Image: BlueSG

 

We have to admit, we didn’t have a great first experience of BlueSG, Singapore’s first electric car sharing system that has been generating buzz (does it actually work? Are people really abusing the cars?). But after giving the car a second go and finding out more information from BlueSG themselves, we’re coming around.

Since its launch last December, BlueSG has announced an impressive 3,300 sign-ups and 5,000 rentals. The model is simple enough – 80 cars at 32 stations around the island are available for use. Anyone with a registered account can use a car, and you will be charged by minute of usage ($0.33/minute on a one year plan, and $0.50 for a weekly plan).

To set up an account, you need to fill in your personal details, credit card information and upload pictures of your driving license. We opted to use our EZ link card as a pairing device (you can also choose to get a BlueSG Badge sent to you, or use your NETS card), and you will receive an activation code. Next, you can reserve your car or parking lot via the BlueSG app (up to 30 minutes for the former and 45 minutes for the latter), and head over within the allotted time. Tardiness isn’t tolerated here – if you’re late, you’re looking at a $5 penalty.

 

Teething problems, or bigger issues?

After you tap your card, you'll be able to unplug the car from the charging point.

 

The first charging kiosk we went to had a faulty touchscreen that refused to respond. A phone call to the BlueSG helpline assured us that someone would be sent to repair it, but in the meantime we had to go elsewhere. Success hit at the second kiosk, where we managed to unlock our reserved car. Unfortunately the previous driver had left it in a sorry state with leaves, dirt and dried mud on the floor mat of the driver’s seat.

As for driving the car, the basic functions were easy enough to figure out, although we found the ventilation stuffy and the accelerator uncomfortably unresponsive. The car took a long time to pick up speed when switching between the brake pedal and the accelerator. But the plus point is an inbuilt GPS system which did not fail us (a counter check with Google Maps gave us the same route).

Parking was also simple enough. If you’ve reserved a lot, you’ll be able to identify it by the blue light on the charging point. Park, plug the car to charge, tap your card to lock it, and you’re done.

We spent a total time of 41 minutes in the car, which cost us $20.50 as we were on a weekly plan. Was it worth it? We weren’t quite convinced just yet.

 

Before you judge, here’s what you should know

In the spirit of fairness, we decided to go straight to the source to have our many questions answered. After an extended chat with Jenny Lim, Commercial and Network Director, we’ve gotten an understanding of the bigger picture.

 

1. If you can’t deal with a dirty car, make it known

Each car has a screen on the dashboard for access to tutorials, GPS, and features such as this cleanliness rating. 

Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw. There’s very little anyone can do if the last driver had a pair of muddy boots. But what you, as the next driver, can do is to let BlueSG know that a car has been treated badly. When you first start up the car, the touchscreen asks you to rate the cleanliness so they are able to keep tabs on the vehicles (BlueSG also has ambassadors making daily rounds). And if you find that you really cannot accept the state of your reserved car, you can call the hotline and request for another. This scheme can only truly flourish if everyone is considerate.

 

2. Don’t think you can get away with mistreating a car
There are sensors and alarms in the Bluecar which will alert headquarters if the driver has gotten into an accident. But that aside, there are other ways to tell if a driver has taken advantage of the system. Illegal driving such as speeding indicates the time of the offence, which can easily be traced back to the driver. 

And if you’ve had a mishap, don’t count on getting away scot-free. Jenny Lim says that they have identified the drivers of the handful of incidents that have happened since the launch, thanks to subsequent drivers calling in to report the damage and internal checks in the system.

 

3. It’s not faulty – it just needs getting used to

If you see the blue words A/C at the bottom left of the screen, this means the air-conditioning is on.

 

Not all cars are created equal. Given that some air appeared to be coming out from the vents, we had assumed that the air-conditioning was on, but weak. It transpires that you have to manually turn it on by pressing the button marked A/C. (Facepalm.)

As for the slow acceleration, Jenny clarifies that this is an in-built safety measure. The brakes are designed to be extremely sensitive, while the accelerator pedal is much stiffer to accommodate drivers of different calibres.  She assured us that if we did indeed floor the acceleration, we would hit the car’s speed limit of 110km/h.

 

4. It’s not meant to replace Uber or Grab
Same same, but different. While both options would get you from point A to B, fundamentally the models are different (one is a car sharing scheme, and one is a chauffeured car service). “Our pricing is stable regardless of the daytime and venue,” explains Jenny. “There is no peak hour or surcharge. Some people like to know what they’re spending their money on and they like to have control of their choices.” Essentially, this would appeal to those who prefer to have full autonomy by being a driver, rather than being driven.

There is also the option to personalise your service such as setting your favourite radio station and favourite destinations. Regardless of which car you reserve, the settings will be automated.

 

5. This is not a day-rental car
Time is literally money with this car. We doubt you will want to drive to multiple locations and park in shopping centres (that means paying for both the carpark as well as the Bluecar rental). It’s designed for short trips where you hop on, and get off.

 

Giving the scheme a second chance

Some cars are located within HDB carparks, such as this station in Punggol.
Image: BlueSG

 

Armed with all this information, we attempted driving the Bluecar once again. This time, we made sure the air conditioning was switched on, graded our car on cleanliness, and even used the GPS system to reserve our next parking lot (all of which we did not do the first time, thanks to our confusion). And during the drive, we weren’t afraid to hit the accelerator pedal – hard.

It was a much better experience than our first. This car was in a cleaner state, and we were much more confident in manoeuvring it.  And in fact, the air conditioning was so powerful we needed to turn it down.

Using our original address and destination, we checked the price of a commonly used car service to see if the rates were comparable. It would have cost us $9 on that service. BlueSG clocked in at $10.50, but to be fair, we spent a couple of minutes in the car snapping photos and figuring out the functions. If we had driven off immediately, we wager the price would have been the same.

 

Would we drive a Bluecar again?

We parked our car at the Claymore Road parking lots located at the back of Shaw Centre.

A lot of the initial problems were down to insufficient awareness of how everything worked in the car. To solve this problem (because clearly we’re not alone here), we were assured that BlueSG plans on building greater social awareness and having roadshows to properly educate users on the features of the cars and how best to utilise them.

Our two cents worth is that BlueSG is a decent complement to the existing transport system. If we wanted to get to town and there was a charging station in our vicinity, it’s a solid option. There is something to be said about having control over what music you can listen to, not having a stranger listening to your conversation with your friend, and choosing the exact route you want to take. Plus, it’s environmentally-friendly. We understand that more stations and cars will be launched in the coming months and years, which will make the system a lot more effective.

And as our own experience shows, you need more than one trip in the car to be acquainted with its features. Give it a go, and then give it a second go before deciding if this is one ride you would want to have again.