Conversations with taxi and Uber drivers


Malaysian taxi drivers are not happy as the new sharing economy gains a foothold here with services such as Uber, seen here being summoned on a smartphone. Photo: The Star/Izzrafiq Alias

"Pudu Sentral, please.”

“Twenty ringgit can, ah? Traffic to city is quite bad lah.”

My imperceptible nod speaks volumes – what choice do I have? We set off.

“Ya lah. Traffic bad today,” I observe, obviously.

“Still faster than LRT.”

“Still faster than bus,” I agree. “And Uber will be stuck in the same traffic.”

The taxi driver doesn’t take the bait. I press on.

“Eh, that Uber got special charges for traffic, ah?”

The taxi driver considers his reply. “Uber is not licensed. They don’t have to pay for many things. The driver is not checked by the Government. They don’t even know the roads in KL.”

“They say you can earn a lot with Uber," I went on.

“Maybe. I pay RM1,200 per month to the company for this car and licence. And then got fuel and car maintenance some more. So I take home very little.”

“So you could be an Uber driver if you wanted to? I mean, you can choose?"

“I don’t know. I owe money for this car. And I know what I’m doing is legal.”

“But if Uber was legal, you would become an Uber driver?”

“Let’s see lah. But I have to buy my own car first.”

“This is not your taxi?”

“Company one.”

Meanwhile, in Singapore...

“Singapore National Library, please. Can sit in front, ah?”

“Can.”

We ride in silence. Until I break the monotony with my curiosity.

“Uncle, I saw your license plate – 7777, quite cool, what. Did you have to pay for it?”

“It’s a taxi plate what. SH. Normal lah.”

“So don’t need to pay?”

“Pay? What for? For taxis only. How to sell? All taxis are SH.”

“Uber cars are not SH?”

“Uber not taxis. They are private cars for hire.”

“Are you OK with Uber? I don’t see anything in the newspapers about taxi drivers in Singapore protesting about Uber?”

“I’m OK lah. Ah, some people are not happy, but I don’t see the problem. Singapore has a population of five million. You know how many taxi drivers?”

“How many?”

“Only 20,000 taxi drivers. There’s enough business to go around during rush hour. You want to complain about Uber, but during rush hour there’s no problem getting passengers what. What to complain?”

“Your fares are more expensive?”

“This is a company car. I have to pay S$150 (RM440) every day.”

“So Uber is cheaper than you?”

“But the old uncles don’t know how to use the smartphones to call them. Not everybody knows this Internet.”

“But more and more are learning.”

He nods sagely.

In an Uber car in Singapore 

“Where do you want to go?”

“Raffles Hotel. I thought I put it into the app?”

“Uber doesn’t show the drivers. We have to pick up passengers and take them wherever they want to go.”

“Huh. I come from Malaysia.”

“Malaysian drivers can say no, right?”

“They can say they want to charge off the meter.”

“Haha. We have to use the GPS. The phone calculates it.”

“Uncle ... if you don’t mind me asking, is what you make enough?”

“I used to be a taxi driver. Now I only do this part time, during rush hour. I collect fewer fares now, but I make more money.”

“Then why aren’t all taxi drivers becoming Uber drivers?”

“Not everybody knows how to use a smartphone.”

Back in Kuala Lumpur

“Damansara, please. Sorry you were waiting. I didn’t know Uber can use Proton Axia.”

“Only thing needed is that it’s my car and not older than five years old.”

“Does Uber check your car before you can drive for them?”

“Ya, they have to check first.”

“But I thought they are illegal in Malaysia?”

“I was told that Khazanah owns Uber so there is something negotiated lah.”

“You sure?”

“That’s what I was told.”

“You do this part time? How do you sign up?”

“My friend invited me. He gets referral fee.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, how much do you get?”

“Today’s my first day! I started after maghrib (evening prayers), now it’s 1am, I’ve given nine rides.”

“How much did you make?”

“Sometimes Uber will top up your fares. Tonight, I am guaranteed RM30 an hour if I can pick up at least one passenger in that hour.”

“So tonight you have made at least RM150?”

“I have a friend who makes RM2,000 in one week. But he does it full time.”

“Aren’t you worried that the taxi drivers might be angry with you?”

“Just don’t pick up near where the taxis are lah.”

“Are they angry because you take their business?”

“These taxi drivers always ask for extra. If tonight, after midnight, sure cekik (strangle/squeeze) you one. I have to use the phone, I cannot cheat.”

“That sounds like they don’t like drivers like you because you have to be honest.”

“They don’t understand the new technology. They think the old way is the only right way.”

“But they can learn?”

“Maybe.”

“And you are sure this is legal?”

“Guaranteed.”


This article is based on real conversations, translated and edited for publication. Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.

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