“Eh, why don’t you drive GrabHitch? You drive from the East to One-North every day, right? It’s such a long distance!” This was asked to me by my colleagues who don’t drive and hence have to figure out the cheapest and best way to get to work every day. And to them, GrabHitch was the best thing ever, thanks to its price — half of what you would pay for a regular taxi, Uber or Grab, and even more worth it when there are peak hour surcharges — and its millennial-cool concept (sit in a stranger’s car, save money and make new friends). “Eee, no lah,” I tell them. “I don’t want to be a driver to complete strangers!” Yes, times are tough, but not so bad that I need to start moonlighting as a taxi driver... yet. Besides, I’m not the best driver in the world. In fact, I’m the person you thought would never get her driving license. Let’s just say I didn’t get my license on the first try, or the second, or the third…
But the idea was intriguing. Well, it would make for a fun story, I thought. That very day, I signed up as a GrabHitch driver, and two days later, I was approved. All you need to do is put in your car plate number, submit a photo of your driving license, and a pic of you with the license. Too easy. The next morning, I was raring to go. But I was also late for work. I put in my time and route — Start point: my place. Destination: Mediacorp. Immediately, 20 people who wanted to hitch my ride popped up. Omg. I felt slightly panicky. Scrolling through the options, I realised that none of them were really on the way, on the way. I’d have to make rather large detours on either the start or the end of the journey. Forget it — this gig sucks, I thought. Also, I’m late. Better luck tomorrow.
The next day, I put in my route again, and up popped a hitcher who lived 1.5km from me who wanted to go somewhere 0.8km from the office. Yes!!! I accepted the ride, and messaged the hitcher. “See you later!” I said. Five minutes later, she replied, “Sorry, I have to cancel.” Ugh... my GrabHitch career is not zooming off to a good start at all. Ten minutes later, I accept another ride. And this time, I made it to her HDB block, and half an hour later, I dropped her off near my office. Ka-ching! There was now 14 bucks in my Grab e-wallet (the money takes up to 10 days to go into my bank account), for doing nothing other than making two small detours which took up an additional 15 minutes of my time. I was elated. I was hooked. After one month of GrabHitch driving (not every day, only when I had extra time and found hitchers who were on the way for me), this is what I learned.
#1 Not everybody wants to be your friend.
So my first hitcher was the quiet type. She got into the front seat next to me, said hi, and proceeded to stare straight at the road ahead. I felt nervous. It was my first time. Should I make conversation? Should I leave her alone? We sat in awkward silence till we hit the ECP. “Is the music okay?” I asked. “Yes,” she mumbled. “Do you GrabHitch a lot?” I ventured. “Not really,” she replied. Okay, forget it. The rest of the journey occurred in silence. I thought GrabHitch passengers were supposed to be sorta like your pals. After all, they usually sit in the front seat, not at the back like you would with a regular taxi ride. And I’m not a driver for hire, just someone who happens to be going the same way as you… whom you pay money to. Okay, fine, I guess I am a driver. I felt slightly used. Sniff.
#2 Being a cabbie is not an easy job.
I now have a new sympathy for taxi drivers. I mean, you always knew it wasn’t a drive in the park, but now that I’m something of a driver for hire (albeit only twice a day, as LTA regulations say anything more than that would be like, not considered carpooling), I realised the problems I encounter in the course of being a GrabHitch driver — getting lost, not being able to find someone’s place, people cancelling on you when you’re already on your way, wasting time waiting for late Hitchers — are magnified many-fold when you’re a real driver who do it for a living. It’s frustrating, although the sight of the $$$ in your virtual Grab wallet alleviates the pain a little… which brings us to…
#3 GrabHitching is friggin’ lucrative.
