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GrabTaxi steps up Uber rivalry with carpool service

Neo Chee Wei | Moment Mobile | Getty Images

GrabTaxi, the SoftBank-backed taxi-hailing app, has stepped up its rivalry with Uber in Southeast Asia with the launch of a carpooling service.

Grab Hitch, Malaysia-based GrabTaxi's ride-sharing service, will allow drivers in Singapore with spare seats to pick up passengers going in the same direction.

Anthony Tan, GrabTaxi's chief executive and founder, said: "It will help in the massive congestion issues in Southeast Asia. It will help with reducing the carbon footprint and it will help by giving people a much more social experience."

The service, touted as a cheaper alternative to regular taxis and an opportunity to meet new people, mirrors the UberPool ridesharing model the US group has rolled out across China and India in recent months.

Uber, the world's best funded private technology company, has shaken up competition in Asia, pursuing ambitious expansion plans. However, it has become embroiled in conflict with taxi drivers in Indonesia and a high-profile regulatory battle in China.

GrabTaxi, which operates in six Asian countries, is diversifying into new sectors in an attempt to draw customers and cling to market share.

Mr Tan said GrabTaxi has a "healthy war chest" following a $350m round of funding in August in which Didi Kuaidi, the Chinese ride-hailing app, joined the ranks of Japan's SoftBank as one of the group's best known investors.

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GrabBike, a platform that connects riders with Southeast Asia's motorcycle taxis, is now an established part of the business in Indonesia and Vietnam. Mr Tan said the group was considering expanding its GrabExpress delivery service beyond its initial pilot projects in the Philippines and Thailand.

"We want to put in safe delivery of people or safe delivery of goods, as long as there's a need," Mr Tan said. "There's going to be a lot more innovation in this space."

The emergence of new services is part of a wider shift in the Asian ride-hailing industry from an initial phase of fleet expansion.

Read MoreGrabTaxi raises money from China's sovereign wealth fund

Gojek, an Indonesian rival than connects riders with motorcycle taxis, known locally as ojek, stopped hiring new drivers a fortnight ago after having enrolled 200,000 across the country.

Nadiem Makarim, Gojek's founder, said: "We have a bit too many drivers now. We want to maintain the income per driver at a certain level."

The Indonesian company has in recent weeks rolled out services including GoGlam and GoClean, which bring beauticians and maids to customers.