FAIZ, a 45-year-old civil engineer, patiently waits for his number to be called.
The KL-ite has just been retrenched and is looking for temporary work until he gets a good offer for a full-time job.
Waiting with him is Wong, a 65-year-old retired accountant from Klang who wants to make some extra money to help his family out.
Next to them is a 23-year-old law student who identified herself as Ming.
She is looking to earn some extra money to pay for food and rent.
All three of them attended the recent GrabCar open day at a community centre in Kuala Lumpur and were hoping to be accepted as GrabCar drivers.
Grab is a ride-hailing app. It started off as a taxi-hailing app (known as MyTeksi) in 2012, but has extended its product platform to include private car services (GrabCar).
These are just a few of the thousands of people whose circumstances have made it necessary for them to look for a part-time or second job to earn extra income.
It was recently reported that about 40,000 people have lost their jobs since last year, and a total of 6,534 workers from 114 companies have lost their jobs since the start of the year.
It was learnt that hundreds of people are signing up to become drivers, and GrabCar and Uber recruitment centres all over the city are said to be packed with people every day.
Industry sources say there are more than 20,000 GrabCar and Uber drivers in the Klang Valley and that the number is increasing each day.
Flexibility the key
A source from the industry said 70% of drivers working for Uber and GrabCar were doing it on a part-time basis as they preferred the flexibility of the job.
“No other job gives me such flexibility. Well, it is either this or sell food by the roadside,” said Wong.
“I just want to have control over my time and I can have that by being a GrabCar driver,” he added.
Wong’s sentiment is shared by former flight attendants, Fadhil and his wife, Siti. Both were resigned from their jobs and are now full-time GrabCar drivers.
Fadhil and Siti prefer to drive different times of the day and have managed to put aside quality time for each other.
“I drive during peak hours in the mornings and evenings, and Siti drives in the afternoon whenever she is free.
“Whatever we make from it goes to most of our expenses,” said Fadhil.
“So far, we have not had to dip into our savings yet,” said Siti, admitting that they were able to make about RM10,000 a month collectively.
Mortgage officer Jason Chan said that he became a GrabCar driver five months ago, and now makes about RM6,000 a month if he worked 12 hours a day. He usually starts at 6am and works until 8pm.
Lau, a 38-year-old single mother, quit her job at a call centre so that she could spend quality time with her three children, aged five, seven and nine years.
“It was all about my children when I decided to do this,” she said.
“The work flexibility allows me to manage my children better,” she said.
A businessman in the construction industry, 40-year-old Patrick R. took on the job as an Uber driver in October 2015 to earn additional income.
“I was bored, and sometimes there were few jobs in construction, so I decided to try out Uber,” he told StarMetro.
His stint helped him pay his bills as well as buy a new four-wheel-drive.
Everything was going well for a few months until Uber reviewed their rates, resulting in a deduction in fees for drivers.
According to Patrick, the reason behind Uber’s move was so the drivers could get more rides and income.
“They say they have our welfare in mind, but Uber should have reduced their own commission instead,” he said.
Despite all that, Patrick said he liked being an Uber driver as he earned a comfortable side income in this time of economic uncertainty.
After he was retrenched, former flight steward Avethar Singh chose to be an Uber driver to make ends meet.
“What attracted me to Uber was that I could work as and when I like,” said the 44-year-old.
Of course the money is good, too.
“I was in my previous job for 18 years and I thought why not do something in the same field of providing customer service,” said Avethar Singh.
“Being an Uber driver is not a tough job, but it also depends on how you take it. Dealing with people comes naturally to me.
“It is a good job and it pays the bills. So far, I have no complaints.”
Is it safe?
“Is it safe for you to drive?” or “How has it been for you?” are common questions from customers of GrabCar and Uber whenever they see a woman driver. And it is something that most female drivers have gotten used to.
Single mother Loshini K. said: “People are genuinely concerned about my safety.”
The 32-year-old said there were rare occasions when some male passengers got overly friendly.
“I try not to be rude. There was one passenger, a foreigner, who put his hand on my lap to thank me.
“I was taken aback but I told him politely and in a firm manner not to touch me again,” Loshini recounted.
The man later started messaging her almost every other day.
Loshini’s experience is not unique, as another female driver, Reena K. also receives text messages from at least one male customer every day.
Reena, a real-estate agent who drives for Grab every now and then, said she had gotten used to the unwanted attention.
She counts herself lucky that most of her passengers have been decent.
One of her worst encounters was a passenger who told her to avoid all tolled roads and only follow his directions.
“When we finally got to his destination, the man who was a foreigner, kept me waiting for 20 minutes while he chatted with friends outside the car,” Reena recalled.
“I was afraid for my safety then.
“Sometimes I do wonder if it is worth it to feel afraid all the time, but thank god such unpleasant experiences do not happen frequently,” she said.
Not a bed of roses
At the GrabCar recruitment session last weekend was an eye-opening experience for soon-to-be GrabCar drivers who were told to dress well. Shorts and slippers are a no-no.
“I was told to open the door for the customer and if I could, to offer mineral water to them.
“I am not used to doing that,” said Raj Mohan.
The IT specialist said being someone’s personal driver was not all that appealing to him but was willing to try it out for a month.
“If the money is good, I will continue,” he said.
“I have heard horror stories of drunk customers vomiting all over the seat, shouting, demanding and treating us like slaves.
“I am not sure I would not know how to deal with such a situation,” said Terrance Lee, a salesman.
Drivers have also complained that it is no longer easy to get the incentives, and sometimes working in Kuala Lumpur’s gridlock can take a toll on a person.
For many, the hardest pill to swallow is being treated disrespectfully.
“I cannot tolerate rudeness. People often forget that we are human beings too, someone’s father or grandfather,” said 62-year-old Uber driver, Jeff Loh.
One of Loh’s passengers was a girl about his granddaughter’s age.
“She called me names because I was five minutes late.
“Then she asked me to refer to Waze for the direction to her destination, but blamed me for taking the tolled road.
“When I told her that it was her choice, she started using profanity and threatened to report me to Uber,” he said.
“Even though I can also rate her poorly as a passenger, when it comes down to it, beggars cannot be choosers so we just have to put up with it.
“I tell myself that it is only temporary and move on,” Loh said.
To become an Uber driver, one has to register and attend training.
“Other than the first meeting upon signing up, we do not communicate with other drivers, unless I use the service as a passenger,” said Patrick, adding that he had done so as a mode of transport to Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
So far, there has not been any untoward incidence in his experience as either a driver or passenger, unlike the reports in other countries.
If a driver receives a rating of below 4.2, he or she will have to go through a review with the company.
“Being an Uber driver is a good thing, but the problem is we have to use our own vehicles.
“Uber used to offer company cars under the Uber Black category,” he said, adding that taxi drivers who wanted to switch to Uber found it difficult, as they could not afford to purchase their own cars.
“They do not have a monthly salary so they are unable to get bank loans.
“If Uber can come up with a scheme to offer a car to the drivers, they (taxi drivers) will definitely make the switch to Uber,” Patrick opined.