Shut down carpooling chat group, urge experts

When The New Paper checked the Telegram chat group SGHitch yesterday, it was still operating, albeit with fewer postings by drivers.
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

Despite two drivers having their cars seized for allegedly providing illegal carpooling services and facing fines of up to $10,000 and/or jail of up to six months, the largest carpooling platform here has remained active.

When The New Paper checked the Telegram chat group SGHitch yesterday, it was still operating, albeit with fewer postings by drivers.

A user told TNP that when he requested a ride at around 9pm last night, he received seven offers from drivers in 20 minutes.

Medical experts are now calling for the chat group, which has been renamed Covid-19 Lockdown SG Hitch, to be shut down as its enabling of carpooling and private arrangements undermines safe distancing measures.

Infectious disease physician Asok Kurup said: "The people behind the group should be penalised to send a warning to other like-minded individuals."

Dr Asok said riders should stick to booking through ride-hailing platforms as there is "simply no reason" to resort to private arrangements.

"After having (non-essential) businesses shut down, people work from home and everyone observes strict hygiene practices, it makes no sense such activities are still continuing."

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Carpooling, where private car owners charge a fee for ferrying passengers, was made illegal on April 16.

Subsequently, private-hire car drivers were also not allowed to offer carpooling or privately arranged rides after the list of essential services was tightened last week as part of the circuit breaker extension.

Under the new rules, bookings must be made only on ride-hailing platforms such as Grab and Gojek.

On Saturday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it had carried out enforcement actions earlier in the week at several locations and caught two private car drivers who were allegedly providing car-pooling services. The drivers were booked and their sedans seized.

IRRESPONSIBLE

LTA said: "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."

Infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam said there is only so much enforcement can achieve if people are determined to break the law.

"I can only appeal to people's good senses. Don't be the black sheep that adds to the (infection) numbers," he told TNP.

Though community transmission outside of the dorms remains low, Dr Leong urged everyone to comply with the circuit breaker measures.

He said: "There is always a risk. It takes only one super spreader event to undo everything done so far."

When contacted, the administrators of Singapore Telegram Network, which run Covid-19 Lockdown SGHitch, said the chat group is for networking purposes, and a disclaimer states the administrators are not responsible for any illegal action by the members.

They said drivers and users also use the platform for delivery jobs. They added: "We are doing our best to (be compliant), such as giving warnings, educating members, (having) advisory notes and eliminating users that get reported."

But lawyer Chooi Jing Yen, partner at law firm Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, said the administrators and riders could also be liable if they are abetting an offence by facilitating illegal rides.

He said: "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."

This article was first published inĀ The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.

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