- Published on Friday, 23 October 2015 07:48
Despite nationwide crackdown by authorities and the risk of harassment by regular taxi drivers, the popularity of ride-sharing app Uber shows no sign of slowing down.
In fact, Uber just introduced their latest service, UberXl, which caters up to six people in a vehicle. 'Travely', touted as 'Uber for rickshaws' has been launched in Pakistan.
According to media reports, there are over 91,000 taxi drivers in the Southeast Asian region that have registered with MyTeksi and GrabCar.
Uber on the other hand cannot disclose the total number of its drivers based on company policy but their drivers’ presence has definitely made an impact on local taxi drivers as there have been frequent protests with the latest being a protest held at the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) headquarters by over a 100 taxi drivers on September 30 this year demanding the suspension of transport-hire mobile applications like Uber and GrabCar.
Another big protest is being planned for November 18 involving an estimated 6,000 taxi drivers against SPAD to highlight their dwindling income and protect their jobs which they say are being robbed by ride-sharing app drivers.
SPAD has said that ride sharing apps are not illegal per se unless they are paid for their work. Although official regulations are still pending, SPAD has outlawed any ridesharing apps.
Despite their status lying in limbo, Uber is still well alive in Malaysia. What attracts drivers to Uber that they are willing to risk being beaten up and having their car towed away?
Quite simply, the money, up to RM8,000 per month to be exact.
For someone who wishes to be an Uber driver now, here's how easily anyone looking to earn extra cash can get into the game.
Uber Drivers Tell Their Side Of The Story
I booked a Uber driver for a short 5km drive down the road to a shopping mall. When he arrived, I was told to get in the car AWAY from the taxi stand and to sit in front with him.
The driver explained the reasons for these precautions:
“I prefer not to pick up in front of the taxi stand. They will harass me. They have punctured my tire.
“And no no, I’m not the one mentioned in the news at the KLCC - Tropicana Mall areas. They [taxi drivers] are violent, we try to avoid them. So next time you try to be picked up away from a taxi stand
I asked the driver how taxi drivers identify Uber drivers.
“They identified me when I picked up a Mat Salleh (Westerner) at the main entrance.
“I was so scared of it, and we can - we have to - report to the police, but I’m so scared of it. I still haven’t got over the incident.
“I told him how I might want to become an Uber driver and wanted to find out how it was, driving with Uber.
“Taxi drivers themselves are terrible, you have to ask first if they can send you to your destination, they might play obnoxiously loud music, not use the meter or ask for extra charge.
“Working part-time, business not bad, so I do some part time work lah. Full time you can earn up to RM8,000, but it depends how many hours you clock in. I only make RM2,000-RM3,000 part time.
“I don’t work in the evening, and I work in the day but only during my free time. I am doing my business and if I have no appointment I drive.
“The petrol costs can be covered. You have to be alert, tell the passenger to sit in front, pick up away from the taxi stands. Uber is working behind the scenes, talking with the police…”
He trailed off.
I asked about the fact that SPAD requires drivers to have commercial driver’s license.
“Who cares, we don’t collect money. We don’t collect cash. I treat you as a friend - I cannot carpool with my friend? Like what the heck man.”
I told him how at Kajang KTM, all the taxis have made a pact and are notorious for charging RM25 per ride to Nottingham University. As a student back then, we suffered. We asked for them to use the meter, they refused. Maybe taxi drivers deserve to lose their jobs, because they refuse to use meters.
The Uber driver agreed about the overcharging.
“Yes, in KL too. Kajang, obviously. I had a customer who complained about it in Puchong. Puchong to Midvalley or Pavilion - RM80, take it or leave it.
“Local or not, they don’t care. They gang up, the taxi drivers.
“So far I can balance my part time work, and rush hour is also a small matter. The only thing you need to equip yourself is to go to the toilet before you drive," he advised.
Earning Extra Cash vs Fear Of SPAD Crackdown
“I just started driving for Uber a couple of months old (3-4 months) but I have stopped since last month due to the issue being brought up by SPAD and the taxi union/association, where some cars have been towed”, Shah tells me, on the condition that he remains anonymous.
“I decided to be an Uber driver because it's something to do during free time especially over the weekend to earn some side income.
“There is also a Uber referral programmed, whereby I was recommended by my cousin brother.
‘Upon the completion of a certain amount of trips that I did, he will be rewarded by Uber in terms of cash payments.
“This reward changes from time to time. Every current driver may introduce a new driver and will be receiving such-and-such rewards.
So how much did Shah earn as an Uber drive?
“This is very subjective. It depends on how many hours you are willing to spend in a day, and depending on which service you are on (Uber X-Low, Uber XL-Medium, UberBlack-Premium). As a driver, we are getting 80% of the fares.
“There is actually no average, because some of the rates changes on weekly/monthly basis. During certain peak hours in hot spot areas like KLCC, sometimes the fares are up to 3x-4x per hour. On a rough figure, on maximum hours and days, one may earn up to say RM8000++ a month. Drivers will receive emails from Uber on weekly/monthly basis, on maximum payments that we can earn.
Shah forwards some of the promotion emails encouraging drivers on the potential of their earnings.
