KUALA LUMPUR: In August, a huge outcry greeted Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman when he expressed his intention to introduce the Indonesian motorcycle ride-hailing GoJek to Malaysia.
Syed Saddiq had said allowing GoJek to operate in Malaysia would help create jobs for youths and support those who run small kiosks and businesses.
From the man on the street to public transport providers and religious leaders, his remarks was greeted with huge protest. A quick poll ran by the New Strait Times saw 65 per cent of Facebook respondents oppose the idea of bringing in the popular Indonesian bike-hailing services.
But his polled Twitter followers gave him 88 per cent support.
CONCERNS OVER BIKE-HAILING
Motorcyclists in Malaysia by and large do not have a good reputation.
A common sight are bike riders, food delivery vehicles and dispatch workers weaving through traffic and flagrantly flouting traffic rules.
According to police statistics, motorcyclists account for most road fatalities. In 2018, they made 4,128 out of 6,284 traffic accident deaths or 65.7 per cent. Statistics have also shown that Malaysia has had the highest road fatality risk (per 100,000 population) among Southeast countries.
The idea for a bike-hailing service has also brushed up against conservative cultural and religious concerns.
Selangor Mufti Datuk Mohd Tamyes Abdul Wahid has said in August it is unIslamic for two individuals of opposite sex with no family ties to ride on the same motorcycle. He has also added that it would be improper for men and women to ride together on a motorcycle.
But Malaysia’s top political leaders say it provides more options for commuters. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad chimed in on the debate.
“If you feel it is not safe, don’t use. We have a choice and we are not forcing you to take the motorcycle ride,” he said in response to safety concerns on the service especially for women.
DEGO RIDE AN EXPERIMENT
The Malaysian government has so far only announced in-principle agreement to allowing motorcycle ride-hailing system to operate but has not specifically given approval to transport giants GoJek or Grab.
But bike-hailing service is not entirely new to Malaysia. A local enterprise, Dego Ride, launched a motorcycle taxi service in Malaysia in late 2016.
However, it was declared illegal by the then Barisan Nasional-led Transport Ministry in January 2017 on the grounds of safety.
Notwithstanding this, Dego Ride has been given the go-ahead last month to resume their services with the condition they tighten several key safety aspects including allowing users to provide information on pick-ups and drop-off locations to their loved ones.
According to Dego Ride’s chief executive officer Nabil Feisal Bamadhaj, the company has also been told to work with Prasarana, which operates the LRT, MRT and Rapid KL – Kuala Lumpur’s city rail network.
Dego Ride is expected to charge RM2.50 (or US$0.60) for the first 1km and 60 sen for each following kilometre while riders can only accept passengers of the same gender.
There is potential for the sector to be liberalised with more licenses given out if Dego Ride shows early signs of success.
Bike-hailing services should not be written off completely.
They have huge potential to create employment and news sources of income for Malaysians, whether on a full- or part-time basis, particularly for youths and lower-income segments.
Bike-hailing services could also open up a new income stream for female riders to cater to female customers.
READ: Commentary: Creepy friendliness yet great convenience, what passengers love and hate about ride-sharing services
The service would fit well in big, busy cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Bahru where traffic is heavy.
It could be an attractive mode of transport within the city during rush hour, as motorcycles will be able to cut through traffic.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR BIKE-HAILING: LAST-MILE TRANSPORT IN KUALA LUMPUR
Kuala Lumpur has seen strides made in improvements to the public transport system in recent years, particularly in managing growing costs of commuting.
The Transport Ministry has done well to introduce a RM100 unlimited monthly rail pass to make mobility more affordable – with 100,000 signing up by March. Some Klang Valley commuters also point positively to the affordable RM80 to RM100 per month carpark costs near stations.
But these moves could go further to improve connectivity for commuters without cars. In this context, a bike-hailing service is suitable for short-distance travel and would work well as a feeder option to and from LRT/MRT stations.
The first and last-mile connectivity to the stations presents a lucrative opportunity as current feeder bus services are not extensive enough to reach residential neighbourhoods.
There are also limited park-and-ride carpark spaces at selected train stations.
In October 2018, Grab was reportedly in talks with the Malaysian government to explore providing such ferry services. Tony Pua, political secretary to the Minister for Finance, was quoted as saying at the time: “Why should you provide feeder buses if you can work with Grab?”
PITFALLS: SURGE PRICING AND SAFETY
In one of our interviews with Malaysians who take the feeder bus service regularly, Deborah, a young academic discussed her commuting preferences.
She raised the unpredictable cost associated with surge pricing, as prices can double.
Off peak, my house to KL Gateway on Grab was RM7. That's 2.9 km. But during a high demand period, from KL Gateway to a place in my housing area (about 4.9 km) it was RM30!
But she’s not keen on riding pillion, owing to safety concerns.
"I use the free bus to the LRT. It’s a short walk from my house. But the problem is that in the evenings there is no fast bus route back home.”
Instead, she cheers on efforts to boost the frequency and network reach of the MRT Feeder Bus services.
Despite a stated frequency of 10 to 15 minutes, many Malaysians have complained of their lack of punctuality and unreliability. Anecdotal accounts also suggest the frequency drops to 30 to 45 minutes in some places outside rush hour.
MRT bus services today are affordable. It is a flat RM1 for bus rides to and from MRT stations.
The worry is if their inefficiencies contribute to fewer Kuala Lumpur residents taking the MRT and LRT, which runs against the government’s efforts to improve uptake of the public transport system.
PROSPECTS FOR BIKE-HAILING
Bike-hailing services will still face immense hurdles, including safety issues, regulating law-abiding riders, ensuring motorists have insurance, and are syariah-compliant for the benefit of Muslim customers.
To this end, Transport Minister Anthony Loke had said his ministry will research and produce a report on this motorcycle ride e-hailing service that will among others cover the safety and implementation mechanism. No doubt many Malaysians will be waiting for the study’s findings to be published.
Whether GoJek or any motorcycle-hailing services makes its debut on Malaysian roads remain to be seen. Ultimately, it is consumers who will decide on their choice of transport.
But meanwhile, the Transport Ministry could afford to look at improving last-mile connectivity and enhancing feeder buses services to the main arterial rail lines.
Khor Yu Leng is an independent economist at Segi Enam Advisors, and a specialist on the political economy of mobility.