March 2018 is seen as a month of victory for our Malaysian-born Grab has it has managed to secure a comfortable portion of electronic hailing (e-hailing) market share in Southeast Asia. A deal was struck between Grab and US-born Uber for the latter to cease operating in the Southeast Asia effective 9 April 2018. In return, Uber gets 27.5% stake in Grab. According to Grab’s official website, almost 4 million rides are done on the platform daily. Being a Malaysian-born company, Grab started its operation in Malaysia as MyTeksi in 2012, moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2014 and now it has expanded to more than 142 cities in Southeast Asia.
During its initial days of operation as a car sharing service, many taxi drivers oppose it. We have had numerous protests in the heart of Kuala Lumpur to oppose the e-hailing services. The government and its affiliated agencies were pressured to intervene in order to safeguard the interest of taxi drivers and companies. The situation became worse as the taxi drivers tend to take matters into their own hands. On 28 June 2016, a 35-year old Grab driver was attacked by irate taxi drivers as he was about to pick up a passenger outside the MidValley Megamall. Meanwhile, on 20 June 2016, an Uber driver was attacked at KL Sentral station and one of his passengers was injured as an angry taxi driver dragged them out of the car.
Let us face the reality. In the past, the Malaysian government and private sectors within their respective capacities have tried to improve the system. Exclusive access and waiting areas were assigned to numerous shopping malls, airports and other points of attraction. Besides, NGV, a cheaper vehicle fuel alternative was also introduced to key areas in Malaysia, especially in the Klang Valley area. The government has also demonstrated its commitment to assisting taxi drivers by making NGV more affordable for them. According to Malaysia: Natural Gas Industry Annual Review 2012 report published by Malaysian Gas Association, the Malaysian government has spent almost RM 28 billion in the form of various subsidies for natural gas, NGV included.
Despite the numerous improvement methods, many taxi drivers suffer from an attitude problem. It is common to hear tourists complain about being overcharged and violent driving behaviour of the drivers. On 17 December 2016, Malaysians got a shock of their life when two French tourists were charged RM 800 for a short ride from KLCC to National Mosque. While stern actions have been taken by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) on the said taxi operator, over the years, the overcharging and bad driving practice have shown no signs of abating.
To combat the negative attitudes of the taxi drivers, many solutions were proposed. Fares are regulated, and meter usage was made compulsory for all Klang Valley taxi drivers. Anybody still remembers the mandatory “no haggling” signage on our taxis? Unfortunately, our tourists are able to read that sign and still being overcharged by the taxi drivers. The blatant disregard of the law and guidelines have frequently drive tourists and authorities to the wall but not enough has been done to solve the problem. One The Star reporter had even gone undercover to find how deep the problem is. In one article published on 7 Oct 2012 on the news portal, one shocking finding was revealed: only 1 out of 11 taxi drivers in KL followed the regulated fare.
Years of bad service and the advent of smartphones with GPS technology seems to provide a right recipe for e-hailing. As the smartphones get more advanced and affordable, it has opened up a slew of new possibilities, which includes e-hailing. In the early days of e-hailing, many of the drivers were existing taxi drivers. As the years passed by, more people signed up to drive for e-hailing services, citing money-making opportunities and flexible work arrangements as their primary factors in doing so. Besides, the booking and driver review system have improved the service availability and reliability, thus making it more appealing to the users.
After several years of using Grab, the service is no longer a stranger to us. More people do no longer consider purchasing new cars, especially in the heavily-congested areas. Considering how difficult it was to use a taxi service before, there is no point in going back to the old trend. It is now the time for us to move on and think about possible transport advancements in the future.