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LETTER | P-hailing conundrum to regulate bad road antics

LETTER | Road traffic violations and bad etiquette are normally associated with errant small machined motorcyclists – youngsters’ riding recklessness triggers the wrath, and expletives, of traffic-abiding motorists and residents of real estate that riders traverse.

As the last-mile services industry expands, the target of this antagonism has shifted towards food delivery platforms, allegedly for “allowing” and “enabling” bad riding behaviour.

Naturally, this caught the government’s attention that compelled the Transport Ministry to conceptualise a p-hailing policy paper for the cabinet, highlighting another possible government (mis)step to overregulate this industry.

The trigger point for the regulation was developed from studies conducted by the Malaysia Institute of Road Safety Research since 2020. The conclusion: a high percentage of traffic violations are caused by p-hailing riders, therefore the proposed regulations to address this problem.

Referencing how behavioural and traffic etiquette influences riding attitudes, the key question is: is it fair to entirely blame (or push the responsibilities) on platforms when the root issue is riders’ personal behaviour?

Nonetheless, platforms have always assumed the moral responsibility to remind riders of good values and compliance with road safety.

Platforms also co-opt riders based on the correct – and legal – assumption that they have been, first, officially instructed and tested, and then licensed by the Road Transport Department (RTD), thus are “qualified” to ply the streets.

Therefore, any “misbehaviour” reflects more on the systemic failure of the RTD, rather than the failings of the platforms to educate riders.

While promotion of road safety and traffic etiquette is a collective responsibility, platforms, similar to corporations hiring dispatch riders, have limited control over how riders behave on the road.

The proposed regulations are interesting in that it has digressed from its original intent of addressing high traffic violations.

The centrist local think tank, The Centre, in its Jan 13, 2021 report, pondered the possibility of a riding regulation as a case of “over-regulation”.

Examples: platforms should conduct and verify inspections of that vehicles are roadworthy and free from modifications, and also prohibiting anyone below 21 to be a rider.

These examples appear so unrealistic that they will force platforms to add a layer of bureaucracy and costs that could deprive thousands of people of income-generating opportunities, and denying the flexibility that is the hallmark of the gig economy.

The critical question: will this proposed regulation change the riding attitude and behaviour that reduces traffic violations, accidents and deaths?

Now comes this paradox: the proposed regulations, at face value, doesn’t appear to solve problems that originally triggered the intent for such regulation.

Thus the next question: what’s the raison d’etre of the proposed regulations?

Industry sources indicate that the government intends to:

  • determine fares set by platforms without a clear understanding of the business model;
  • “charge” a licensing fee on platforms and riders; and,
  • “curate” new training courses for riders, highlighting again what seems to be the case of the government “assuming” how the industry works.

Still, the proposed regulation is praiseworthy for its intent on riders’ safety and welfare. 

However, this should not be at the expense of impeding industry growth that adopts a “short-term populist outlook”, just because the socio-economic demographics of the rider majority are bumiputera.

If the intent is to address traffic violations and provide a safe environment for riders, then the government and the industry should collaboratively promulgate a solution to address it. A one size fits all approach is not ideal.

Inculcating positive road riding behaviour and etiquette must start early - in schools, driving/riding schools and a concerted effort with the government traffic enforcement authorities and industry actively ensuring safe streets for all. 

The writer is a consultant with Hann Partnership and an associate with the Malaysia International Chambers of Commerce and Industry Digital Economy Group.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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