How e-hailing services like Grab completely decimated the taxi business.
Say let’s hail a taxi to anyone these days and most likely they’ll look quizzically at you and say: Do you mean Grab? Having exploded in popularity and demand over the last couple of years, it has come to a point that the largest e-hailing service in the region, Grab, has become synonymous with the term ‘taxi’.
The takeover of the taxi industry by these (at the time new fangled) ride-sharing/e-hailing apps on smartphones has been swift and all encompassing. To the extent of even the red-and-white taxis you see running around will also be using some sort of e-hailing app.
While many of us today enjoy these new conveniences that are made possible by the march of technology, not many of us has actually stopped to think how Grab and the like has revolutionised the way many of us travel nowadays. Especially considering that taxis were providing roughly the same service as what Grab is offering for the longest of time.
It is a fair assessment that the services provided by these e-hailing applications are better than what taxis offered, hence nearly all of their customer base jumped ship the first sign they could. However, for the sake of posterity, it is still worth diving deeper into what were the factors that contributed the demise of the taxi service. Not just in Malaysia, but for the majority of the world.
Starting with perhaps the most obvious one, and that is the (overgeneralised but mostly true) fact that taxis were quite frankly a terrible mode of transport. The taxi drivers were consistently sly, loud and rude. The taxis themselves too were usually old, crusty and not very well maintained. It was generally an unpleasant service to use for the vast majority of time, and for a vast majority of the population.
All this unpleasantness though usually begins before even getting into the taxi. That is because, as it happens, even hailing a cab is a near impossible task in itself in many a situation. What more is that even once a taxi is successfully flagged down, the taxi driver might still have the gall to reject to take you to your desired destination. Oh its too far they say, too out of the way of their usual route.
Contrastingly, a Grab can be hailed at any time and from any place, as long as you have internet connection that is. Thereby eliminating the hassle (and bias) involved with getting a cab in the first place. The only inconvenience is having to hunt down the driver. But even then, GPS and communication with the driver through the app makes it a simple enough task to eventually find one’s ride.
Sticking with the GPS, nowadays one can just sit back in the Grab as Google Maps or Waze does the navigating on your behalf. Taking you to where you want to go, and usually through the fastest route. A total opposite to the days past where both you and the taxi driver will be driving around aimlessly if both of you didn’t know the way to the destination. And just to add to the frustration, you’re being charged for this ‘privilege’ of getting lost.
Speaking of money, with the fare price known before booking on the app, haggling with the taxi driver at the side of the road has now been relegated to the history books, as is the suspense of having to watch a meter slowly tick up. The feeling of being ripped-off has also eliminated thanks to the flat-rate fare pricing utilised by e-hailing.
Moreover, now with the introduction of GrabPay and other contactless payment methods, there is no further need to deal with the hassle of cash. Hence making the entire process even more convenient.
Though if there is one complaint with e-hailing in this department is that the promo codes are getting few and far between. Gone are the days during the infancy of Grab and (the now defunct in Asia) Uber where promo codes were raining from the sky, and one could quite easily get a free ride to where you want to go, but hey at least the fares are still reasonable today when Grab is the Goliath it is.
Running the e-hailing service with private cars was another masterstroke by the e-hailing providers, as it eliminated the taxis themselves too. Despite it being a lottery on what car will come pick you up, one thing which is guaranteed however by calling a Grab is that the car arriving to pick you up will be modern, clean and well-maintained overall. A far cry from the typical taxi which is usually a clapped-out manual Saga.
From a car guy perspective too, the lottery of the cars on offer is also a bonus to the service. Speaking on from personal experience, while more often than not it will be variations of Protons or Peroduas, Hondas and Toyotas are also pretty common, as are a Lexus and a BMW on those rare occasions.
Continuing on the topic about the stigma of the taxi, having average joes as the driver means one also does not need to deal with the aforementioned stereotypical taxi driver. Instead, a courteous drivers in a clean car charges a pre-determined flat rate for the ride. Which pretty much sums up why more and more people started taking Grab.
Truth be told, no one actually really likes driving to a destination. Even to the most fanatical of driving enthusiasts, parts of the journey will always be despised, such as tolls, traffic jams, idiot drivers, parking and all these other minor annoyances that make driving the oft-frustrating experience it is today. That said, it is only because taxi services were more inconvenient and unpleasant than driving that many elected to drive themselves.
With e-hailing however, this novel service effectively removed nearly all the cons of a taxi, while retaining all of its plus points. So now one can just sit back and relax at the back, while somebody else takes car of the inconvenience of driving. In fact I’m typing most of this piece at the back of a Grab right now.
Had too much fun on a night out, too old to drive, kids with no license but still want to go out, tourists in a foreign land or just simply not wanting to deal with the traffic downtown; a few taps on a smartphone later, and you’ll soon be picked up and whisked to your destination with little fuss and at a reasonable cost.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise then that Malaysians are eschewing owning a personal car with Grab and car sharing becoming more prevalent in the daily lives of many, especially for those in the city. It also comes as no surprise then that the taxi service couldn’t compete initially. Nevertheless, the final nail in the coffin for the taxi was not at the hands of the e-hailing services, but the taxi industry itself. As it failed to innovate to catch up to these burgeoning new trends. In this innovate or die world, they chose the latter, and thus assimilated into the e-hailing Goliath.