Are Uber Drivers in Bali an Endangered Species?
“300,000 rupiah,” the taxi driver said, claiming that the ride home would be twice as much as what it cost to get there. Scooters whizzed past as we haggled on the side of the road.
“300,000 is my final price.”
I pulled out my phone and clicked on the Uber app. There were four cars in the area. The taxi driver peered over my shoulder, then took a hasty step back.
“You cannot take Uber in this country!” he shouted. “Uber drivers get decapitated here.”
My widened eyes exchanged anxious looks with the people I was travelling with. With shaking hands, and disinterested in watching our Uber driver potentially getting pounded, we began to negotiate a price with the taxi.
On the drive home, we noticed several worn out banners reading, “NO UBER.”
I later found out that our driver that night wasn’t alone in his hatred for ride-hailing services.
In 2016, Balinese man Ida Kadek Anom was ambushed by a group of taxi drivers. Kadek was on his way to pick up his Uber customer when a mob stopped in front of his car and demanded he pay a fine of 375 000IDR ($37.50AUD). Kadek called his boss, who agreed to hand over the money, but as Kadek tried leaving the scene to collect it, he was chased down the road and beaten up until he needed to be hospitalised. His white Toyota minivan was then vandalised with bricks and sticks.
Competition ignited by technology has the market for conventional ride services hard. Ever since ride-hailing services like Uber and Grab became a trend, taxi and private car drivers have found it difficult to make adequate earnings – especially in Indonesia. A violent protest occurred in Jakarta, the country’s capital, in March 2016 that saw bus, car and scooter drivers rally against illegitimate driving services, claiming mobile apps like Uber and Grab weren’t registered as “public transport”. Their expression of anger rallied thousands of armed police, and in response, Indonesia’s ministry of transport banned the app services.
But this did not stop them from operating.
The wreckage of vehicles and physical violence towards drivers ought to terrify those who work for apps like Grab and Uber. But although their lives are at risk, many push on with a desperation for employment that could be due to Indonesia’s economic difficulties and the general struggles of supporting a family in a developing country.
In 1997, Indonesia’s government took charge of a great portion of assets, which saw the country enter a financial crisis. This resulted in many government sectors becoming privatised. Though today, the country’s economy is the largest in Asia, recent weak economic growth has created massive problems with unemployment, especially when coupled with the problem of foreign-owned businesses evading Indonesia’s labor laws.
One contributing factor to the violence towards people who work for ride-hailing services is that some Indonesians see it as unfair that large foreign companies are lining their pockets with the profit, while many taxi drivers and sopir (drivers) continue to struggle to earn a living.
Indonesia is made up of a whopping 250 million people, so having a number of assorted transport options available could be highly advantageous. A recent report predicted what benefits could be made if ride-hailing apps like Uber were encouraged. Shared mobility could save more than 71 million car trips a year, reduce 46,000 hectares in parking, provide economic opportunities for almost seven million Indonesians, bring 400,000 more into the financial system through driver positions, and reduce traffic air pollution by 8 per cent.
Change is inevitable, and now that ride-hailing apps have been re-legitimised in Indonesia, albeit amidst seriously heavy regulations, more and more people are likely to jump on the bandwagon. But as a traveller in the country, especially in Bali, if you feel you should continue to respect the rights of private car and taxi drivers a little longer, not to mention stimulate the local economy, by all means – hail a taxi or call a sopir. If you are more concerned with how little change you have left in your pocket, or perhaps the unavoidable progress and development of our world, order an Uber.
If you go with a ride-hailing app though, at least until things start to simmer down, take the utmost caution. Choosing a pick-up location in an area with busy roads and street goers may be pushing it. Dropping your location to quiet street nearby is much safer for you and your driver. Maybe even send a “the coast is clear” text, just to be sure. Don’t even think about standing near a taxi driver whilst cross-checking every number plate that passes you, and don’t roar, “ARE YOU MY UBER DRIVER?!” once your car arrives. Leave that for your first-time travelling mate to do.