App-Based Motortaxi Craze Hits Jakarta

Zahara Tiba
151015-ID-ojek-620 An ojek driver in Jakarta receives a request for service on his mobile phone.

Jakarta residents have long relied on ojeks, unregulated motorcycle taxis, to zip through the city’s traffic-choked streets.

Hiring an ojek used to involve getting to the nearest spot where drivers await customers – but not any longer.

Now, people can book rides on their mobile phones and the two-wheeled taxi will come to them, thanks to new apps offered by start-up companies. The service is all the rage among Jakarta residents, and is spreading to other cities.

“The service is very helpful, especially for middle-class workers like me. I wanted to take public transportation provided by the government, but it even takes more time, because I have to change vehicles a few times,” Jessica Sihotang, a 26-year-old Jakartan, told BenarNews.

The two big companies in town offering app-based motortaxi services are the start-ups Go-Jek and GrabBike.

“By taking Go-Jek/GrabBike, the drivers will take us to the destinations right away with a cheaper price, and it is safer. The drivers are registered and you can always check their identities,” Jessica said.

GrabBike and its sister company GrabTaxi – a four-wheel taxi service that competes with Uber in Jakarta – were founded by a Malaysian entrepreneur, Michael Tan. Go-Jek was started by Nadiem Makarim, a young Indonesian tech executive and graduate of the Harvard Business School.

Their companies have recruited a large number of ojek drivers. Go-Jek, for one, claims that it employs 15,000 drivers who operate in Jakarta, Bali, Surabaya, and Bandung.

To join either company, drivers need only show copies of required documents. They then must pass a series of tests, including one that demonstrates knowledge of traffic regulations.

Upon meeting the requirements, drivers are given helmets, a jacket emblazoned with the company’s name, a cellular phone for receiving orders, and masks for passengers.

Happy drivers

M. Haerullah, a father of four children and ojek driver since 1980s, is now driving for GrabBike.

“Usually, I only earned Rp. 2-3 million (U.S. $149-224) a month when I was still a conventional ojek driver. Now, I can earn more, at least twice as much. The more orders you receive, the more you will earn,” the 49-year-old told BenarNews.

Haerullah no longer has to wait for passengers at a spot in the Kebun Sirih area of Central Jakarta, where he and other conventional ojek congregate and wait for passengers. All he has to do is to check for service orders on his cellphone.

“Now, I can spend some time enjoying lunch with my wife at home. I can even get some time to take a nap in the daytime before receiving orders again. I can spend the whole day on the streets, taking orders and earning more,” Haerullah said.

Fellow GrabBike driver Ujang Sahroni, 52, is a former migrant worker who worked as a butcher in a hotel in Oman, but he had to return to Indonesia when his work permit there expired.

“I never thought about being an ojek driver, because it is seen as a lowly profession in the public’s eyes,” Ujang told BenarNews.

But although he would like to return to Oman one day, he said he was satisfied with the income he has earned since August as a GrabBike driver.

“In less than a month, I received Rp. 4.7 million [U.S. $350] . I feel thankful for that,” he said.


Not all ojek drivers are on board with the app-based services. Traditional operators have resisted the popular trend. For instance, in the Kalibata area of East Jakarta, conventional drivers raised a huge banner stating their objection to the presence of app-based competitors in the area.

The app-based services face another obstacle with the Jakarta Regional Transportation Agency recently declaring their services illegal because motorcycles are not classified as public modes of transportation mode under Law No. 22/2009. The law also applies to traditional ojeks, which nevertheless operate freely.

But Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed Ahok, has expressed his support for amending the laws so that app-based ojek services can be used for public transportation and help ease Jakarta’s gridlock.

“I do hope that someday the service will be legal,” rider Jessica Sihotang said.


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