Traffic comes to a standstill as cabbies mount protest

PHOTO: The Star

KUALA LUMPUR - Traffic in the capital's city centre came to a standstill for more than two hours as frustra­ted taxi drivers mounted an ­unannounced protest against ride-hailing apps Uber and GrabCar.

The move, involving nearly 100 taxi drivers, reduced the busy Jalan Bukit Bintang to a single lane, causing massive traffic jams in the city.

The cabbies have long been moaning about loss of business to the apps which allow private car owners to pick up passengers. App users say it is cheaper than hailing a taxi.

The protesting cab drivers assembled near Jalan Ampang at 10am before making their way to Jalan Bukit Bintang where they parked their vehicles.

They blocked much of the tourist-­belt road in front of the Pavilion shopping centre, causing severe traffic jams in the area.

Dang Wangi OCPD Asst Comm Zainol Samah said yesterday the police had information that a protest would be held on April 4.

"Today, we were told that the protest was going to be held imme­diately.

"All traffic entering Jalan Bukit Bintang had to be diverted to prevent road users from being stuck in the jam," said ACP Zainol.

He added that Dang Wangi deputy OCPD Supt Habibi Majinji went to the scene to talk to the representative of the protest group.

"At 11.45am, the police ordered them to disperse within 15 minutes or face action," said ACP Zainol.

The leader of the group instructed the drivers to disperse at noon, but there were still a few who refused, and continued to obstruct the officers there.

The road was finally cleared at about 12.30pm.

An hour earlier, a small group of taxi drivers were seen in a standoff with dozens of policemen near the Fahrenheit 88 shopping mall.

There was a heated discussion with the police asking the drivers to leave.

When they refused, five of them, including Malaysian Taxi Driver Transformation Association deputy president Kamarudin Mohd Hussain, were arrested.

"We were there to protest against Uber and GrabCar," Kamarudin later told The Star over the phone, while riding in a police truck.

Kamarudin was also one of the leaders of a November protest that saw more than 250 drivers marching to Parliament.

This time around, he said there was no specific organiser and that those who came were there after messages on Whatsapp or by word of mouth.

Police tow trucks were also seen towing away two taxis.

It was not the first time that the area had seen a taxi protest.

In October 2012, a similar act saw about 200 taxi drivers blocking the road after free-to-ride GoKL bus services were set up here.

Yesterday's protest comes exactly a week after thousands of cabbies caused traffic chaos in Jakarta with a rowdy protest which saw cabs blocking a central expressway, and men setting tyres alight and jumping on vehicles that refused to join in the protest.

It was reported that drivers surrounded one taxi, forcing its terrified female passenger out onto the road with her luggage.

They, too, were protesting against the ride-hailing apps.