Cabbies, ride-hailing is not your real (or only) problem

Cabbies, ride-hailing is not your real (or only) problem

COMMENTARY,. Taxi groups and drivers are now calling for the transport minister to resign, presumably for not protecting them from the unfair competition of ride-hailing services.

I don’t dispute that firms such as Grab and its other competitors have definite unfair advantages with the way they have structured their business, but I can tell the taxi drivers that consumers’ preference for the former goes far beyond fares.

This is how it works when you book a ride on any of the ride-hailing services: you open the app, select your destination, wait for a driver to accept, and take a ride to where you want to go.

This is how it works when you want to take a taxi: you call the taxi firm, tell them where you want to go (paying an additional fee for the privilege, mind) and wait while the operator polls the cabbies, before invariably returning with “Soli no teksi!” and hanging up.

Refusing to be defeated, you walk to the nearest taxi stand where several drivers are holding court. Approaching them, it is as though you are a supplicant petitioning for favours.

Ask for a short hop and they will tell you it’s RM20, take it or leave it. Don’t even bother if it is more than 5km.

If you try to catch a cab dropping off a passenger, the driver will say he cannot take you lest the cartel there beat him up. At best, he will tell you to walk around the corner, out of sight.

When you do, the driver will regale you with tales of his personal disgust with the rascals tarnishing his trade. He will tell you that while he disagrees with ride-hailing — fair enough — he knows that consumers are turned off from taxis more by the rogues who drive them than anything else.

That is the painful truth. Ride-hailing just gave consumers the option to abandon taxis.

It is also more convenient, the drivers (mostly) more civil and professional (funny, isn’t it?), the cars are cleaner (as opposed to smelling like stale smoke and sweat), and they go where you want, no questions asked. Being cheaper is just the cherry on top.

Of all the advantages that give ride-hailing services a one up, which do the cabbies pick on? Of course it is just the fares! They conveniently ignore the others. Except consumers do not.

I can’t tell if the taxis drivers and groups really do not get that their deficit to ride-hailing is not just prices and mandatory inspections, or whether they really feel the sense of entitlement that it is others’ responsibility to provide for them.

Just as the “lords” of the taxi stands see riders as so many suckers they can milk and extort, the ones who stormed out of the meeting with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad feel like it is the government’s duty to protect them from, well, themselves.

The genie is out of the bottle with ride-hailing; anyone who cannot see that and cannot pivot is already doomed, no matter how much they scream, shout, curse and swear at the prime minister or Transport Minister Anthony Loke.

Lest cabbies think I don’t understand their plight, let me just point out that I work for a newspaper. If you think your business is being decimated by the Internet, welcome to my yesterday.