Grab catches Uber off-guard with Myanmar trial launch

Grab – the Singapore-based rival to Uber – has launched a trial of its ride-hailing service in Yangon. Within an hour of Grab’s announcement today, Uber announced that it would also be launching ridesharing services in Myanmar “very soon”.

Grab announced today that it will begin operating a trial of GrabTaxi in Yangon with a small group of taxi drivers. The pilot scheme will be scaled up gradually based on driver and passenger feedback, Grab said in a statement.

Cheryl Goh, Grab’s group vice-president for marketing, said: “We are committed to work with the taxi industry and other transport stakeholders during our GrabTaxi beta trial and work together to test and improve our taxi service to both drivers and passengers.”

Grab currently offers services in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. This will be company’s first expansion to a new country since June 2014. Before today, the company’s most recent expansion was to Indonesia, where competition between Grab and US-based Uber is fierce.

Grab’s announcement appears to have caught Uber off-guard. A spokesperson reached out to Coconuts Yangon today with an unsolicited statement, saying:

“Uber is very pleased with the progress we have made towards a partnership with the government in Yangon and look forward to introducing our ridesharing technology in the country very soon.”

While announcing plans to cull extraneous taxis in Yangon in January, Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein said: “We have met with the Southeast Asian [section of] Uber [Technologies Inc.] and learned that since we do not have a systematic taxi association, unlike other countries whose taxi associations protested against [the introduction of Uber], we have a chance to introduce Uber into Myanmar.”

Uber’s cooperation with local governments may ultimately give it an edge over Grab. However, Yangon is still listed as unavailable for a fare estimate on the Uber website.

Oway, a local startup, has previously attempted to fill the ridesharing gap in Myanmar, but it has not taken off like the other taxi apps have in other countries. And with billions of dollars in investment behind them, Grab and Uber appear set to make Myanmar their next battleground.

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