When more taxi drivers take up e-hailing, it will be good for both the industry and the consumers.

Anthony Loke, Transport Minister

Eight years ago, I conducted several briefings for a multinational group from the Harvard Business School MBA class of 2011 regarding the local taxi industry. The group was headed by Anthony Tan who disclosed to me he was working with Maxis to develop a booking app.

Later, the MyTeksi project emerged as business track runner-up in a new venture competition by Harvard Business School for 2011. The following year, MyTeksi app was launched in Kuala Lumpur on June 5 and received 11,000 requests on the first day.

On February 6, 2013, Sunlight Taxi launched Unicablink, the first GPS-enabled taxi booking application. A tablet device installed on the vehicle’s dashboard tracked the location of the taxi, unlike mobile apps that showed the whereabouts of the cabbie’s phone.

MyTeksi proved to be hugely popular among several taxi apps and cornered the local market until August 7, 2014 when Uber stole the thunder by offering RM1.50 as starting fare, RM12 per hour and 55 sen per km, compared to RM3, RM17.14 and 87 sen respectively for budget taxis.

Although operating illegally by making use of gullible private car drivers, Uber decimated taxi apps and drivers and MyTeksi would have gone under had it not resurrected into Grab by adding private cars to taxis for customers to choose. It took Uber by the horns and succeeded, and the rest is history.

The threat turned out to be a blessing in disguise as on March 26, 2018, Uber retreated by selling its Southeast Asia ride-share and food delivery businesses to Grab. And a year later, Grab’s valuation was $14 billion and would have been among the top five companies in Malaysia in terms of value had it not moved to Singapore.

In November 2016, Dego Ride introduced e-hailing for motorcycles offering rates at RM2.50 for the first 3km and 60 sen for each subsequent kilometre. On February 13, 2017, Dego Ride instructed its 6,000 motorcyclists to stop operating immediately, following a directive from the Transport Ministry.

But on August 21 this year, the Cabinet gave the green light for motorcycle e-hailing services to be implemented in the country following a meeting between Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Go-Jek founder Nadiem Makarim with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

From January 2020, a pilot project for bike-hailing services will run for six months and I am waiting to see what measures will be introduced to promote safety. In February 2017, I advocated fitting video cameras in front of crash helmets and at the rear of motorcycles to record transgressions of other vehicles, including motorcycles.

The recordings can be forwarded to the Road Transport Department if it is keen to act in making our roads much safer. E-hailing riders can be paid for offences captured in their cameras that warrant summonses to be issued.

In this way, many motorists and motorcyclists would be at their best behaviour upon spotting an e-hailing rider in front or behind. Likewise, e-hailing riders will be forced to ride safely and not zip around like food delivery boys and girls.

It takes compassion to make good use of available technology. Treating all motorcyclists with scorn will just be continuing with the status quo. But with more conspicuous e-hailing riders around, there would be fewer incidents of snatch thefts.

Just as a coin has two sides, we can choose to look at the positive or negative. If we wish to ban this motorcycle “taxi” service, we can easily find many reasons and statistics to justify. But if we wish to allow it, we can set the rules and regulations to make it as safe as anyone ridding pillion today, if not safer.

On July 12 this year, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with four e-hailing operators to introduce e-hailing services for tour buses and vans, but the initiative was red flagged by the Land Public Transport Agency.

However, on November 11, Transport Minister Anthony Loke said his ministry supports the aim of Matta to optimise usage of tour buses by enabling them to be hired via e-hailing but made clear that the application must be developed by industry players or the private sector.

Organising an open forum would allow various stakeholders to present their views and learn from each other. Apart from gathering valuable information needed for a smooth implementation, clarifications and assurances can also be given to those concerned with various issues.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.