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In Ho Chi Minh City, traditional motorbike taxi drivers grapple with technology invasion

Thursday, November 17, 2016, 15:45 GMT+7

Traditional motorbike taxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh City are helpless and infuriated as their livelihood is threatened by a new generation of technology-based drivers.

Conventional motorbike taxi drivers have long been able to secure a stable living by providing their services to travelers at airports, railway and bus stations, and residential areas in the southern city.

But their way of life is quickly changing as a new wave of motorbike cabbies moves onto the scene, with ride-hailing applications making securing a fare as easy as tapping a smartphone screen.

Thanks to a user-friendly interface, convenience, cheap fares, and attractive promotions, the apps have rapidly become local residents’ first choice for transportation and a driving force behind the extinction of traditional drivers.

Aside from Grab and Uber, the two major players in the ride-hailing industry, GO-IXE, GOGOX, EASYGO, also operate in the southern city.

These transport applications charge their customers an average of VND12,000 (US$0.54) for the first two kilometers and approximately VND3,800 ($0.17) for each additional kilometer.

Meanwhile, conventional motorbike taxi passengers are often dealt a fare based on their experience and negotiation with the drivers.

According to Minh, a 62-year-old motorbike taxi driver in Binh Thanh District, before these apps hit the market he was earning over VND100,000 ($4.47) a day.

“Now with these new apps, I’ve only gathered VND10,000 [$0.45] this entire morning,” Minh sighed.

Hung, a colleague operating nearby with over 30 years of experience, claimed that his average daily income was around VND300,000 ($13.41), adding that he now barely grosses VND100,000.

“Modern technology has taken away my source of income,” Hung said.

Old-timers vs. newcomers

The fierce competition and frustration have led to several arguments and physical confrontations between drivers from each type of motorbike taxi.

According to Nguyen Tuan Anh, director of a local ride-hailing business, about 20 cases in which his drivers were attacked by their traditional colleagues near Tan Son Nhat International Airport have been recorded since the beginning of this year.

Some representatives from similar services have reported similar incidents at local railway and bus stations.

“Other technology-based drivers and I have avoided picking up passengers at the airports and bus stations where large numbers of conventional drivers often operate,” Linh, a motorbike cabbie, stated.

Other drivers mentioned their constant fear of being assaulted while wearing their company uniforms.

A video uploaded to social media recently depicts a GrabBike employee being cursed at by a traditional driver at a bus station in District 2.

The assaulter threatened to kill the young man with his knife, stating that the Grab driver was stealing his customers.

Meanwhile, Duong Van Minh, a member of a traditional motorbike taxi union in District 6, asserted that his colleagues have been operating in the area along with many technology drivers without concern.

“It all depends on the preference of passengers. We can only try to improve our service and professionalism to earn the hearts of more customers,” Minh elaborated.

How to co-exist

According to Nong Thanh Ban, president of another union in District 1, a local ride-hailing service suggested that his organization join their business model, which was turned down.

“We have set up certain policies to ensure a professional service. Our members are required to provide personal information and operate with a badge, uniform, and code numbers,” Ban said.

He admitted that a majority of conventional drivers work as freelancers, resulting in the lack of professionalism and different pricing.

It would be easier for the old-timers to compete with their technology-based counterparts if they operated within a well-organized union, Ban added.

Nguyen Chanh Chi, leader of a self-managed group of motorbike taxi drivers, said his team supplies services at medium priced fares and offers certain discounts to passengers.

“We hope for fair competition with drivers from technology firms. With proper organization, both models can co-exist in an equal environment,” Chi continued.

At the Mien Dong (Eastern) and Mien Tay (Western) Bus Stations, motorbike taxi drivers are required to register and pay a fee in order to operate inside the venues. 

Drivers from other businesses are not allowed to enter the stations.

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