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Grab at NAIA Terminal 2

Here is another useful post for travelers especially during this Holy Week and the summer holiday season in the Philippines. Many people usually look for a ride heading out from the airport. Not everyone would have someone to fetch them. There are several options now for those wanting to take public transport. Aside from the conventional taxis, there are also airport taxis, vans and the more recent airport bus service provided by UBE Express. Ridesharing or car sharing services are also available and the most visible will be Grab with options for either car or taxi available via you own app or through their booths located at the NAIA airport terminals. There should be a Grab booth located at the arrival areas of NAIA’s terminals. They also have a booth at the Mactan Cebu International Airport terminal.

You can easily spot the Grab booth and pick-up area as you exit the terminal’s arrival lounge.

You can book a ride with the grab staff at the booth if you don’t have a smart phone and the Grab app. You can also just call for a car or taxi using the app. This is the pick-up point for Grab Cars. Grab Taxis would have to use the driveways for taxis parallel and just to the left of this driveway.

Grab has become a game changer for taxis out of the airport. In fact, my own father found them to be a convenient and safe option for a recent trip from Terminal 2 to our home in Cainta. He didn’t have to negotiate fares and he paid a very reasonable fare while enjoying his ride on a recent model car.

Oversupply of vehicles for ridesharing/carsharing – Part 2

This is a follow-up on the recent post on ridesharing/car sharing where I talked about my observation that there seems to be an oversupply of vehicles being used for what is claimed as ride-sharing or car-sharing. In that post, I mentioned an observation by me and my colleagues that popular ride-sharing/car-sharing companies like Uber and Grab have led to more vehicles on the roads. I add to that the findings of our students that:

  • Those shifting to Grab and Uber are mostly those already using taxis (regular users) and those using UV Express, which is a higher capacity vehicle using either vans or AUVs (average passenger capacities between 10 and 18 passengers).
  • GrabCar and Uber function more as premium taxis rather than ride-share or car-share modes.

A friend who’s among the first Uber drivers in the country (He was already an Uber driver before the explosion in the service’s popularity.) shared that Uber earlier had been a real car-share/ride-share. My friend’s full time job was as a musician and he thought of becoming an Uber driver only to have some additional income for when he wasn’t busy with his work or didn’t have gigs. He was not roving around Metro Manila to get fares much like what is now being done by many Uber and GrabCar units.

Later, when Uber and Grab began more aggressive marketing; promoting their services as potentially generating much more income than conventional taxis and perhaps even a person’s full-time job, people started purchasing cars not for their use but to use in business in the form of Uber and Grab cars. I can probably understand those who bought cars and drove the cars themselves. To me, these would still qualify as ride-sharing/car-sharing but on the upper limit of what we can really consider “sharing” since they are supposed to be driving during their free times. Arguably, unemployed people have the entire day as free time compared with employed people or those who run businesses other than being Grab or Uber drivers. These include housewives and even “househusbands” who may have a vehicle at home that they can use for Uber or Grab. Employed people can only share their rides during the time they go to their offices or when they travel home later in the day. Others may have more free time as business people would likely have more flexible schedules.

Following is a series of screenshots I took en route to a meeting. It is, I believe, more systematic in terms of trying to determine the availability of vehicles – in this case GrabCars. Again, correct me if I’m wrong about my assumption that the vehicles displayed represent available cars. If they do not then it means the app is misleading people into thinking there are available cars for them to hire.

random-grab4

Grab Cars in the vicinity of UP Diliman

random-grab3Grab Cars in the vicinity of Eastwood

random-grab2Grab Cars in the vicinity of Tiendesitas

random-grab1Grab Cars in the vicinity of Cainta Junction

Curiosities of transport services in Metro Manila

There are a few interesting observations we can make out of transport services in Metro Manila and chief among them is the poor quality of service that we can generalize among most if not all modes of public transport available to commuters. This poor quality of service of public transport is what drives many people to aspire to own and drive or ride their own vehicle. Already there has been a surge in motorcycle ownership in Metro Manila and its neighboring towns and cities (collectively Mega Manila) and car ownership is also on the rise. These trends have led to increased congestion along many roads. And we will probably not see a significant improvement until the mass transit projects have all been completed. These include the Line 2 Extension to Masinag, the MRT 7 along Commonwealth, the Line 1 Extension to Cavite, and yes, the capacity improvement of MRT 3. Hopefully, there will also be BRT lines along C-5 and Quezon Avenue to complement the rail transport projects.

The UV Express is actually a response to poor public transport services as it evolved out of the FX taxi services of the 1990s that later mixed with informal van and AUV services. These are actually a precursor of today’s ride sharing modes. Only, in those days when the FX service was born, you didn’t have tools like apps to facilitate your ride. People had to agree about the fares and the destinations from terminals like those in Cubao (Quezon City) and Crossing (Pasig/Mandaluyong).

But let us focus on three services that would not have been attractive if only services by their conventional counterparts were (very) satisfactory and if there was a comprehensive and efficient mass transit network in the metropolis. These are Uber, P2P buses and airport express buses.

Uber offers services much like that of the conventional taxi. Its advantages are mainly having recent model vehicles (not dilapidated ones), a better driver (this attribute is quite subjective), and an app-based system for availing services. Fares are generally more expensive than those for regular taxis. And there is a surge pricing for when congestion is really bad. It has a very good feedback mechanism that allows passengers to evaluate their drivers. However, this wouldn’t have been necessary if taxi drivers in general were more disciplined and courteous to their passengers.

P2P buses operated by Froehlich Tours offers services much like that of conventional buses. Its current advantages over conventional buses are that it operates express services, buses are new, well-maintained, and with drivers that appear to be more disciplined than the typical public utility bus driver. A friend’s take is that P2P’s are the bus equivalent of UV Express. It is not at all necessary if the quality of service of regular buses were much better than it is right now. And I am referring to the practically stop anywhere, recklessly driven and poorly maintained regular buses.

Premium airport buses have recently been introduced and these are operated by Air21, which is a freight forwarding company. It is a service that’s long overdue given the many difficult experiences of people to and from NAIA’s passenger terminals. While an airport limousine bus service should have been provided many, many years ago it also is a reflection of the poor quality of airport taxi services. Airport taxis are expensive and according to many stories circulating can be predatory.

What I am driving at, if it is not yet so obvious, is that many ‘new’ services are actually borne out of crappy services of conventional modes. There are many lessons to be learned here in and lest I be accused of neglecting other Philippine cities, I should mention that Metro Manila presents so many lessons to be learned by other rapidly growing and urbanizing areas in the country. At this time we can mention Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and perhaps Clark/Angeles as metropolitan areas to watch in terms of transport system development. Hopefully, there’s a kind of reverse psychology in their approaches to address their transport needs in that they avoid what has been done in Metro Manila. Surely, transport services in these other cities can do better than Metro Manila’s.

Mainstreaming the motorcycle taxi via current transport tech trends

The motorcycle taxi is common in Southeast Asia and it seems that bringing it to the next level means taking advantage of available technology to facilitate getting a ride. In the forefront is Grab, the company behind GrabTaxi and GrabCar, which is a similar service to the popular Uber. GrabTaxi facilitated getting a taxi and is already popular for being quite effective to many who have availed of the service. I am among those who have used GrabTaxi and so far has been satisfied with the service.

Recently, Grab had been in the news for a service it has been providing elsewhere and which also appeared on their app in the Philippines – GrabBike. I also saw this feature on their app and was curious about how they were able to go mainstream on this in the Philippines because motorcycle taxis (e.g., habal-habal) are basically illegal in most cities and are unregulated except by barangays or a few local governments where their services have been recognized. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) ordered Grab to stop offering this feature of their services. It seems they haven’t done so as GrabBike is still there and the service very much alive.

12376824_10153151074131805_7107429815786377825_nGrabBike feature on the old GrabTaxi App available in the Philippines

In fact, we tried to check if there was a GrabBike near our office and voila! There was one unit that appeared in our screen. I would bet that there would be more appearing on one’s screen if he/she happened to be in an area where there’s demand for motorcycle taxis services (e.g., Eastwood, BGC, Ortigas, Makati CBD, Cubao, etc.).

Grab BikeGrabBike featured on Grab’s new look app

Motorcycle taxis are popular in the provinces and especially in rural areas not just because of the convenience they provide (easily hailed and can maneuver through congested roads) but because they are a necessity, being practically the only public transport mode available to people. The main issues against them in the Philippines are safety-related. Not all providers practice safe riding and most if not all are sure to have no insurance to cover their passengers in case they are involved in a crash. One cannot fully blame motorcycle taxi service providers for offering their services considering the traffic mess in many highly urbanized cities especially in Metro Manila. However, offering such services to the public means that service providers should bear responsibility for ensuring the safety of their passengers. This would basically be in the form of insurance and regulation particularly for fares they charge. I wouldn’t even go to the tax implications of the income they derive from their operations.

These services will no doubt continue to be offered, even clandestinely, as traffic conditions remain bad and continue to worsen. People will gravitate towards such services in order to reduce the travel times in their commutes. This is expected to happen as long as people perceive that nothing is happening to significantly improve transportation in this country.

On Iloilo’s taxis

The talk about Uber vs taxi is a hot topic in many cities around the world and also in Metro Manila where Uber has gained a foothold and a strong following among mostly ‘former’ taxi goers. Many have stated that Uber provides the service that taxis should have been providing. Uber vehicles are supposed to be of newer models and drivers are supposed to be screened carefully. Uber even has a feedback mechanism not just for drivers but for passengers as well. Basically, Uber provides the quality of service everyone wants to have on regular taxis. The irony of course is that regular taxis are supposed to provide a higher quality of service compared to other public transport modes considering it is basically a for hire car short of a limousine service. But then this begs the question: If you had good taxi services in your city, would you still consider Uber? Or perhaps would Uber have a lot of demand in a city with good taxi services? Perhaps there will still be a demand for Uber but the clamor will not be like that in Metro Manila. And there are few cities with ‘good enough’ taxi services that can compare with Uber in terms of quality of service.

