’s any place on Earth that was made for a ride-hailing app, it’s Singapore. The city-state is among the world’s most expensive places to own a vehicle because of high taxes, congestion pricing, and rules that require owners to dispose of their cars after 10 years, by either scrapping them or selling them overseas. Before the ride-hailing apps came along, it was difficult to find a cab during rush hour.

With Grab and Uber fighting for

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