Grab rolled out a surprise new product this morning – GrabShare, the company’s first on-demand commercial carpooling service. Essentially a shared GrabCar – or an on-demand GrabHitch that rides on the system – GrabShare is now available in Malaysia (only in the Klang Valley for now) and the Philippines.

GrabShare was launched in Singapore in December 2016, and the service has racked up two million rides for a total of 20 million km in just two months. Grab says that the new product has been effective in attracting new riders to its platform in the city state, and driver monthly incomes have increased by 10% on average.

While acknowledging that as Asians, we’re more apprehensive about sharing a car with strangers, Grab Malaysia’s country head Sean Goh points out that GrabShare’s success in Singapore has showed that there’s a clear willingness to try out this new way of commuting. There have been many repeat riders there too, which is encouraging news for the start-up.

So, here’s what GrabShare is about, in a nutshell. You book a ride just like how you would for a regular GrabCar (there’s a GrabShare button in the bottom slider where you choose services), and the system pairs you up with someone else going roughly in the same direction. One companion per booking allowed, which means it’s maximum four passengers to a car. There will be a maximum of two stops before reaching one’s destination.

Here’s a scenario with passengers A and B. Passenger A selects a GrabShare ride and is picked up by the driver. Passenger B selects GrabShare and both A and B are matched by the system. The app notifies the driver and both passengers of the successful match. The driver will then make a slight detour to pick up B (he/she will wait up to three minutes). All shake hands and make friends. OK, the last part is optional.

Designed and engineered across Grab’s three R&D centres in Singapore, Seattle and Beijing, GrabShare’s matching algorithm calculates and determines a match by factoring the closest available drivers, travel time, overlap of trip routes, detour distance and current traffic conditions. Simple in theory, but quite a challenge to execute, I can imagine. Of course, it will get better with more rides, data and feedback.

GrabShare, app from the passenger’s point of view

“Grab is continually refining our carpooling algorithm to ensure we tailor our GrabShare passenger matchings for a hyperlocal carpooling service, which mirrors the optimal drive and passenger carpooling habits of each city,” said Dominic Widdows, the Seattle-based software engineer for GrabShare.

“This is critical for Grab as each of our cities have unique passenger travel patterns and the app is about to customise how bookings are efficiently matched. In a nutshell, the more people use GrabShare, the more robust and efficient the algorithm ultimately becomes,” the ex-Microsoft man explained.

Grab, South-East Asia’s local champion that’s doing very well against US-based Uber, highlighted several reasons why its new carpooling service is good for KL-ites and the city itself. First, GrabShare fares are up to 30% lower than what it charges for GrabCar Economy, and no one can argue against savings. As usual, fares are fixed and displayed upfront, and can be higher during peak hours. It’s also a win for the drivers, who can earn more with every trip.

GrabShare, app from the driver’s point of view

If you haven’t already noticed, traffic congestion has been getting worse in the Klang Valley, and the main reason why is the sheer number of cars on the road. According to a 2014 Nielsen study, Malaysian car ownership is the third highest in the world (yes, globally), with 93% of households owning at least one car, and over half of them owning multiple cars. No matter how, the road network will never catch up with 600k new cars a year, and many just won’t give our (much improved) public transport system a chance. Those of a certain vintage might remember the car sticker from yesteryear – Be Cool, Car Pool.

As passengers, we are concerned about safety. Goh says that its GrabShare drivers and vehicles are the same ones as those vetted and approved for GrabCar, and that the company takes complaints very seriously. Those who commit serious offences such as harassing passengers are banned for life, while those who are reported for “dangerous driving” or “speeding” get warnings before they are dismissed.

Grab’s group personal accident insurance covers all passengers in the event of an accident. The total PA benefits for the driver or passengers can be up to US$10k per person in Malaysia.

Carpooling may not be for all, but as they say – never try never know.