Jakarta. Lia Gianni, a South Jakarta resident, typically commutes to work by ojek, or motorcycle taxi, and has for some time now been using the services provided by Go-Jek, which links riders to its fleet of ojek drivers through a smartphone app.
On a recent Monday morning, however, Lia had to wait an unusually long time for a response to her request for a pickup.
“The weird thing was that according to the map there were actually a lot of drivers available around my area,” she tells the Jakarta Globe.
One of the drivers finally accepted her order, then suddenly asked that she cancel after she notified him of her location.
Flummoxed, Lia decided to walk to a nearby post for regular ojek drivers, known as a pangkalan, where she saw a sign posted up that read: “Go-Jek and GrabBike drivers are strictly prohibited from picking up passengers in this area.”
The sign, and Lia’s experience, form part of a growing picture about the problems faced by companies like Go-Jek, GrabBike and Uber as they pit their nascent business models based on the “sharing economy” against established operators unaccustomed to any kind of disruption, much less one of this digital nature.
Go-Jek has 2,500 drivers and counting in Jakarta alone, while Malaysian-based GrabBike boasts 75,000 drivers across Southeast Asia. For commuters, their benefits are clear: a metered fare, a driver answerable to a registered company, and the convenience of picking up a ride from anywhere in town simply through a phone app.
For regular ojek drivers, though, this latter point violates one of the unwritten rules of the trade, which is that an ojek driver may only transport a passenger from point A to point B, but never vice versa, especially when both locations have their own pangkalan.
For the app-activated Go-Jek drivers, though, “the whole city is their pangkalan,” says Rahmat, an ojek driver who operates out of the Rawamangun in East Jakarta. “They receive bookings from everywhere, while I operate out of this small area of this subdistrict.”
For Yosi, an ojek driver at a pangkalan in Senayan, South Jakarta, the hostility toward Go-Jek and GrabBike drivers goes beyond a mere “turf war.”
“Go-Jek is a nemesis to me because they’ve dropped down the market fare for traditional ojek drivers,” he says.
Go-Jek charges Rp 4,000 (30 US cents) per kilometer, while GrabBike charges Rp 25,000 for the first six kilometers and Rp 3,000 for every kilometer after that. Regular ojek drivers, on the other hand, charge their own, often arbitrary, fares, typically citing traffic and weather conditions as factors for quoting an inflated price.
Jealous and offensive
Marwoto, a Go-Jek driver, says another source of the hostility shown by ojek drivers is the professionalism with the service is organized.
“There are requirements [to becoming a Go-Jek driver], such as age limit, ability to operate a smartphone, possessing a valid ID, and other things,” he tells the Globe.
“Those who can’t meet such requirements often get jealous and then maybe get a bit offensive.”
To avoid run-ins with other ojek drivers, Marwoto says he always asks his passengers to make sure that their pickup point is far from a pangkalan.
“So far the passengers are OK with it. They understand it, so it’s no problem at all,” he says.
He adds that when he hangs around at a pangkalan, he tries to persuade the other ojek drivers to sign up with Go-Jek, which has been around since 2011.
“Some are pretty skeptical at first about the pricing system, but they just need to be better informed,” he says.
Kiki Rizki, the head of marketing at GrabTaxi Indonesia, which operates the GrabBike service, says the hostility from some ojek drivers comes as no surprise for the company.
“It’s the same as when smartphones were first introduced to the country,” she tells the Globe in an e-mail.
“A lot of people still don’t use them even now because they’re not sure about the benefits. That also applies to ojek drivers who don’t use GrabBike. They just need a better and more complete understanding of our system.”
Officials from Go-Jek did not respond to the Globe’s requests for comment as of press time.
Kiki says the GrabBike management will continue to try promoting the service to regular ojek drivers and stay on friendly terms.
“We try to have a meeting every week with these groups and update them about our success so we can also recruit more drivers,” she says, noting that the company has fewer than 1,000 drivers in Jakarta, Surabaya and Padang combined.
“We make sure that our employees can earn a better income and get benefits like accident insurance and pensions,” she adds.
Kiki says she is confident that local authorities will be able to quell the simmering tensions between the two groups of ojek drivers, including through formal recognition of what has so far been an unregulated industry.
“We hope the local authorities can immediately draft a bylaw on the ojek industry so that drivers can get better protection,” Kiki says.
While tales of hostility abound, police say they have not received any reports of the tensions boiling over into violence.
M. Iqbal, a spokesman for the Jakarta Police, also acknowledges that while measures such as muscling Go-Jek and GrabBike drivers out of areas controlled by certain pangkalan are “not decent,” they still do not constitute criminal activity.
“The police have spoken with the ojek drivers to steer clear of criminal activities based on jealousy,” he tells the Globe.
“We tell them to take [the presence of Go-Jek and GrabBike drivers] as a positive challenge for them to improve their services,” he adds.
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