Users can also contact Tribecar via reports made through the app, emails and social media channels.
If there are cleanliness issues, Mr Yong pointed out that users may also take the vehicle for cleaning, and the company would reimburse the cleaning fees and offer free rental hours as a “reward”.
Mr Kelvin Tay, chief executive officer of BlueSG, acknowledged the recent service lapses stemming from technical glitches during the company’s system migration, adding that it is currently working on expanding its customer service team by 10 per cent.
The company has also recently improved its live chat for more efficient customer service operations.
Weekly cleaning of BlueSG vehicles is also a standard practice.
Another bugbear of consumers is the perceived high insurance excess they are liable to pay.
Insurance excess refers to the amount of money that an individual must pay out of their pocket before their insurance coverage kicks in to cover the remaining costs of repairs due to accidents.
It ranges from around S$1,000 to S$10,000, depending on the user’s years of driving experience, the type of vehicle driven, whether a damage waiver was purchased, and whether a third party is involved.
Mr Toh said the exact excess amount reflects the cost of repair and insurance, and GetGo’s excess is set in accordance with the car rental and car-sharing industry norms.
GetGo’s insurance excess varies according to the users’ age, years of driving experience, the purchase of damage waivers, and the type of vehicle booked.
On whether users get to dispute the charges according to their liability, Mr Toh stressed that insurers are the ones who determine liability, and handle such related appeals.
“(Insurers) are professionals guided by the rules of the road, and they have collective industry guidelines for determining liability.”
Mr Yong of Tribecar said it has the same arrangement – the insurers decide the insurance excess amount.
Tribecar’s maximum insurance excess is at S$5,000 per party, with the base starting from S$3,000. Users who opt for extra protection – by paying a fee, typically 10 per cent or more of the rental charges – can get this amount reduced significantly.
“While we do not have specifics on how insurers calculate the insurance excess, a good assumption could be due to the varying drivers’ driving experience for the vehicles,” he said.
For BlueSG, Mr Tay said based on user feedback, the company has worked with its insurers to lower the excess amounts to S$3,000 and S$5,000 for both experienced and inexperienced drivers, each applicable to any damages to a BlueSG car and a third-party one.
These rates, effective from Jan 1, 2023, are about 40 per cent lower than previously, CNA had reported.
Still, this means that a young driver under 22 years old, or an inexperienced one with less than two years’ experience, can be liable to pay S$10,000 if he is involved in an accident involving a third party.
Some users have speculated in online forums that the perceived high insurance excess amounts and repair costs as well as additional charges to cover for a vehicle’s loss of use while under repair could be part of the car-sharing companies’ profit-earning model.
To this, SMU’s Prof Fan noted that car-sharing rental rates are typically lower than conventional car rental rates. After all, operators expect multiple people to use the same car throughout the day.
But at the same time, Prof Fan said the operators “can’t be sure” that they can maximise every car’s usage to the point where every car is well-utilised every hour of the day.
“So if you break a windshield, for example, car operators don’t have the luxury of surveying costs at different workshops before opting for the most cost-efficient one.
“They may charge you a standard rate which is higher because … they want (the car back on the road),” he said.
Prof Fan said users should know how to protect themselves, and one way to do so is by recording a video of themselves inspecting the vehicle before and after use.
In terms of best practices, Associate Professor Raymond Ong of the National University of Singapore said Singapore can learn from places with the best car-sharing practices, such as Taiwan and Australia.
In these two places, he said rental companies enforce policies and penalties to ensure a user’s responsibility is fulfilled, such as submitting photos of the vehicle condition before users can successfully end a rental.
He added that users in Taiwan and Australia are also more proactive in ensuring the cleanliness of their rented vehicles before returning them.
The responsibility to care for the shared vehicles should go both ways, said Dr Ong, who studies transport economics.
“Users themselves are part of the problem. When they notice several issues with the car, they should give feedback immediately.
“Then, service providers need to take these issues of defect checking seriously because if these complaints increase, it would ultimately hurt their reputation. More users would be disenchanted with the car-sharing system,” he said, adding that it is not just the company that suffers as a result but the entire industry.
IS THERE A NEED FOR REGULATION?
From Jan 1 to Dec 31 last year, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 127 complaints related to the car-sharing industry.
In comparison, there were 196 complaints in 2022 – a fourfold increase from just 48 in 2020.
Case president Melvin Yong told TODAY that such complaints generally involved:
- Disputes over excess charges or unauthorised charges due to alleged pre-existing defects in shared cars
- Challenges in cancelling subscriptions after auto-renewal
- Poor customer support and dispute resolution process
- Technical errors preventing car rentals or subscription cancellations
In a push for enhanced consumer protection in the sector, he also called for a mandatory maintenance regime, transparent communication of terms, and a clear dispute-resolution process.
The proposed maintenance regimen, whether time or distance-based, aims to minimise pre-existing defects.
In a blog post on Case’s website in August last year, Mr Yong wrote: “Consumers have a part to play, too. Before using the shared car, consumers should also check the condition of the car thoroughly in accordance with the checklists and report any issues immediately.
“Where there are issues, do not drive.”
Urging transparency, the Radin Mas Member of Parliament also touched on an auto-deduction clause which allows car-sharing service providers to deduct the repair, booking, cancelling or other charges from a user’s registered credit or debit card automatically.
To this, he proposed that consumers have the right to assess charges before deduction, as this would only make the dispute resolution fair.
The Case president also recommended establishing clear dispute resolution processes, complete with published timelines for issue resolution.