A good example of where there are ‘good enough’ taxis and there is a healthy competition not between Uber and conventional taxis but among taxi operators themselves is in Iloilo City. We have discovered many years ago that Iloilo City had one Light of Glory taxi company that is very popular among Ilonggos and visitors as the drivers were generally more honest than others and they had an efficient dispatching system including desks at the airport and a major shopping mall.

 IMG_1180Light of Glory Taxi at the airport parking lot

2015-12-09 07.26.50Light of Glory has its own app, which you can get for free and install on your smartphone. It is not as sophisticated as Uber’s or Grab’s apps in terms of features but it gets the job done (i.e., getting you a taxi).

IMG_1181Dispatch sheet – note the attributes the company is trying to promote among its taxis: “Clean, Safe, Reliable, Comfortable, Drug Free” These are attributes we all want of our public utility vehicles whether these are taxis, jeepneys, buses or tricycles.

2015-12-09 07.28.52Light of Glory taxi that dropped us off at the venue of our meeting straight from the airport

The Light of Glory taxis is a well run company. Their drivers seem to be treated very well by the operator (drivers claim they have a better compensation system) and generally drive better than other taxis. Their vehicles are also seem to be better maintained compared to others except a few of the larger companies like GDR. Everyone knows about the best taxi company in Iloilo and would most likely prefer their taxis over others if the choice is given to the taxi-going commuter. To compare, I remember the Comfort taxis of Singapore and how many Singaporeans and foreigners living in SG prefer these taxis over others. Comfort taxis have a good dispatching system and you can make reservations for trips in advance. Of course, there are additional fees for on-demand services including arrangements for pick-ups and drop-offs (e.g., your residence to the airport).

Grab a taxi

When we were residing in Singapore, it was so easy to book a taxi wherever we might be. Comfort Taxi’s booking system allowed us to get a taxi from our home to the airport or to avoid long queues at the mall by booking a taxi by phone and waiting for it at a designated stop nearby. With the arrival of GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi in the Philippines, getting a cab became a little easier and convenient though one friend opined that the app basically mainstreams the current practice of negotiating with the cab driver for the fees (usually higher than the meter fare for metered taxis) to be paid for a ride. Hindi pa kasama ang tip dito! This ‘negotiating’ is a ‘trial and error’ thing and in certain cases, there might not even be a negotiation for the fares as Metro Manila cab drivers are notorious for being choosy about their passengers and their destinations.

Here are a few screen grabs from a booking we made last month after having some difficulty getting a ride out of UP Diliman in Quezon City.

IMG11796-20150618-1809Information about the booking fees in various Philippine cities. The booking fee in Manila is conspicuously and significantly higher than those in other major cities.

IMG11798-20150618-1810Grab Taxi’s interface shows the number of taxis nearby, which is apparently the number within something like a 4 or 5-kilometer radius of our location (204 is a big number!). We were at Melchor Hall at the time and the most convenient pick-up location was at the National Center for Transportation Studies, which was behind Melchor Hall.

IMG11799-20150618-1810You can also check out the availability of more exclusive (and expensive) Grab services such as GrabCar and GrabCar Premium. When you slide to GrabCar, the status bar will also show how many drivers of that service option are nearby (i.e., 20 drivers nearby for GrabCar). GrabCar would be similar to the basic service (and vehicle) provided by the more popular Uber.

IMG11800-20150618-1810GrabCar Premium is probably the equivalent of the Uber Black Car service we have in Manila.

IMG11797-20150618-1809Another view of the user interface showing some (or many) of the 204 taxis nearby.

IMG11760-20150605-1904Here is an example of a message from GrabTaxi after it was unable to get a cab for us.

We were fortunate that the failed attempt at getting a cab was once only as we got a cab in our next try. This is despite all the cabs supposedly nearby. In reality only those who are willing to go to my destination from Quezon City will initially be interested in taking my request via the app. There is also a gratuity feature of GrabTaxi that allows the user to indicate how much he/she would be tipping the driver on top of the fare and booking fee. In the end, I guess my stating a very generous tip ensured my successfully getting a cab. For this, my friend’s opinion seems to be true that apps such as GrabTaxi mainstreams or makes the negotiations formal and a given when using the app. It, however, already eliminates the part where the prospective passenger gets turned down by the cab he/she hailed. When a cab responds to a request via GrabTaxi, EasyTaxi or even Uber, the driver already agrees to the terms of the deal regarding the ride. And it is a good thing that these apps now feature feedback mechanisms (e.g., rating the drivers) in order to weed out those that are still uncooperative, greedy or want to take advantage of the need for taxi service.

GrabTaxi now has a new service, Grab Express, which is an on-demand pick-up and delivery service. This is a service already provided by other companies in the US that are now giving traditional or conventional courier/logistic companies a lot of competition. I would think there is a demand for such services especially in cities where documents and other stuff still need to be submitted to offices like reports, manuscripts, letters and others that need to be delivered in “hard copy” format.