KUALA LUMPUR • Traffic came to a standstill yesterday morning in downtown Kuala Lumpur for some two hours as about 100 taxi drivers staged a protest against ride-hailing apps Uber and GrabCar.
But the protest fizzled out after police moved in to arrest five protesters and towed away the cabs that had not budged.
The protest was held outside the popular Pavilion shopping centre along Jalan Bukit Bintang in the capital city's tourist district, with the vehicles blocking the main road into the area.
The protest yesterday followed a demonstration against the ride-hailing apps in Jakarta last week involving 10,000 taxis and three-wheeled bajajs, with some cabbies attacking vehicles that were still ferrying passengers and setting fire to tyres.
Several dozen Malaysian cabbies had taken to the streets in a similar protest last November.
Police yesterday spoke to the head of the protest group at 11.30am, advising the crowd to disperse. But some refused despite being given a 15-minute period to drive away.
According to the area's police chief, Assistant Commissioner Zainol Samah, the protesters blocked Jalan Bukit Bintang by lining up their taxis there.
Among those detained by police was Malaysian Taxi Driver Transformation Association deputy president Kamarudin Mohd Hussain. "We were there to protest against Uber and GrabCar," he told The Star via mobile phone as he was being taken away by the police.
Like in many other cities around the world, the KL protest was the latest in an ongoing conflict between conventional taxi drivers and popular ride-hailing apps, which have surged in popularity in the past two years.
Malaysian cabbies want stricter controls on these freelance taxis, such as more stringent checks on their drivers and vehicles, and for them to get proper commercial vehicle licences. Some drivers of these ride-hailing apps were assaulted in KL previously and their cars vandalised by cabbies frustrated by the authorities' lack of action despite months of complaints.
In Singapore, private-car hire drivers such as those operating under Uber may soon be required to have a vocational licence, under regulations expected to be announced next month.
Responding to the protest, Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission (Spad) said yesterday that Uber and GrabCar are on the way to being regulated. "The commission is undertaking efforts to ensure applications such as Uber and GrabCar are brought into the system and regulated. However, this move will require time," a spokesman said in a statement.
He said Spad is aware of problems faced by the taxi drivers, and is trying to find a solution to improve their collective welfare.
"Spad will continue to engage the taxi industry and relevant stakeholders and balance the need to protect commuters' interest for better service," he said.
Following the protest in Jakarta last week, the Indonesian authorities have ordered Uber and Grab to partner local transport businesses and register their cars by the end of May. The Transport Ministry said cars working for the app firms must register and team up with a local partner by May 31 or face a ban.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK