Driven to apps [New Straits Time (Malaysia)]
(New Straits Time (Malaysia) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Tech-savvy taxi drivers are changing the way we get a cab, writes Siti Syameen Md Khalili
TAXI drivers in the Klang Valley area are getting more hi-tech these days. A few years ago, taxis had - at the most - a global positioning system hooked to the dashboard. Now, the device sits next to a smartphone with apps that help get a fare.
Taxi drivers can now leverage apps such as MyTeksi and EasyTaxi to secure more bookings. At the same time, tools like Google Maps and Waze navigation app also help them get to their destination faster and avoid congested roads.
MyTeksi user Fatah A. Haron, 26, who started driving a rented taxi four months ago, says he signed up for the service on the first month. "When the company I work for full-time said it can only retain me if I agree to a pay cut and a three-day-a-week working arrangement, I had to find a second job to support my family.
"After some research, I decided to apply for a taxi driver's licence and rent a taxi to drive part-time. As I can only do this a few days in a week, I maximise the opportunity by making as many trips as I can with the help of the MyTeksi app," says Fatah.
As he is still new to the service, he relied on advice from more experienced drivers as well as available technologies. "Some of the drivers have been driving taxis for decades. They have a community of friends on Facebook and share their knowledge with new drivers.
"When one of the senior drivers endorsed MyTeksi after a month's use, I knew that I must get onboard too. I already own a smartphone, so all I had to do is go to one of MyTeksi's booths to load credits."
For him, the app is easy to use. "The moment a customer's request shows up on the screen, a driver nearby can decide to pick him up or not. I'd rather go to areas where taxis rarely pass through, because the chances of securing customers are higher. There are too many taxis near shopping malls."
Another part-time driver, Muhammad Abdul Talib, 47, muses that while apps and smartphones are beneficial, it is more important for both taxi drivers and customers to engage in honest business practices. "With or without technology, the transport service is a business to a taxi driver. I try my best to send customers to their destination using the best route.
"I let customers choose whether they want the nearest route or the route with less traffic. For customers who don't know the way, I will show them the route on the Waze app and advise," says Muhammad.
Most of his customers are regulars who know the city and the best way to get to places. "Such customers love apps such as MyTeksi and EasyTaxi, as they know the parts of the city where taxis are scarce," says the seasoned driver.
However, Muhammad opines that the apps can be further improved. "Quite often, I accept a booking but at the last minute, the customer decides to hop into one that arrives seconds before me. When this happens, I get charged anyway. Currently, there is not an easy way to let apps such as MyTeksi know that the customer did not honour the deal, so I wish there is a mechanism that can quickly alert the system of a failed deal."
Muhammad suggests that MyTeksi introduces another way to verify that both the taxi driver and customer made a successful trip. "Customers also get taxi drivers that do not show up after accepting a booking. There must be a way to solve this problem as both customer and taxi drivers gets charged each time they make and accept a booking."
Meanwhile, full-time driver Joe Osman does not depend on a single tool to help him offer better transportation service. "Apart from taxi booking apps, I rely a lot on Whatsapp as a means of communication with fellow drivers as well as customers. I am part of a group called Malaysia Cab Driver Community Network and we communicate using Whatsapp.
"If I am lost in Kajang, for example, I will send a voice message on the group chat and ask for help. Members who are familiar with the area are quick to respond and help me. At times, they are quicker than GPS," says the 47-year-old.
A taxi driver of three years, Joe says he used to have a GPS unit installed but after using a high-end smartphone model, he finds that relying on one multifunction device is enough. "I upgraded to a better smartphone that can help me use more apps, use the GPS and online maps as well as communicate using mobile messaging and email," he says.
"Earlier, taxi companies such as Public Cab and Sunlight Cab offer company-proprietory apps to help their fleet of drivers get bookings via smartphone. Now, there are more apps that taxi drivers can use.
"I like the EasyTaxi app a lot because it is free for both drivers and customers even though we have to contend with ads. However, I found that it is less popular among the Kuala Lumpur crowd. So now I use the MyTeksi app as well."
He adds that the latest apps help taxi drivers garner more business compared to the days when he first started out. "There are more taxis on the road in Klang Valley nowadays, so apps such as EasyTaxi and MyTeksi help us become more efficient. Gone are the days when we roam all day without finding anyone hailing a taxi. With Google Maps and Waze, we also get to avoid traffic jams. Waze is informative and the data shared by users helps us select better routes for customers."
WHAT USERS SAY
Christopher Tock, chief operating officer of Social Grooves
"The advent of taxi app services like MyTeksi, which isn't only a taxi booking service but also monitors quality control, doesn't exactly eliminate industry issues, such as unscrupulous taxi drivers. As an avid user of the app service, I can attest that some consumer rights are enforced. Taxis are our biggest bet to reach our destination safely. Yes, calling taxi operators is the next best thing, but even then there's always the question of reliability, whether we'd be taken advantage of and safety. In other words, getting a taxi is my last resort.
