Taxi versus Grab — an extinction agenda?

In the last couple of years, taxis seem to have been pushed to the backseat as a result of the booming ride-sharing concept on a supply and demand basis


ONCE upon a time, those who could afford it would use the trishaw or rickshaw to move from one point to another.

When the automotive industry began to take over the world of transport, such services were replaced by the taxi or kereta sewa (which might still be available in smaller towns and rural areas).

In the last couple of years though, taxis seemed to have been pushed to the backseat as a result of the booming ride-sharing concept.

It is all about supply and demand. Companies like Grab and other similar businesses, that rely much on their specially calibrated applications that also offer more attractive prices and services, are swiftly taking over the industry.

Understandably, taxi drivers who could not seem to compete, went on a “rampage”, blaming almost everyone for the downturn in their business.

As it is many have already described taxi drivers in many disrespectful and, more often than not, some derogatory terms.

Well, at least 10 of them lived up to that reputation, when they hurled their anger towards a 93-year-old, who happens to be Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The incident took place during a discussion between the government and a group of taxi drivers in Langkawi a few weeks ago.

Some might say that it was one isolated incident, but the negative energy still lingers among the people.

When the incident took place, Dr Mahathir was trying to explain the government’s stand on the issue and the plans that are in motion to create a better and fair playing field in the public transport marketplace.

The previous Barisan Nasional-led government had earlier promised a one-year grace period for e-hailing companies to comply and adjust with the new conditions stipulated under the law that was amended and gazetted in July last year.

The grace period was, however, extended for another year after the change in government following Pakatan Harapan’s victory in the 14th General Election on May 9.

The extension was like a blow to many drivers who are still loyal in the taxi industry and escalated to the emotionally-charged confrontation in Langkawi.

As it was, taxi groups had repeatedly demanded for the government to ban e-hailing — stating that it is an illegal business.

Some describe the business as “kereta sapu” disguised by smartmobile apps.

While the staunch taxi drivers are still holding on to their business, some are practical enough to embrace the change and face reality by switching to the e-hailing services.

Companies like Grab and other similar businesses, which rely much on their specially calibrated apps, offer more attractive prices and their services are swiftly taking over the industry

Some of them also opted to leverage on the government’s RM5,000 grant, while some decided on the hybrid choice of combining the traditional taxi and the apps.

According to a spokesperson of PICKnGO, a taxi-hailing app which represents five taxi companies and 10,000 drivers, the labelling of taxi drivers is not fair and will not solve any issue.

The company said a majority of taxi drivers across Malaysia are still professional, well-mannered and ready to embrace the changes.

“We have estimated that 70% of taxi drivers in Greater Kuala Lumpur (KL) are using e-hailing apps (including ours),” the spokesperson told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in an email.

The company added that as at the last census, about 67,000 taxi drivers were recorded nationwide, with about 37,000 of them based in Greater KL.

For Rusali Said, 67, who has been a taxi driver since 1998, he is stuck in the middle as he has yet to learn the new technology, which is dominated by the “Y-Generation”.

Rusali said he had heard about some training schemes, which offer support to taxi drivers in upgrading their standards of doing business.

However, he did not know how he should start.

“We are old folks using old Nokia phones that could make and receive calls. We do not understand the technology, but we are still highly relying on this profession to put food on the table.

“Maybe we need to learn, with the right support and training, so we can adapt and explore the new system,” he told TMR recently.

Rusali added that taxi players might not have any qualm if those in the e-hailing business are given the similar set of regulations.

“We would not protest if they were to follow a fair set of regulation like us…but this group just need a driving licence, while we need to have three extra documentations and go through various procedures from the Public Service Vehicle licence, taxi permit charges and the annual Puspakom checks,” he said.

He added that some of the more aggressive taxi drivers are misbehaving due to the difficulties they are facing.

“Now, we have to wait for another year for the e-hailing people to comply. What are the guarantee that it will not be further extended?” he mused.

Rusali said in 1998, he could make up to RM100 a day, and keep at least between RM10 per day, and save RM300 a month.

“After 11 years and renting three taxis from a cab company, I eventually saved around RM20,000. That allowed me to purchase my own taxi. Half of the money went to the deposit. That is how much I could earn,” he said.

By 2014, when Grab Malaysia was still known as MyTeksi, Rusali said he could still make at least RM100 a day.

“That money could allow me to go for umrah. However, after they open their service to the normal car users, I could only earn less than RM80 a day. Just now, I waited for an hour at the KL city centre to only get one customer,” he lamented.

Another full-time taxi driver who only wanted to be known as Omar, recently migrated to e-hailing, as he believed that it was the only way to go to survive and be part of the market’s movement.

“After one year of driving a new taxi, a replacement of my previous car, I decided to return the car to the company. I had to do it for practical purposes, without any compensation, and despite the fact that the contract had not ended,” he said.

Omar said since the switch, life has been much easier too, as he does not need to work as hard as he used to.

As a retiree who is just trying to make extra money, he said Grab had helped him regain much of his lost time with his family.

More drivers are beginning to see the need to change and embrace new technologies to survive in the competitive industry.

After all, if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them!