COVID-19: Experts Urge Carpooling to Be Shut Down

Carpooling services to be shut down in Singapore

1. Introduction

According to Land Transport Authority (“LTA”) press release dated 25 April 2020, it had carried out enforcement operations against individuals who continue to provide carpooling services earlier in the week. On 22 and 23 April, two drivers were booked at Handy Road and along Yio Chu Kang Road. Their cars have been seized while investigations are ongoing. These drivers could potentially face fines of up to $10,000 and/or jail of up to six months. LTA in its press release stated that “Such irresponsible behaviour endangers the health of drivers, passengers and their families, and undermines Singapore’s ongoing efforts to suppress the spread of COVID-19”.

2. Carpooling services are not considered as essential services

As mentioned in our post on “Concerns Over Contact Tracing and Safe Distancing During Rides”, carpooling services provided through GrabHitch, Rydepool, or those arranged privately are not designated as essential services. Bookings for private-hire car services must be made only through the ride-hailing platforms such as Grab and Gojek.

While commercial operators have suspended their carpooling services since 16 April, some drivers continue to offer such services privately over messaging platforms.

One such messaging platform where drivers offer private carpooling services is Telegram. Over the past weekend, the Telegram chat group “SGHitch”, was found to be still operating. The chat group has since been renamed “Covid-19 Lockdown SGHitch”. The administrators of Singapore Telegram Network which run the chat group said the chat group is for networking purposes, and a disclaimer states the administrators are not responsible for any illegal action by the members.

3. Jing Yen comments in The New Paper

But this may not be sufficient to protect them from potential prosecution. Our partner, Chooi Jing Yen told The New Paper that they could still be liable for abetting an illegal act:-

“The administrators and riders could also be liable if they are abetting an offence by facilitating illegal rides.

The reason why the group was set up has now become illegal. Even with a disclaimer, if the majority of requests are still for illegal purposes, then the administrators should shut down the group or risk prosecution.”

Further, experts such as infectious disease physician Dr Asok Kurup said that riders should stick to booking through ride-hailing platforms. Infectious disease specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam said that “It takes only one super spreader event to undo everything done so far”.