However, apps like MyTeksi bring a sense of credibility - where taxis get you to where you need to be and you pay a fair price! myTeksi won't take advantage of me because of its reporting system and incentives to the taxi drivers and it has made travelling in a taxi a more comforting experience."
Michelle May, lecturer at KDU University College Petaling Jaya
"I call for taxis about three times a week to get to college and church because I don't own a car. MyTeksi charges an additional RM2 over the meter rates but I don't mind paying because the service is convenient. It is like a chauffeur service, so RM2 is quite reasonable. It is a waste of time to wait by the side of the road, uncertain if you will get a taxi. Credibility helps a business when customers know they won't be shortchanged but above all else they are more concerned with safety."
Mei Ooi, insurance agent
"I've had very limited but thankfully good experience with MyTeksi. After logging in, I initially decided not to take up the offer as no fixed fare was stated. An estimate was quoted. Even so the minimum fare was more expensive than the fare I usually pay. After a while, someone from MyTeksi called to enquire why I cancelled my order. I explained that I was uncomfortable. We re- negotiated the fare.
I was also nervous as the caller was, of course, unknown to me and his name differed from what was stated on the apps. On the day of ride he called me half hour before the appointment to tell me he was on the way. I am thankful the ride was pleasant and he struck up a conversation with me on the way to the airport."
TAXIS ARE CONSTANTLY TRACKED TOO
JUST as Rome wasn't built in a day, the people behind MyTeksi knew revolutionising the taxi industry wasn't an overnight affair.
The GPS-taxi service app may have been a runner-up in the 2011 Harvard Business School Business Plan Contest and recipient of the Frost & Sullivan Malaysia Most Innovative Public Transport App of the Year, but it still took awhile to get the word across.
"The public has been relying on traditional call centres or road side hailing to book a taxi for the longest of time," says MyTeksi general manager Adelene Foo, adding that "most have to endure the sad and undeniable inefficiencies of the industry without complaint and with no other avenues to count on".
The taxi industry's reputation in the country, in particular, has long been plagued by inefficiencies, from bookings to concerns over passenger safety, quality of drivers and perceived dishonesty.
"On the demand side, most passengers can't get taxis when needed, especially during rush hour; uncertainty over the status of their taxi bookings, and concerns about personal safety, especially when it comes to women travelling alone in a taxi," says Foo.
"Having identified the issue, we soon faced our first hurdle. From the start, we were aware of the doubt - on how reliable it would be using a smartphone application to book a taxi."
There is a certain formula for what will take off and what won't. Thankfully, using your smartphone to call for a cab is just one of those things that are bound to make their way to the public, thanks to their ease of use and practicality.
Since 2012, the company has expanded its operations to the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore under the name GrabTaxi.
As of today, MyTeksi alone has as many as 600,000 regular users. The rule of thumb is give security or reassurance to customers, and the company believes it has a product that is bound to resonate with your offerings one way or another.
"We want our service to provide greater certainty, convenience and safety to passengers when booking a taxi. Like how our passengers now book a taxi through more channels from their smartphones regardless of OS - Android, iPhone and Windows.
"Apart from that, the technology adopted by MyTeksi reduces the taxi-booking lead-time - from an average of 10-30 minutes to under a minute and taxi-booking confirmation to provide greater assurance.
"Our service helps improve the safety perception of a taxi ride by empowering passengers with detailed information of their drivers and traceability of their journey - being able to share their ride with their family and loved ones."
The other admittedly concerning factor Foo observes, is an industry that is drowning in its own notoriety. Eventually the company knew what it was set out to do mustn't only address the wellbeing of passengers but also ensure the reputability of the drivers in the eyes of the public.
"Taxi drivers struggle to earn a living and are equally concerned about their safety. You then get wind of taxi drivers tempering with the meter or overcharging and ripping off passengers. This inadvertently affects the reputation of the taxi drivers themselves as a whole.
"As a result it appears that the public, in both local and international communities are aware of the notoriety of Malaysian taxi drivers, particular on their unscrupulous behaviour and bad car conditions. An example would be the fears faced by female passengers travelling on their own and for anyone travelling alone at night. These parties will have a negative perception of the dangers faced ranging from unwanted attention from drivers, to robberies and incidents of rape in remote locations. These perceptions do much injustice to good and honest drivers, affecting their rice bowls."
In addition, bad habits or the habitual behaviour of some taxi drivers such as stealing customers from one another or failing to show for accepted bookings mar the service.
"MyTeksi aims to turn this negative mindset around by weeding out erroneous taxi drivers and rewarding deserving drivers.
"Several features within MyTeksi enables us to enforce driver discipline. Firstly, our systems allow driver behaviour to be tracked and monitored transparently. Drivers who violate the MyTeksi code of conduct may also have their access to bookings suspended for a period of time." - Nicholas King
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