Uber rival Grab introduces private bus service in Southeast Asia

‘Tis the season for new ride-sharing services, it seems. A day after Uber launched multi-trip bookings in India, its rival in Southeast Asia — Grab — has introduced private buses.

“Grab Coach” is initially available in Singapore where it is aimed at large groups that would otherwise require multiple cars. There are three types of coaches: 13 seaters, 23 seaters and 40 seaters. Each can be booked inside the Grab app like its other services, while there’s also support for Grab enterprise customers, too.

Grab, which has raised over $1 billion from investors including SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, started out offering rides with licensed taxis that were paid for in cash only. Over the past two years, it has branched out to provide private cars, car-pooling, motorbikes on-demand, logistics and delivery and, as of today, coaches. It also offers digital payments, and it is working to build that into a larger financial services platform.

The company didn’t say when Grab Coach will expand to its five other markets in Southeast Asia beyond Singapore, but you can imagine that it will be a staggered expansion over the next year or so. That was the case for Grab Hitch, its car-pooling service, which debuted in Singapore but is now running in three countries, including Indonesia and Thailand.

Uber, meanwhile, offers its regular Uber Black and Uber X services in Southeast Asia, where ride-sharing revenue is tipped to grow five-fold to $13 billion per year by 2015 according to a report co-authored by Google. Uber does also operate motorbike taxis in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, and Vietnam.

Didi introduced a similar bus service in China two years ago, but while Grab is working with private hire coaches, Didi offers ‘shutter buses’ with the idea that they can pick up multiple riders per trip. The company’s hasn’t said much about that service, and it remains to be seen how it is progressing.

Grab recently claimed 33 million app downloads and over 600,000 drivers. The company is valued at $3 billion as of its last funding round, a $750 million raise led by SoftBank.