At last, the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) has reacted to the challenge presented by e-hailing taxi services, and thankfully, it is looking positive. Instead of concurring with calls to make them illegal, as urged by vanguards of the traditional ways, SPAD has decided to upgrade the whole industry. From the threat of harassing the e-hailing competition — whose increasing popularity is resented by existing taxi drivers — so that it might desist, SPAD has finally decided to legalise the current technology-driven demand for Uber and Grab services, while levelling the playing field upwards to ensure the competitiveness of all players.
There is no denying the wisdom of SPAD’s decision. To agree with the old-fashioned operators is to buck the worldwide trend of the industry. If existing operators stopped to think why newcomers to the industry are successful, then, they too would welcome the decision. Customers are tired of the horrifying service of taxi drivers who do not agree with the basic business maxim that the customer is always right. Instead, the approach is “let us rip them off”. Is that fair? Despite all the rules intended to make it a win-win situation for them and the passenger — before e-hailing — taxi drivers took to avenging themselves on those who were virtually captives: the buses were irregular, the traffic predictably bad and rail connections were scanty. For some destinations, taxis were the only way to go and drivers fed on this desperation. Naturally, when e-hailing came on the scene, the sharks were left stranded.
Why e-hailing? There are many reasons, but the most attractive is, especially to women, safety, because the cars are constantly tracked by a call centre. Then, there is the fact that these “taxis” are almost always within hailing distance. There is always one nearby, cutting down wait times. Fares, by all accounts, are reasonable. In fact, Grab has an ongoing promotion for trips to and from KLIA. Finally, the cars are expected to be well maintained and reasonably new. So, what is there not to like about e-hailing services?
SPAD facilitating a get-out clause for traditional taxi drivers burdened under the current leasing model is clear indication that the objective is to modernise the industry, and those unwilling to participate should be allowed to exit amicably, because improving the industry is absolutely necessary. It is part of the last mile public transport connectivity for the rail and bus links that will make navigating Malaysia’s urban centres easier, which, in turn will solve traffic congestion problems. If the video going viral on Facebook (and it was also reported in this newspaper) of a former minister becoming an Uber driver is true, it must indicate that the money is not too bad, either. Joking aside, it can be safely assumed, therefore, that making e-hailing a universal industry practice and improving the standards of vehicles used will improve the service substantially. When good sense prevails and the will of the market is noted, it indicates that the country’s future is assured.