App-based bike taxis take Indonesia by storm

Whether you’re in a hurry to go somewhere or need a bite or two, help is in the palm of your hands.

Smartphone application-based motorcycle taxi companies have sprung up in Indonesia since last year, taking advantage of the growing use of mobile internet.

They followed the success of Go-jek, a ride-sharing service similar to Uber, but with bikes as the means of transport.

Worsening traffic in major cities and a lack of efficient mass transport has prompted many Indonesians to switch to motorcycles, triggering the growth of bike taxis, or  ojek.

Jakarta, a city of 10 million people, has the worst traffic in the world, with about 33,240 stop-starts per year, according to an index released last year by lubricants company Castrol. Istanbul came second with 32,520 stop-starts.

The index gathers data from TomTom navigation users to calculate the number of stops and starts made per kilometer, multiplying that figure by the average distance driven every year in 78 countries.

A Jakarta resident spends about two hours in traffic each trip on average, according to a study by the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

The Transport Ministry last month declared such taxi services illegal. The ban was lifted hours later after President Joko Widodo stepped in, responding to a public outcry.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of app-based motorcycle taxi services in Indonesia:

1. LadyJek

LadyJek, an app-based motorcycle taxi service for females, began operating in October.

“We noticed there was a lack of comfortable public transport for women,” founder Brian Mulyadi said.

Recent cases of late-night rape in public minivans have caused worries for women travelling at night.

Rider Mutia said she sometimes received orders from men.

“When I found out the person who ordered was a man, I refused to take him,” said Mutia, a 30-year-old mother of two, wiping her sweat with a scarf on a stifling hot day.

She said her husband did not object to her job.

“I’m free. I can even come home very late at night and he doesn’t mind,” said Mutia, who is from Aceh, a conservative Muslim province where women are required to wear headscarves.

LadyJek has about 2,500 drivers, who wear black-and-pink jackets and pink helmets, and its application has been downloaded 10,000 times on Android.

2. UberJek

UberJek – no business relation with global ride-sharing service Uber – wants to make sure its customers don’t have to put up with body odour during their trips, so they only hire smell-free motorcycle drivers.

Applicants are tested for body odour by professional smell sniffers.

“Many ojek users have complained of drivers’ body odour,” founder Aris Wahyudi said. “We want to provide customers with the best service.”

Unlike those of other ojek services, UberJek drivers do not wear a uniform.

“Most customers don’t like their ojek driver to wear a uniform because they want to be seen as riding with a friend or relative,” Aris said.

In one of those recruitment sessions, each applicant was made to spread his arms in front of a fan, simulating motorcycle riding, while a person behind him who acted as a passenger sniffed his body odour.

Another applicant, Baskoro, said the body odour was a surprise for him.

“I didn’t expect to be tested for body odour, but luckly I always wear perfume when I go outside,” the mustachioed 49-year-old former drug salesman said.

One of those who passed the tests, David Kuswanto, said he did not use any fragrance to chase the stinkies away.

“I was confident because before I applied I asked my wife and kids if I had a body odour issue and they said I was fine,” said David, who works freelance as a wallpaper salesman.

3. Ojek Syari Indonesia (Ojesy)

Ojek Syari (Ojesy) hires only female drivers who wear Muslim headscarves, but accepts female customers regardless of religion.

Drivers must have the permission of their husbands or parents to join the service, Ojesy business developement manager Agus Edy said.

They are not allowed to roam streets without a passenger, but stay at home waiting for orders from the mobile application.

“Some women don’t feel comfortable riding a motorcycle with a man,” Agus said.

Ojesy driver Indari Santika, a mother of one, said she only takes orders when she is not taking care of her child or cooking.

“I often have to cancel orders in the mornings because as a housewife I’m also busy at home,” she said.

She said many of her fellow drivers are single mothers.

“For them this is their only source of income,” she said.

Ojek Syari operates in Surabaya, Jakarta and other cities on Java.

4. Go-Jek

Go-Jek was founded in 2011 by internet entrepreneur Nadim Makarim.

Faced with the daily traffic gridlock in Jakarta, Makarim decided to start a motorcycle taxi company, taking advantage of Twitter and Facebook to create buzz for his innovative project.

“The traffic problem in Jakarta is becoming a real crisis,” Makarim said. “We interviewed a bunch of ojek drivers and I learnt they spent about 75 per cent of their day staying idle, waiting for customers to come to them.”

More than 200,000 motorcycle owners in major Indonesian cities have joined Go-jek, making it the most popular bike-taxi service in the country.

Its drivers are easily recognizable with a bright green jacket and helmet emblazoned with the company name.

Go-Jek has also expanded its business to include package and food delivery,  shopping and house-cleaning services.

5. GrabBike

Formerly known as GrabTaxi, Grab was first launched as a taxi-hailing company in 2011, now operating in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In May, it launch its motorbike taxi service in Indonesia, GrabBike.

“Ojek is a popular mode of transport here in Indonesia, so it was only time before we transformed it,” said Grab marketing vice President Cheryl Goh.

GrabBike offers medical insurance for all its passengers and drivers, a scheme the company described as the first of its kind.


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