by Jordan Alsagoff on

A simple Grab ride from Yishun to Choa Chu Kang that usually costs about $15 ended up leaving Henry He, 35, with dental damage that may require $30,000 to fix.

On May 12, He had booked a GrabCar for his family, only to be informed by the driver upon arrival that he was unable to take He because He’s five-year-old son needed a booster seat. This is mandatory for private-hire vehicles transporting children under the age of eight or taller than 1.35m in height. Drivers face a $120 fine and three demerit points for violating this regulation.

Image Source: Sayan Puangkham

He was told to cancel the current booking and call a GrabFamily car, which would have a booster seat, instead. He, however, refused to cancel his booking, reasoning that the driver should cancel since he had declined the job. As the situation escalated, the driver ended up punching He in the mouth, breaking four teeth.

A Grab driver who calls himself Zeus told The Pride that it’s not uncommon for riders to not declare at the point of booking that they have children with them.

He said: “Sometimes, riders book a normal GrabCar, then text us through the app saying they have babies or kids with them.

“I’ve texted and even called some riders to tell them that I can’t carry small kids, but they insist just to save a few dollars, and claim that other riders have done so too,” said the 30-year-old, who has been driving for over a year.

“Luckily, in all the cases I encountered, the passenger was willing to cancel,” he added. “Some others aren’t as lucky though.”

Drivers are unable to take a new booking until a previous job has been cancelled, and Zeus felt that Grab doesn’t give its drivers enough support in such situations.

“When you call the Grab hotline and ask them to help you cancel from the system, they just tell you to ask the passenger yourself,” he said. The Pride contacted Grab for clarifications on their cancellation policy, but they did not respond by the time of publication.

Hidden pressures

So why are drivers so reluctant to cancel a trip?

A Singapore Management University student who goes by the name of Marc and who has driven part-time for the past two years, told The Pride: “Incentives make up around 30 per cent of my own earnings, and I’ve failed to qualify before, due to cancellations.

A screencap of Grab’s cancellation policy for passengers / Image source: Grab

“But riders also don’t want to cancel because there’s a $5 penalty for doing so after five minutes, or more than twice in a week.”

In situations where neither party is willing to make the cancellation and incur a loss, things could come to head and even take an ugly turn like it did in the He incident.

Without understanding and empathy, it’s little wonder that drivers and riders don’t always see eye to eye.

Selfish behaviour doesn’t help

Marc pointed towards unpleasant experiences he’s had with riders who were inconsiderate, or behaved in an entitled way.

“The worst passengers are those with no respect for drivers,” he told The Pride. “They think that just because they’re paying me, they can do whatever they want. I’ve had passengers who would stand right outside my car and continue their conversations even though they knew I was waiting for them. I’ve also had riders who held really loud conversations in the back, as if I’m not there – it’s super distracting when you’re trying to drive.”

Marc also said that he kept quiet in those situations out of politeness. It goes to show that just because you don’t hear protests from the driver, it doesn’t mean they don’t mind.

Drivers, too, can be guilty of failing to consider the feelings of their passengers.

In March last year, Mothership published an article about a Grab driver named Cassandra who deliberately abandoned her two riders’ luggage at Changi Airport. The passengers had asked her to load their luggage for them, but offended by the request as she was “not a porter”, she drove off with the passengers in her car, but without loading their luggage.

Image source: Facebook / Mothership.sg

When the passengers realised what had happened, they demanded she turn back, but Cassandra insisted they “ask her nicely and treat her with respect” before she did, threatening to drop them off where they were in transit near East Coast Park otherwise.

The passengers acquiesced, but Cassandra made nothing from the trip and later received a “call from Grab” as well as a “one-star rating”.

While some netizens applauded her for standing firm against demanding passengers, it’s apparent that despite wanting to be treated with respect, she didn’t extend the same courtesy to her passengers. Her actions, along with the gloating tone of her account of the episode, could have put other drivers in a bad light, too.

Another driver, who gave his name only as Lee, said there is no excuse to lose one’s temper.

“Be it drivers or riders, everyone is subject to stress. But we should still practise good etiquette, and at least be polite to each other. Letting that stress get to you will only get you waylaid,” he said.

Lee explained: “As I normally drive short shifts, from around 10am to 3pm, most of my passengers are either teenagers or housewives. I’m lucky and have never had a negative experience. Perhaps these people are less stressed, and that’s why they’re more pleasant to drive.”

By and large, the drivers will also have you know that unpleasant passengers are the exception rather than the norm.

“It’s only a few rotten apples spoiling the whole thing,” said Zeus.

“Most passengers I pick up are friendly and kind,” added Marc in agreement.

Kindness can pay off

On the recent spate of incidents involving private hire vehicles, Lee pointed out that bad news is much likelier to attract public attention.

“Technology tends to magnify the small incidents – we end up dramatising the bad and ignoring the good,” he said. “We should highlight positive stories, too.”

So, here’s one: About a year ago, budding entrepreneur Joel Moo, 25, booked a Grab to take him to an appointment with an old friend, but ended up making a new one too.

Joel told us that he and his driver struck up a conversation, which began when he “asked a few simple questions”, starting with “how’s your day,” and “how long have you been driving for?”

Image source: Facebook / Grab

The two hit upon a shared interest for entrepreneurship, and the driver ended up joining Joel and his friend for supper. They later exchanged business cards, with the driver offering his services as a deliveryman if Joel ever needed help with his business.

“I’ve actually made friends with a lot of drivers,” said Joel. “Just talk to them, it’s easy.”

Being thoughtful can pay off in more ways than one. Joel’s experience shows us that being friendly can make the trip more pleasant for everyone involved. There’s no harm in doing so, and you might even make a new friend.

And what would drivers like from their passengers?

“I greet my passengers when they enter my vehicle, thank them when they leave, and try not to keep them waiting. It’s great when they do the same for me too,” said Marc.

“You don’t have to be talkative to show some care,” said Zeus. “I really appreciate it when riders ask simple questions, like how my day is going. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation.”

An excellent piece of advice, for both drivers and passengers, came during my in-car interview with Lee.

“The pace of life here is fast, and people are going to be stressed out,” he said. “But letting it get to you can only make things worse.”

I’m inclined to believe he’s right.