Metered cabs gaining momentum
A company providing metered cabs in Yangon says it is growing in popularity as customers are demanding a safer and more professional taxi service.
AFTER several failed attempts by the government over the years to formalise Yangon’s hectic taxi system, local firm Hello Cabs, which introduced a metered service and driver training nearly two years ago, says that business is catching on, with commuters today demanding higher standards from the city’s cabbies.
Dagon Logistics launched the Hello Cabs service in December 2014, starting out with just 100 taxis. The service provider has since grown to 500, providing more than 1200 passengers with a metered ride each day, according to Ma Kathy from Hello Cabs marketing department.
“People are becoming more interested in using metered taxis,” she said. “The customer feedback is mostly positive satisfaction with our drivers, and this is why our business is increasing.”
For close to a decade the government has on many occasions tried to introduce meter taxis to the capital. However, the initiative has never taken off, with drivers easily flouting the rules and customers favouring a negotiated fare. But for many of the passengers and cab drivers interviewed by The Myanmar Times this week, there is a small but growing interest in the metered service, where the additional cost is often justified for the extra comfort.
Taxis registered with Hello Cabs are tracked via GPS and their car is fitted with a meter. But drivers can only join the service provider once they meet certain standards, including measures that look at the condition of their vehicle and their driving skills, which the company puts to the test.
Cabbies are also given customer service training, learning how best to communicate with passengers, while disgruntled customers are able to provide feedback to Hello Cabs if they have a bad experience with a driver.
The company makes its money on the booking charge and a percentage of the fare it gets for the cab. In return, the service drives business and lifts professional standards for its drivers, the firm says.
“Any taxi driver can be member if they meet the company criteria, and passengers pay a booking charge of K300,” Ma Kathy said. “The taxi drivers pay a percentage of what they get from passengers linked to them by Hello Cabs service,” she added, declining to detail the service percentage.
A Hello Cabs journey costs K250 per kilometre plus K25 per minute waiting time. A typical ride will cost K1500 for the first 3km or 15 minutes, so that a 10km, or 30-minute, ride will cost K4000, with 25 percent added on top between 10pm and 5am.
Ma Kathy said the majority of the daily bookings come over the phone, but the recently released mobile phone app is also gaining momentum, with more passengers warming to the service every month.
Ma Hnin Wut Yee, a secretary with a foreign news agency, said the metered service is a little more expensive, but worth it as the cab driver is willing drop her off at her location, rather than avoiding a side street and leaving her on a busy road.
“We can tell them [Hello Cab drivers] where we want to stop and we can monitor how much it costs based on the distance,” she said. “I also only take taxis with air-con, which you can’t always be sure of in other taxis.”
For Dagon University student Ma Nay Chi, the more professional metered service as is a welcome relief from the intrusive leering of regular cab drivers.
“I face some taxi drivers who talk and ask so many questions about where I live and which major I study. It is so annoying and it makes me so angry,” she said.
Although she feels more comfortable, the additional cost on a student’s budget means she can’t afford metered taxis all the time, she said.
“But I use Hello Cabs taxis if I am by myself at night because it is safe and they control it with a GPS system.” But not everyone is convinced. U Soe Min Myo, a long-time regular taxi driver, said that bartering was an important part of the industry.
“I think Myanmar people don’t like meter taxis, they like to haggle for a bargain,” he said.
As far as safety goes, it works both ways, U Soe Min Myo added, saying that taxi drivers too needed protection from passengers at times.
“Some people say taxis are not safe because it depends on the driver, but sometimes we also face problems, sometimes criminal cases, with passengers,” he said.
The veteran cabbie believed he had a win-win solution to the dangerous elements of the industry.
“Meter taxis might be safer for passengers, but sometimes there are also problems for drivers, and using a meter taxi won’t make it any safer,” he said. “We need to go with CCTV or something like that.”
U Aung Min Min, a taxi driver with more than three years’ experience on Yangon’s congested roads, joined Hello Cabs three months ago. The cabbie was coy about the transition, not wanting to reveal any specific benefits related to his move.
“I get more money and it is better than the traditional driving,” he said.
Fellow Yangon driver Ko Thant Zin said the government was likely to push everyone toward metered cabs again at some point. The regular cabbie hoped the authorities would tackle the myriad of congestion problems affecting the city, however, before they pushed for a formalised pay system for cabs.
“Meters are not really OK for all taxis because of the traffic,” he said. “People will just complain about the price.”
A Hello Cabs taxi driver shows a meter used to record fares. Hello Cabs says they are taking more than 1200 calls for passengers each day.