Uber and Grab hit with $9.5M in fines over ‘anti-competitive’ merger

Uber and Grab have been hit with combined fines of $9.5 million after their merger deal was found to have violated Singapore’s anti-competition laws.

Grab acquired (and then merged/closed) Uber’s Southeast Asia business in March, but the Competition Commission of Singapore today declared the deal is “anti-competitive” following a months-long investigation into its impact on Singapore.

The CCCS levied an SG$6,582,055 (US$4.8 million) fine on Uber and an SG$6,419,647 (US$4.7 million) fine on Grab, but it won’t unwind the deal, which had been an option. The fines relate only to the businesses in Singapore, which is just one of eight markets where Uber and Grab competed. Grab has raised $6 billion from investors so it shouldn’t have an issue paying that back.

Chiefly, the CCCS found that Grab had raised prices by 10-15 percent following the deal, whilst its market share grew to 80 percent. That’s despite Grab co-founder Hooi Ling Tan claiming that there is still plenty of competition across Southeast Asia.

“At the conclusion of its investigation, CCCS has found that the Transaction is anti-competitive, having been carried into effect, and has infringed section 54 of the Competition Act by substantially lessening competition in the ride-hailing platform market in Singapore,” the agency wrote.

Grab, which is valued at $11 billion and is pushing itself as an all-in-one ‘super app,’ wasn’t legally compelled to notify the CCCS of its deal with Uber. But the commission does warn companies to consider reaching out it if the deal in question leaves the merged entity with upwards of 40 percent market share, or the post-merger combined market share of the three largest firms is 70 percent or higher. Grab contacted the CCCS only after the deal was announced.

It’s worth noting that the Philippines, the only other Southeast Asia country to launch an investigation into the deal, approved the merger without repercussions last month.

Through its investigation, the CCCS engaged with Grab to make a number of requests on its business, they included restoring its pre-deal pricing and commission rates, cutting exclusivity agreements with taxi operators, and removing lock-in for drivers that use its rental partners or Uber’s Lion City Rentals business. Those are broadly the same again — and the commission did note that Grab had changed its loyalty program post deal.

“Mergers that substantially lessen competition are prohibited and CCCS has taken action against the Grab-Uber merger because it removed Grab’s closest rival, to the detriment of Singapore drivers and riders. Companies can continue to innovate in this market, through means other than anti-competitive mergers,” CCCS chief executive Toh Han Li said in a statement.

In keeping with recent traditional around CCCS statements, Grab produced a lengthy response of its own. One part to highlight is its apparent insistence that the merger deal did not significantly impact competition.

“Grab had, with its advisers, assessed that the transaction would not result in a substantial lessening of competition,” so said Daren Shiau, who is co-head of Allen & Gledhill’s Competition & Antitrust practice, one of the firm’s that Grab retained.

Shiau’s statement is something that the 80 percent market share stat suggests is untrue. No doubt many consumers and drivers, who today have fewer options, will also disagree with.

Here’s Grab’s full statement in all of its glory:

We have been working with the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) during its review over the past few months. Today, we are glad that the CCCS has completed its investigations on the Grab-Uber transaction and did not require the transaction to be unwound. Grab completed the Transaction within its legal rights, and still maintains we did not intentionally or negligently breach competition laws.

Grab agrees that keeping the market open and contestable is best for consumers and drivers, and we will abide by the remedies set out by the CCCS. However, it is unfortunate that the CCCS is taking a very narrow market definition in arriving at its conclusion that the Transaction has led to a substantial lessening of competition. Commuters are free to choose between street-hail taxis and private hire cars, and it is a fact that private-hire car drivers’ incomes are directly impacted by intense competition with street-hail taxis.

We recognise that the CCCS’s position on non-exclusivity arrangements is to set the right tone for the transport industry. Grab agrees with, and has long advocated for, industry-wide regulations that allow drivers to freely choose which platform or operator they wish to drive with. For drivers to have full maximum choice, all transport players, including taxi operators, should also be subjected to nonexclusivity conditions. Grab should not be the only transport player subjected to non-exclusivity conditions. This is inconsistent with taxi industry practices and we will continue our dialogue with the CCCS and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to create a level playing field for all. In this respect, we welcome CCCS’s willingness to review the remedial measures as market conditions change. We also note that the LTA is reviewing the regulatory framework for the point-to-point transportation sector, which we hope will address non-exclusivity across the industry.

Grab is committed to fair pricing and has not raised fares since the Transaction. Grab will continue to adhere to our pre-transaction pricing model, pricing policies and driver commissions. We have been and will continue to submit weekly pricing data to the CCCS for monitoring.

Grab is making every effort to serve our customers better and we are adding more app features that will improve the user experience for customers and drivers. We want to contribute meaningfully to Singapore’s solutions to enhance urban liveability.

For example, we are studying data and vehiclesharing services to play our part to optimise Singapore’s overall transport network. As one of the biggest tech employers in the country, Grab is making significant contributions to Singapore’s economic development and we will continue to develop Singapore’s talent in product development and design, data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and engineering.

Grab is heartened to receive the support of governments across Southeast Asia to enable us to serve Southeast Asians better. The recent decisions by Philippine Competition Commission and CCCS in not pursuing the route of unwinding the Transaction demonstrate a deeper appreciation of Grab’s potential to serve the region.

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