Uphill drive for metered cab drivers

PETALING JAYA: Metered taxi drivers are facing an uphill battle to stay competitive in this age of ride-sharing apps and on-demand transport.

As the industry rapidly evolves, they are grappling with a decline in business and struggling to adapt to the changing dynamics.

A researcher specialising in public transport said to fit in and be competitive, metered taxi drivers should explore ways to improve their business and adapt to the changing market. Some conventional taxi companies are already innovating by incorporating mobile apps of their own.

“People today are increasingly using technology to meet their needs, and this includes transport,” said Fatin Nadiah Mohammad Rosdi, who does research in a private and public university-collaborated centre for low-carbon transport.

“Everything can be accessed via a mobile phone, so metered taxi drivers should adapt. In traditional taxis, fares are determined based on the distance travelled. An additional 10 sen is charged for every 115m travelled. If the taxi is stuck in traffic, the fare does not stay put.

“There is a lack of awareness regarding the metered taxi fare structure, leading to assumptions that taxi drivers may not be transparent. In contrast, e-hailing services provide transparent fare prices, allowing customers to know the exact cost of their trip at the time of booking.”

She pointed out that the convenience and affordability of ride-hailing services add to the ease of booking and tracking rides through smartphone apps.

To this, metered taxi driver from Port Klang Elumalai Veerasingham said: “It has been challenging for me to generate sufficient income to cover my expenses, especially since I am not proficient in technology and struggle to use mobile devices and apps.

“I became a taxi driver following a tragic accident that took the lives of my wife and son in 2014. Back then, I earned approximately RM1,200 a month. But now, many of the drivers, including me, no longer enjoy the consistent income we once had, facing stiff competition for fares.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to make a decent living, with so many (e-hailing) drivers flooding the streets. We are struggling to compete, leading to empty taxis and tougher financial times,” added the 68-year-old.

Echoing Elumalai’s sentiments, Mohammad Ridzuan Zakariah, who has been a taxi driver for 13 years, said: “Metered taxi drivers are unable to earn a decent income daily like we used to back in the days when we started the business.”

However, 57-year-old Ridzuan, who started off as a conventional taxi driver, became an e-hailing driver in 2020.

“By accepting the online bookings, I am able to earn approximately RM1,600 a month, compared with less than RM250 a week I earned through (physical hailing),” he said.

“I receive most of my bookings from passengers at bus and railway stations, especially during peak hours, as students and working individuals tend to seek ride services in those areas.”

Fatin pointed out that to overcome the issues, some conventional taxi companies are innovating by incorporating their own mobile apps.

“These apps aim to bridge the gap between the convenience of ride-hailing apps and the familiarity of conventional taxis, granting users the flexibility to book rides through a digital platform.”

In doing so, she said metered taxi drivers are fighting to regain lost ground by offering their passengers a competitive alternative.

“It remains to be seen how the traditional taxi industry will adapt and survive. Undoubtedly, there will still be a loyal customer base that values the unique qualities of metered taxis,” Fatin said.

“A segment of the population still prefers the familiarity and reliability of traditional taxis. These individuals appreciate the personal touch that comes with interacting with a professional driver who knows the city inside out.

“It is essential for metered taxi drivers to adapt to the changing market in order to stay relevant, attract customers and remain competitive in today’s transport industry.

“By embracing technology, improving customer service and finding unique selling points, traditional taxi drivers can ensure their survival in the long run,” she added.