MARCH 11 — Try this one day. Dress like a tourist. Pretend you don’t speak Malay. Carry a few shopping bags. 

Hang out at the entrance Pavilion. Then pretend to want to take a cab to KLCC. 

Try, as a “tourist”, to ask the taxi drivers waiting in the area how much the fare is from Pavilion to KLCC.

If you don’t already know the answer, it may shock you: Between RM60 to RM80. A distance of less than three kilometres by car and about 1.2 kilometre by foot is charged almost the price of a ride from Petaling Jaya to KLIA.

Another popular trap zone is Central Market. I’ve actually overheard a taxi driver tell this Japanese (or was she Korean?) lady that it’ll cost her RM50 to go back to KL Hilton, replete with the usual ugly puppy face, very jam lah excuses, and the nonsensical, “You ask the other drivers, it’s the same!”.

And these guys are the same ones demanding the pre-Grab/Uber (see note 1) status quo remains.

A friend of mine also shared her experience — way before Grab and Uber came along — trying to get a cab from Sunway University to Jalan Utara. 

The driver wanted her to pay RM50. She told him to get lost. Know what the guy did? 

He shouted at all the other taxi drivers along the road not to take her... and they all complied. She ended up having to walk some distance to find another taxi.

And these are the folks getting upset about Grab hitting their livelihoods. As if cheating people isn’t bad enough, these folks “protest” by way of stalking and threatening Grab drivers, mobbing the road at KLIA (and thus preventing Grab drivers from picking up their clients arriving at KLIA) and basically throwing a hissy fit about life’s injustices. 

On the new e-hailing regulations and requirements

The new “e-hailing” law (to be enforced in July, see note 2) which requires private drivers to convert their cars to commercial use ─ not unlike writing off PTPTN loans ─ will be another example of appeasing the bad guys whilst penalising the good guys. 

After July, private Grab drivers will need to be (motor)-insured under the taxi category, a process which includes the need to pass more tests, inspections, attending a one-day course, and fulfilling criteria like having no criminal records, outstanding summonses and good health. 

Because the truth is, Grab drivers have no inherent “advantage’” over taxi-drivers. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

Unlike taxi-drivers, private drivers are not given rebates on tolls, car-servicing and petrol. Needless to say, it’s not as easy for private drivers to use a gas tank instead of fuel because that means voiding your car’s warranty, changing your insurance coverage and sacrificing trunk space.

Also, taxi drivers at present already qualify for both e-hailing and street-hailing but Ahmad and Ah Kow driving their Protons are not allowed to street-hail.

Despite these disadvantages, people still prefer private e-hailing cars. Why? Because when it comes to attitude and cleanliness, Malaysia’s taxi system looks like it really couldn’t give two damns. 

The last time I took a taxi back from KLIA2, the dude’s car looked like he was rehearsing for Rio’s Carnival. Or maybe Captain Marvel was trying to launch a photo beam at a Skrull, missed, and the blast hit the inside of his car. 

How many taxi drivers are like that of the Jamie Foxx character in Collateral, someone who takes pride in his car’s cleanliness, making sure the first thing he does when he takes over from the morning driver is to clean the inside of the vehicle? The irony is, almost all Grab drivers are like that. It’s their car so they do give a damn.

Furthermore, is it just me or does riding a taxi sometimes feel as if you’re in the back seat of a go-kart? It feels so “low” on the highway that all you need is for the vehicle to hit one small rock and the entire taxi’s chassis will be torn to shreds?

Now, add to this the fact that private e-hailing drivers charge 50 per cent less when driving in the city and 20 per cent less when going to the airport, and it really seems that the only urban passengers who regularly use taxis are those without a smartphone or those without brains.

Taxis are more expensive, dirtier, more dangerous, more vulnerable to malpractice and yet the government wants to make it harder for private folks to drive? 99.99 per cent of the population prefer to use private e-hailing cars, but come July they’ll be forced to endure more smugness cum bitching by cab drivers who couldn’t bother to spend three minutes cleaning their back seats just a bit more?

I totally salute our Minister of Transport Anthony Loke’s decision to take public transportation every now and then. I’m also very sure he’s used private e-hailing cars before. Now I wonder: When was the last time he sat in a taxi?

* Note 1: In this article, I’m using Grab to refer to all e-hailing apps. Whatever I say about Grab here obviously applies to drivers using Zepp On, MyCar, DOB, Pink Rider, etc.

* Note 2: “E-hailing law” is my shorthand for the amendments to the Land Public Transport (LPT) Act 2010 and Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board (CVLB) Act 1987, passed by Parliament in August 2017, followed by requirements for all e-hailing companies to register with the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) and comply to a set of regulations.

** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.