I HAVE been following the development of e-hailing regulations (e-hailing drivers are required to go through the same permit process as taxi drivers soon) and applaud the Transport Minister’s decision to allow e-PSV (public service vehicle) training for e-hailing drivers.
The underlying premise of e-hailing is to act as a platform for Malaysians to use a car they already own to make extra income. This is the beauty of e-hailing: no need for upfront capital investment or much work experience and no room for race or age discrimination. And with this comes more affordable fares for passengers.
My dad is a retiree and now relies on e-hailing for an income. A friend in his early 20s used to drive to earn extra pocket money to save for a trip. I have sat in cars of deaf drivers, single mothers and old pak ciks – all honest drivers whose incomes are now threatened.
Is it wrong for the ministry to want to regulate e-hailing? No. Is it wrong to subject e-hailing drivers to the expensive, arduous (and probably corrupt) processes that bred the rampant culture of touting and overcharging we are so familiar with in taxis? Yes.
The regulatory requirements – medical check-up; six-hour classroom training; inspections by Puspakom, the national vehicle inspection company; vehicle permits; PSV licence registration – will cost e-hailing drivers more than RM400 upfront.
Classroom training and exams are conducted only in Malay. OKU (the disabled) and deaf drivers will not pass medical check-ups under current criteria (the minister has said, however, this will be changed).
In a single blow, many Malaysians are disqualified and discouraged from participating in this shared economy. What other opportunities can a 50-year-old uncle who cannot read Malay pursue?
The primary goal of regulations should be to ensure the safety of both drivers and passengers. E-hailing operators are not without flaws but it is in their own business interests to enforce high safety and quality standards.
If safety is indeed the primary goal of regulations, why not research and adopt industry best practices and ensure all drivers adhere to strict safety guidelines? It still remains to be proven that a six-hour training session results in safer driving by taxi drivers – in fact, my personal experience says otherwise.
A Puspakom inspection also does nothing if what passengers are left with are dirty seats and noisy engines that passed with the help of duit kopi (coffee money, bribe).
Many passengers leave feedback on reckless drivers or bad car conditions – guidelines should instead be set around enforcing action on drivers (or passengers) who receive such recurring comments.
The e-hailing industry is set up such that there exists a feedback loop to hold users to certain standards. Do we now level the playing field by bringing our standards down?
Of course, we can claim that this is a one-time change: What’s so difficult, e-hailing drivers will get used to the new way of working. But that’s beside the point. How do we move forward if we keep giving in to the remnants of how things were done in the old days?
There will be resistance to change, be it from e-hailing or taxi drivers. Who will we listen to? The hopeful voice of reason or the demanding voice of habit?
In this case, a vote for the e-hailing drivers is a vote for progress, for the change we dared hope for when we voted for a new government. And my vote will be for progress.