Another reason I feel bad for cabbies: Everyone now wants to steal your rice bowl, even folks with another full-time job like me. After all, it’s easy money for doing nothing much more than going a little out of your way. If I give someone a ride from the East area to One-North, I make $13 to $14. If I do two hitches a day, five days a week, I would make $140 per week. This more than covers my petrol for the week, which is about $60. Of course, I didn’t make $140 per week lah — after a damn on first three days, where I gave five hitches, my enthusiasm waned, and I went the rest of the week without picking up any hitchers. But still, just by giving five rides, I made enough ($68) to cover my petrol (and a car wash) for the entire week. Sweet. I’ve heard of people who flout the two-ride-a-day rule and GrabHitch four to five times a day. Then there are those who manage to plan their hitches so well, they can give up to three hitches in one journey (that would be three different passengers going in the same direction, which means you’re making three times the moolah; the maximum is four, but I think that’s virtually impossible, unless it’s friends going to the same place, in which case they would only pay you for one ride). Technically, the most you can (legally) earn in a week is $896 (the maximum amount you can make in one Hitch ride for going the maximum distance is $16, multiplied by four passengers, two times a day, multiplied by seven days a week.) This is high-level GrabHitching, and I’m sure no one makes that much, as it’s really hard to get more than two passengers per trip (I’ve never done more than one — too stressful), unless you’re cheating by making more than two trips. I’m just happy with covering my petrol, as most GrabHitch drivers are.
#4 You never know what you’re gonna get.
Passengers, I mean. Is Cheryl from Bedok a friendly over-sharer? Or is Hafiz from the office next door going to pretend to sleep the entire way? In my one month of giving GrabHitches, it’s been 50-50 when it comes to chatty vs sorry-I’m-just-gonna-look-at-my-phone. It’s actually very pleasant to yak with strangers over a half-hour drive, and you’d be surprised how much people will reveal about themselves — where they work and live, what they like, and what their plans are. I picked up a tax accountant who talked non-stop about the joys of tax accounting and how he wants to write a blog about it (not making this up), a businesswoman who told me she thought one of her cars had bad fengshui ’cos it had the number ‘4’ in its license plate and she had 14 accidents in it, a uni intern who told me this GrabHitch was a treat for him ’cos he was working late, and my most interesting Hitcher, a dude who works at Industrial Light & Magic, who’s done visual effects on all the big-name movies you can think of, including one upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi (I tried to extract info from him for 45 minutes — we were stuck in a jam — but he told me I’d have to kill him first).
#5 GrabHitch driving hones your decision-making skills.
There are so many choices to make when you’re doing this. First of all, should I even give someone a lift today? If I’m late for something (usually the case), then no. If I’m not late but have to be somewhere at a certain time, then probably not, in case the Hitcher is late or I get lost. Then there’s the decision of which Hitcher to pick up. Person A who lives 6 minutes from you but wants to be dropped off 11 minutes from your destination, or Person B who is 13 minutes away from your start point but wants to go somewhere 4 minutes from your end point? And sometimes in the time you take to Google Maps someone’s location to check if it’s worth the trip, or if a Hitch is really quite on the way but you’re greedily checking to see if there’s anything better, someone else grabs your passenger and you’re left cursing your inability to make up your mind and your poor/slow decision-making. A trick would be to put in your route early, as early as the night before, so you have your pick of Hitchers, though it does mean you have to keep checking, which is also time-wasting.
Will I continue Hitch-driving? Probably — it feels great to know my petrol is being paid for, though I do feel my time is more precious than a little extra cash. This means I’ll never go too much out of my way to give a ride. I’m just wondering what the catch is, or when Grab will decide to ‘charge’ drivers. Right now, it seems that when the passenger pays $14, I get $14. And if there’s a discount code and the passenger pays, say, $8 (and gets $6 off), I still get $14. Which means Grab is paying me $6. It feels like it’s a matter of time before Grab starts taking a cut. But till then, I’m your driver for hire. Maybe I’ll see you in my passenger seat one day, and you can chat with me… or not.
Main photo: TPG News/Click Photos