Grab launches a bike-sharing service in Southeast Asia

Jon Russell
Grab launches a bike-sharing service in Southeast Asia

After much speculation, Southeast Asian Uber rival Grab has jumped into the bike-sharing space after it launched a service in Singapore.

GrabCycle Beta will offer services from a range of services, including bike-sharing services oBike -- which includes Grab as an investor -- GBikes and Anywheel, plus electric scooter rental Popscoot. The project is the first to launch under GrabVentures, Grab's new "innovation arm" which is focused on projects in verticals beyond taxi rides such as payments and transportation.

The project ties into Grab's payment efforts because GrabPay credits, its virtual currency, are used to pay to rent a cycle.

While dock-less bikes have their fans for making access to bikes easier, they have also adopted criticism for large cycle 'dumps' which have become commonplace across China. Grab is looking to mitigate that concern by partnering with Singapore island resort Sentosa, which will feature dedicated parking stations for bikes. The company plans to add other partners to help avoid "polluting public spaces" with cycles.

"In Singapore, approximately one in five car commutes are three kilometers and under. There is huge potential to convert this segment of commuters into bike-sharing users, in support of the country’s car-lite ambition," Grab wrote in an announcement that was distributed to press today.

In adopting a marketplace-style model from the get-go, Grab is avoiding the issues that Didi -- a Grab investor -- encountered in China when it invested in bike-sharing company Ofo. As demand for bike-sharing rocketed, Ofo found itself becoming a potential threat to Didi. Throw in some internal politics between investor and investee, and Didi moved to counter the younger company by introducing a marketplace that served bikes of its own, alongside those from Ofo and Bluegogo.

The move was essentially aimed at relegating Ofo to a feature within Didi's app in a bid to remove the need for consumers -- and potential Didi customers -- to install Ofo's own app. That's important because Mobike, an Ofo rival, has moved into taxi services and there is the potential for Ofo to do the same at some point.

Back to Southeast Asia, Grab's service is initially operational in Singapore, where the firm is headquartered, but there is the potential to expand it to other markets in Southeast Asia, a spokesperson confirmed. Right now, the core Grab service is present in eight countries across the region with 86 million downloads and 2.6 million drivers.

Rumors persist that Grab is on the brink of agreeing to a deal that will see it acquire Uber's Southeast Asia business in exchange for equity, according to Bloomberg. Any such deal would make it the dominant player across the region bar Indonesia, where local unicorn Go-Jek remains top of the pile.

Uber has moved into bike-sharing in the U.S. but it has not done the same in Southeast Asia despite its head of the region admitting to TechCrunch that the company is studying space.