Changing times for cabbies in Malaysia

PHOTO: The Star/ANN

Malaysia's taxi drivers are slowly leaving the industry, blaming growing costs and the falling share of passengers.

An unknown number of cabbies are said to have signed up with ridesharing services such as Uber and GrabCar, with Uber claiming that 20 per cent of its weekly sign-ups today were from taxi drivers.

"Based on (the) last quarter, we have (had) thousands of sign-ups coming in every week. Out of that, about 20 per cent come from the taxi industry," Uber (Malaysia) general manager Leon Foong told The Star.

He said Uber believed in giving more options to riders and creating more economic opportunities.

However, he did not disclose the numbers of drivers Uber currently had.

It is believed that ridesharing apps such as Uber and GrabCar have dented taxi incomes with lower fares being the major factor.

An Uber trip from PJ New Town to the Bangsar LRT station costs between RM8 (S$2.67) and RM12 compared with RM11 or more for taxi fares.

A GrabCar trip can cost RM9 for the same journey.

Taxis also have a poor reputation among Malaysians, with endless complaints about drivers not using the meter.

Gabungan Koperasi Pengang­kutan Malaysia Bhd secretary Mohd Salleh Mat Zin said about 20 per cent of taxi riders in the Klang Valley had gone over to Uber and GrabCar.

He said the lack of Government action against ridesharing had led to drivers jumping over to the other side.

"I know five or six friends who have gone to Uber and GrabCar. How many in total? I don't know.

"They have to pay the permit for their taxis and all the costs. A GrabCar can just come to a shopping mall, pick someone up and go," he said.

Taxi drivers claimed there had been a steep drop in their income, with estimates of 20 per cent to 50 per cent.

On Saturday, nine associations representing 800 drivers protested in Klang against the effects of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and an impending Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV) fuel hike in mid-September.

Indian Taxi Owner and Driver Association (Federal Territories and Selangor) secretary S. Balakrishnan said the NGV hike and GST meant RM400 more in their monthly costs.

"Business is already down by 50 per cent. Don't increase the price of NGV. It's already worse with GST.

"Maybe I will also go join Uber. We are all going to soon. If I chuck my car and join Uber or GrabCar, I won't need to pay taxi insurance," he said.

Balakrishnan and his colleagues urged the Government to exempt taxis from paying the GST and to stop the increase in NGV fuel.

Ahmad Najib Osman, 39, who has been driving a taxi for five years, said the uncertain economy would also mean fewer people travelling by taxi.

"When the economy is not good, people won't have money to use taxis," he said.

Federal Territories and Selangor Taxi Association president Datuk Aslah Abdullah said drivers who could not compete with Uber or GrabCar should get another job.

"If they cannot compete, then they shouldn't drive taxis. They should switch to another job.

"Has SPAD (Land Public Transport Commission) ever given any incentive to the operators? Not aat all, but we're still going on," said Aslah, who is also chairman of Comfort Taxi.

The exact number of rideshare cars in the Klang Valley is unknown.

SPAD enforcement chief Datuk Che Hasni Che Ahmad told The Star that 105 illegal taxis had been impounded since October last year.

Uber and GrabCar are not illegal services but drivers without proper public service licences face the risk of being arrested by SPAD.

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