Malaysiakini Letter

Ride-hailing drivers are also into cat-and-mouse game

CY Ming  |  Published:  |  Modified:

There is little to differentiate between Uber and Grab drivers with those driving taxis. In fact, many drivers picking up passengers through ride-hailing apps are former taxi drivers.

Those driving taxis would behave when there is fear of being caught, such as when passengers are picked up through one of the dozen taxi apps available locally.

Before the advent of mobile apps, taxi drivers picking up passengers were wary that they could be suspended from using trunk radio service should complaints be lodged against them.

Taxi drivers who try to exploit street hailing passengers would be honest with regular customers, such as when they sell nasi lemak part-time at a fixed location.

Around the world, there are more than a dozen large transportation network companies, including Uber. Many have been ripped off by drivers using modified smartphones and software to place fake bookings and receiving payments for phantom trips.

Ever since KL International Airport was opened in 1998,the number of taxis waiting at the terminal will taper off approaching midnight, but large numbers will suddenly appear past midnight when the 50 percent surcharge kicks in.

With ride-hailing apps providing stiff competition to taxis, one would think that this should be a thing of the past but lo and behold, such trickery is not only continued but could have escalated.

We must remember that ride-hailing apps can only detect the presence of smartphones used by Uber or Grab drivers, not their vehicles.

They could easily gang up by switching off their apps, creating an artificial shortage and causing fares to surge upwards when demand far outstrips supply.

Transportation network companies are fully aware of the antics of their drivers. They would rather manage the problems discreetly than addressing them in the open.

They are always busy crafting new strategies to rein in drivers in a never ending cat-and-mouse game, similar to graft-busting and law enforcement agencies going after the corrupt and criminals.

The large number of Uber and Grab drivers work mostly part-time. One would not suspect they are moonlighting by appearance, as they do not stand out in a crowd.

But the mannerism of a typical taxi driver is a dead giveaway. They are creatures of habit and you can read them like a book by their body language.

‘Seconds seem like eternity’

One of their most annoying habits is taking a long time to return change. The extra seconds they take seems like eternity to passengers in a hurry.

Encouraged by their success in getting a few passengers to get off the taxi without waiting for the change, they would try to pull off the same trick on others.

In one case, a passenger handed a RM10 note to a taxi driver for a fare exceeding RM8. The driver was so slow in giving back the change that the passenger thought the driver was intent on keeping it.

It so happens that the passenger spotted an enforcement officer nearby and got down to complain. The driver was summarily summoned, but he reported to the owner of the taxi company that he was penalised for accepting a tip.

After an official investigation, the driver was fined for not returning the change, and not for accepting a tip, as the unhappy passenger had lodged a report against the driver.

If the driver had no intention of holding back the change, then his habit must have gotten so bad that the passenger perceived that the driver chose to keep the change.

Many taxi drivers do not realise that they will earn more from generous tips by being cheerful, responsive and giving back the change swiftly, and saying thank you with a big smile.

Over time, ride-hailing service standards too will drop when long serving drivers get jaded. The same smartphone and vehicle may be passed around by a few family members or friends, and passengers could be in danger when they fall into wrong hands.

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