Two recent cases of xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers working for Grab in Vietnam being attacked, with one ending in murder, have sent a shockwave through the local ride-hailing community as drivers scramble to find ways to protect themselves on the job.
When technology-based ride hailing was first introduced to Vietnam in 2014, drivers rarely gave a second thought to the idea of getting robbed or assaulted during a pick-up.
Now, the industry is seeing the dark side of a massive boom – more drivers means more opportunities for criminals to take advantage of unsuspecting drivers, particularly during trips to secluded areas late at night.
The October 19 murder of Le Nhat Hao, a student and GrabBike driver, was a wakeup call for local drivers: times are changing and caution can no longer be thrown to the wind.
From all walks of life
It was only recently that xe om driving made the leap from lower-class employment to side-hustle for university students, manual workers, and white collar professionals looking to make an extra buck.
This transformation has led to a complex assortment of issues and complications the industry will have to clear up if it hopes to continue its boom.
Undergraduate students in metropolises such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have taken a shine to moonlighting as motorbike taxi drivers as it offers decent income and flexible schedule.
Very few of their young go-getters realize that their eagerness to earn comes at cost.
Sophomore Pham Minh Thien, like many of his peers, begins his driving shift late at night after his finishing his studies. He says that while xe om driving has helped him earn enough to cover his tuition fees, a recent spate of dangerous situations is making him think twice about continuing his work.
“Once I accepted a booking at 11:00 pm, but it turned out to be a scam,” Thien recalled.
“My ‘customer’ led me to a dead-end, took out a knife, and tried to rob me.”
“Luckily, I practice martial arts so I got out unscathed,” he said.
Another time, Thien drove a seemingly nice woman back to her neighborhood after midnight. It was only after dropping her off that he realized she’d stanched his wallet.
Nguyen Thanh Trung, 21, is studying in an apprenticeship to become a full-fledged barber. To make ends meet, he spends his nights working as a GrabBike driver.
Though a veteran in the trade, there have been several times Trung has been forced to make tough decisions in order to ensure his own safety.
On October 18, Trung agreed drive ride a passenger in the middle of the night.
While on the trip, the suspicious customer ordered him to another direction.
“Luckily, I refused to continue ferrying him,” Trung said.
“The man was angry, but I know it was because I had spoiled his plans.”
Precaution takes precedence
Tackled with such a fierce rise in violent incidents, ride-hailing service providers have come up with ideas to keep themselves safe while on the job.
Aber Vietnam takes up measures by assigning paid dispatchers to take responsibility for the safety and welfare of drivers.
It also puts out safety notices for its drivers who work night shifts.
For Grab, after the unfortunate incident involving Hao, the company has provided detailed guideline for its drivers.
Most notably, the Grab app prioritizes bookings within a close proximity of its student workforce, so as to safeguard them against similar situations.
Truong Van Vy, a university professor who specializes in criminal psychology, also shared some insight into the current safety climate for rideshare drivers.
Typically, tech-based xe om drivers are happy after receiving an order because it means an opportunity for them to earn money.
However, the pick-up and drop-off location of each driver should be taken into consideration as dangerous situations can be dependent on those factors.
As criminals prefer to operate at night, it is imperative for drivers to keep their guard up after dark.
Officer Nguyen Sy Quang from the Ho Chi Minh City police department said more patrols will be conducted in rural and suburban areas for safety measures.
“Officers will also check on suspicious figures roaming about during late night hours,” Quang added.
“Each and every driver has to watch out for themselves. Nothing can be fully guaranteed.”