THE only time Meera Anantharaj decides to take a metered taxi home from work is when it rains, as it is the only time these taxi rides, in her opinion, are affordable.
The legal clerk from Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur, said that if it rained during rush hour on a weekday, she usually book a metered taxi under GrabTaxi using the Grab app.
That is because during a thunderstorm, there will be fewer drivers on the road and the demand for drivers will push both the exclusively e-hailing service Uber and GrabCar fares through the roof.
“A usual RM13 ride can rise up to as much as RM40 during rush hour,” said Meera.
“My sister booked an Uber once when it was raining; the fare from Bangsar to Pavilion Kuala Lumpur was RM90! Had she taken a metered taxi, it would have only cost her about RM25 at the most,” she added.
Thanks to surge pricing (where fares are higher when demand is high) practised by e-hailing services, thunderstorms and rush hour are probably the only time that drivers of metered taxis in the Klang Valley see a demand for their service.
In other words, traditional taxi drivers offer a better deal to passengers during rush hour and thunderstorms, while it is the least favoured choice at non-peak times.
But did you know that apart from GrabTaxi, you can also book a metered taxi through other apps such as PICKnGO, EzCab and even 2GO?
“I do not see the need to download other apps when they are all offering the same fares. I am quite happy with Uber and Grab; at least with Grab, I have the option to choose a GrabTaxi or even GrabShare, which offers carpooling services at a lower fare,” Meera reasoned.
Indeed, many people tend to remain loyal to the app they are most comfortable with and see no reason to use other apps. But is it loyalty that is preventing them from trying out other apps?
Let’s get real. Everyone is looking for a good bargain, and if there is a great deal, you can be sure it will be snapped up as fast as you can book a ride on your app!
And when it comes to getting a cab ride in the city, customers want cheaper options.
Regular users of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Grab will pick the app that offers the best discount.
“I will go for the app that is offering the cheapest ride,” said engineering student Amirla Mohd.
“Safety and comfort are crucial, but they are secondary to me. As a student, I cannot afford to pay for taxis. They are simply too expensive for me,” Amirla said.
“All I care about is getting from point A to B in the most affordable way possible,” she added.
The student from Universiti Malaya said she usually relied on Grab or Uber to travel between the university and her residence nearby.
“Sometimes I only pay RM3 for a one-way trip; and if I have a promotional code, the ride is free,” she said.
“If I want to go a little further like to a mall or a bus terminal, I rely on GrabShare because it is 30% cheaper than the average fare,” she added.
Another commuter, Mahalia J., said she was would first compare fares on the Uber and Grab apps before picking the best deal.
Mahalia preferred to use Grabshare if she was not in a hurry and if the distance she was travelling was longer; but said that she preferred using GrabCar or Uber X for distances less than 7km since it was much cheaper.
A 7km ride in an Uber or GrabCar usually costs about RM7 while a taxi ride will come to about RM11 to RM15 in normal circumstances.
Accounts executive Sandra Tavaraja never drives to the mall during the weekends. The prospect of driving through Jalan Kelang Lama’s unpredictable traffic and looking for that elusive parking spot in a crowded shopping centre was just not an option.
“I have accumulated points from being a regular Grab user, and I usually use my points to get a discounted or free ride,” she said.
Grab enables riders to earn points with every ride through their GrabRewards loyalty programme. These points can be redeemed for rewards such as free rides and discounts on purchases from Grab’s partners. Regular users of e-hailing apps are constantly seeking out bargains and discounts to use when booking a ride.
All the women interviewed by StarMetro said that the only time they would ever book a metered taxi was when it was raining heavily during peak hours when both Uber and Grab priceswould surge.
Local apps for metered taxis such as PICKnGO, EzCab and 2GO, which are the latest in the market, are battling for their share of passengers.
And despite touting state-of-the-art safety features such as the SOS button, quality, reliability and consistent service from professional drivers, the same claims are being marketed by the other apps. As such, these features alone are no longer enough to lure customers to their side.
This is supported by an online survey by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), which revealed that more than 80% of the public preferred using e-hailing services Uber and GrabCar over traditional taxis.
Asean master tourism trainer Y.S Chan, who conducts training for taxi drivers and also writes regularly on tourism, training, transportation and taxi issues, summed it up perfectly saying, “Every new taxi app rolled out has been touted as state of the art, and there is no doubt technology keeps getting better.
“But the reality remains that customers are price-conscious and place service as secondary in their list of priorities, as drivers using the apps provide more or less the same standard of service.”
Chan said the key to attracting customers was to charge lower than regulated fares, as Uber and Grab are using private cars.
PICKnGo executive director Valerie Chan is aware of the challenges, saying: “We complement the market during peak hours when surge pricing is in effect. Our rates are the same 24 hours a day.”
She said the company also took calls via the telephone through its call centre as it believed that a personal touch was also important, a channel preferred by passengers who were less IT-savvy or from the older generation.
The same sentiment was shared by EzCab executive director Aleeshah Abdullah, who added that their fares were lower as they did not practise surge pricing.
Both EzCab and PICKnGo said they offered discounts via e-vouchers and other promotional codes from time to time, but only time would tell if they would survive the competition.
Despite the attempts to revolutionise their services, metered taxi drivers say the number of passengers hailing taxis via the taxi apps remained low.
“On average, I get only one or two passengers via the app each day, with a slight increase during peak hours,” said cabbie Yusman Yusof, who is using both the EzCab and PICKnGo platforms.
“I still have to resort to queuing up at government hospitals and malls,” he added.
Veteran cabbie Chang Yoke Tiam, 63, who has been driving a taxi for 35 years, finally threw in the towel and became an Uber driver last month.
“I could no longer compete with them (Uber and Grab), so I decided to join them,” Chang said.
“But it is still tough, not as easy as it seems because the fares are much lower. The upside is that I am always busy as I get bookings all the time. I have to work hard,” he said.
Over at KL Sentral Terminal, taxi marshal Zainal Abidin, who manages the coupon counter, lamented that business was down by about 60%.
“Previously, passengers were queuing up for taxis. Today, taxis are queuing up for passengers. Things have changed a lot. Taxi drivers are no longer the kings of the road,” said Zainal.
Meanwhile, SPAD chief operating officer Qamar Wan Noor said it was working towards creating a level playing field between metered taxis and e-hailing companies by regulating e-hailing service operators.
Qamar said the commission was introducing the dynamic fare for metered taxis with e-hailingapps – one of the 11 programmes under the Taxi Industry Transformation Plan.
Licensed metered taxi drivers will have the flexibility of street-hailing and e-hailing. They will also have the option of applying a dynamic pricing structure that allows them to use the meter for street-hailing and e-hailing fare if they are booked via their app.
“While we are aware that taxis are operating on the regulated fares imposed by the Government, it is up to the taxi companies themselves to be innovative by offering competitive pricing.
“Once the new laws are regulated, as the regulator, we will be able to do more to help traditional taxi drivers compete on a level playing field. But it is also up to the taxi companies to step up their game, by utilising their customer data and coming up with better algorithms. They simply need to catch up,” Qamar added.