In 2014, MyTeksi was launched in Penang. The company aimed to improve the safety and convenience of taxi rides, and by partnering with taxi companies, it was seen as an effort to revive the taxi industry.
It did – MyTeksi raised taxi bookings in Penang by 500% within five months. Grab, which evolved from MyTeksi, and Uber followed, with their services priced far lower than normal taxi rides and riders could make bookings with a few simple taps and view prices along with the driver’s details.
Unfortunately, metered taxi drivers and other taxi drivers were unhappy with this market share disruption. Violent confrontations took place between taxi drivers and ride-share drivers, and taxi drivers insisted that the government either banned ride-sharing, or set up fairer rules and regulations.1
Ride-sharing users often say that taxi drivers are harsh and charge exorbitant prices, even for a short trip; while with ride-sharing, the prices are fixed in advance and one can use the app to track the journey, which makes users feel safer.
Fifty-year-old Azri, who has been a taxi driver for 10 years, says that not every driver is harsh and inconsiderate – there are plenty of polite and kind drivers who ensure their customers reach their destinations safely; and not every ride-sharing driver is nice, either.
Azri notes that taxi drivers often need to make a good impression on their customers and function as ambassadors when having tourists as passengers. He polished up his language skills to help him communicate better. “Just like in the office, you can’t bring personal matters to work,” says Azri. “When I drive, I make sure my passengers feel safe and confident of my abilities. Of course not everyone wants a chatty driver, so I need to understand the non-verbal cues of my passengers – I need to make sure they are comfortable.”
Airport taxis are terminal based – their pickup point starts from the airport.
Azri drives a terminal-based taxi. His pickup point must start from Penang International Airport (PIA), and he is only allowed to drive call-in passengers; randomly picking up passengers along the road is prohibited, making it harder to earn a living compared to metered taxis. “Before ride-sharing services came along, I used to get at least five trips departing from PIA. With the competition today, the maximum I get is three trips with five to six hours’ waiting time. There are days when my third trip was at 10pm or at midnight,” says Azri. He had quit his job as a logistics operations officer, which he had been doing for 19 years, to drive full-time.
He and other taxi drivers do try to keep up with technology and join the ride-sharing business, but their options are limited. “I use the app when I’m on my way back to my base at PIA and also during waiting hours. Taxis are not entitled to additional incentives, which does seem unfair. With ride-sharing drivers invading our terminal, they leave us with no choice but to voice out; some impatient taxi drivers do get violent,” says Azri. Both his sister and her husband also drive taxis for a living.
Besides picking up customers from the airport and through ride-sharing apps, Azri also has regular call-in passengers who use his taxi service to get around; these are mostly business people and the elderly, the latter of whom are not used to technology or are not in a rush. He has built up friendships with his passengers and through them, has gained new passengers. “All these business people are here for short meetings and they usually want their rides ready when they need to move – that’s when we come in handy,” says Azri.
In July this year, the government has made it compulsory for ride-sharing drivers to apply for permits and licenses which are equivalent to that for taxis; they are also required to undergo health check-ups and Puspakom car inspections.
Working long hours and distances is normal for a driver. “It is very flexible and you work on your own schedule, but some days we do get long-distance trips that require us to drive out of Penang. It’s common to drive up to Alor Setar or down to Taiping and Ipoh; the farthest I drove to was KL. A friend of mine had to drive to Johor Bharu.
“We can’t rely solely on long-distance trips for our income. At least being based at a terminal, we do get some trips in a day even though we have to wait long hours – imagine metered taxi drivers who rely on short-distance trips: some days they don’t get any income, and that’s why they negotiate prices instead of using meters,” says Azri.
Their prices are also set higher because return trips are often empty rides, unlike with ride-sharing where ride requests come in even before the current passenger is dropped off. However, many taxi drivers are retirees who choose to drive to support themselves, and to them, learning a new technology can be challenging.
Azri hopes to see places where there are taxi bases made off limits to ride-sharing, lamenting that the crowding causes traffic congestion at terminal entrances. “I often see passengers drag their huge luggage quite a distance because the road at the arrivals terminal is so jammed up and their ride-sharing drivers could not get any closer to pick them up. I don’t think this presents a good image for our tourism. Also, taxi drivers have proper uniforms while ride-sharing drivers wear as they please, which I think sets the wrong impression to tourists visiting our country.”
In July this year, the government will make it compulsory for ride-sharing drivers to apply for permits and licenses which are equivalent to that for taxis; they are also required to undergo health check-ups and Puspakom car inspections. The ride-sharing service will also have to provide training for their drivers.2 “I am looking forward to these regulations to be enforced. Hopefully it changes the game,” says Azri.
Noorhasyilah Rosli is a publication graduate who is fascinated by books. She is an island girl who loves her beaches and hills.
1New Means of Public Transport That We Do Not Have to Wait for, Yap Joyee, https://penangmonthly.com/article.aspx?pageid=15281&name=new_means_of_public_transport_that_we_do_not_have_to_wait_for 2https://www.grab.com/my/driver/regulations-bm/