Speaking about equality, Shah also mentions that there are quite a number of female Uber drivers and female passengers alike, citing cheaper fares, cleaner vehicles, punctuality, and friendly communication why most prefer Uber. He would also recommend others to become Uber drivers.
“Yes,very much indeed if you have some free time to spare. Minimum requirements are that your car must be at least from the year 2009 and above. To become a driver, you may sign up (pre-sign up) via https://partners.uber.com/join/. The rest of the process will be notified via sms/email, where vehicle cover notes and insurance policy must be presented upon face-to-face registration.
“Fortunately to say, there has been no bad experiences of any kind so far neither from the riders, government or any taxis” and gave a tip for future Uber drivers to make sure that the car is clean and comfy, have small chats with the riders, offer drinks (mineral water) or even phone charging services.
I asked Shah if he will ever drive again.
“Actually I did not quit, I just stopped driving for now. There’s no strings attached. I can be online again at anytime to accept any customer”.
What Do Taxi Drivers Say In Return?
Salim is an honest taxi driver, who always uses the meter. He is paying around RM1,200 for the permit license per month (RM40 per day) to use the vehicle and the license to the taxi companies alone, and takes home less money now.
“The fact is, it's not fair that Uber charges fares LOWER than taxis.
“Also we have to pay more than them to be taxi drivers - we need to send the car for safety inspection, pay for passenger insurance, licensing and vehicle fees from greedy taxi companies, and with the rising cost of petrol and GST - we barely make enough money now.
“If Uber wants to operate in Malaysia, they can, but they also have to go through the same regulations as we do, from the license to the vehicle inspection and the permits. And if they want to do whatever they are doing now, at least they should put their base fare higher, not lower than us - even I would go for a lower rate.
“But we can’t lower our rates by law, and if they want to keep high rates they should have extra additional services.
“I know many taxi driver friends who are embittered by this situation. But at the same time, I also understand, and support, the public’s views that taxis who don’t use the meter are the ones that drive the public away. They are the ones who are making taxi people who USE the meters, lose.
“So bottom line is - yes taxi drivers who don’t use meters are unfair, I want SPAD to catch and ban them, then the public will gain trust with taxis again. Then Uber has to be regulated and go through the same license, insurance for the passengers, vehicle inspections and all that too.
“Also, the taxi companies are to be blamed too. They are greedy, we have to pay so much to them to be taxi drivers. And SPAD gives a lot of the permits to them - why can’t SPAD give permits to individual drivers? So in the end it's a three-way solution.
“We both eat from our rice pots - but don’t throw sand into the rice pots of others” he concluded.
Advice For Aspiring Uber Drivers
John (not his real name) was the last Uber driver I spoke with.
Riding his big jeep, I felt like I was in an Uber XL vehicle.
“I do this much more for fun. I don’t think you can get RM4k-8k. It depends on how often you do it. I don’t think you can get 4K, well you can get 4K but ⅔ of it or less than ⅔ of it goes to your petrol, so what’s the point?
“I’m not working today, so just driving around. So far I haven’t gotten into any trouble, but they are getting aggressive (the taxis).
“But my friends who did get hurt, they are stupid, they went to a taxi stand to pick up riders and they are not cautious with all those taxi fellas so you need to be smart, if you know this kind of things are going on. Whatever happens to them drivers, they deserve it, because they are stupid!”
“So my friend got whacked, and he deserves it, for picking up riders at the wrong places. He reported to the police - but what can the police do, how can they catch them? Unless you got a number plate”.
Here's his advice for new Uber drivers.
“I’m not here to make some cash, it's just to meet interesting people. I have an events and management business and I am an organizer for overseas events.
“So I like how you can meet potential new business partners.
“Just remember, whatever you earn, half of it goes to petrol.
“Children also use Uber. Parents use Uber for them, for picking them up after school, if you talk about safety.
I asked what if a taxi driver himself booked a ride, and when approaching, you could see a group of assembled taxi drivers, what would he do?
“I’d cancel the ride and go all the way back home” he said with a laugh.
Personally, if you ask me if I’d be an Uber driver myself despite the circumstances - I have a brand new car, I’m free in the evening and I could make some extra buck. Suffice to say that I’ve already applied.
Leon Foong, the Uber general manager for Malaysia responded in an email interview addressing recent controversial issues related to Uber and its future plans for Malaysia.
He highlighted that unlike popular perception, Uber has a stringent screening process for drivers including criminal and credit background check and clean driving record in addition to age, driving license and car insurance criteria.
He addressed recent negative media coverage of Uber drivers and harassment by taxi groups by pointing out that those are isolated cases in view of the millions of trips they cater daily and also stressed Uber's commitment to serve the Malaysian community in the future.
"We have a mandatory two-way rating and feedback system in-app. We also have a 24x7 direct phone support line for driver partners who wish to report an incident.
"Uber is deeply committed to serving the Malaysian community by providing access to safe, reliable and affordable transport options for commuters. We pride ourselves on creating thousands of economic and entrepreneurship opportunities for the rakyat as driver entrepreneurs on our platform while giving cities like Kuala Lumpur more efficient and accessible urban mobility solutions.
"We look forward to assisting the Malaysian authorities efforts in building a smarter urban mobility ecosystem that embraces innovation and puts the safety and interests of Malaysian commuters and drivers first," he concluded.