Anger on Vietnam streets over mobile apps
The emergence of mobile phone applications in Vietnam has threatened the livelihoods of thousands of traditional motorcycle taxi drivers, who have seen a dramatic decline in their incomes as they struggle to adapt to the changing times.
Le Van Nho, a 73-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, has been picking up passengers for more than 30 years at the same corner in Ho Chi Minh City, in front of the tourist market Ben Thanh, but he is not sure how much longer he can hold out.
“I know the city like the back of my hand, every shortcut to avoid traffic. But my job now barely gives me enough money to live. I used to earn at least 200,000 dongs per day ($A11.30), but now only between 80,000 and 100,000 ($A4.70) and $A5.60),” he told EFE.
The arrival of Uber and Grab — a Singaporean transport app very popular in Southeast Asia — to the market in the last two years has put traditional taxi drivers, generally made up of men with few resources, under threat.
Accustomed to negotiating the price with passengers before hitting the road, many motorcycle taxi drivers are unable to compete with the rates offered by these apps or with the convenience of booking the service with mobile phones and knowing the price in advance.
And it comes as more Australians look towards Vietnam as a travel destination. On Thursday, Jetstar declared Vietnam “the new Bali or Thailand” as it launched direct flights to the country with a mega fare sale.
Although Grab and Uber have recruited thousands of existing taxi drivers for their fleets, many refuse to join them because of their ignorance of new technologies, or simply because they refuse to give a percentage of their income to these companies.
“I was offered a job with Grab, but I’m too old to learn how to use a modern mobile phone. It would also be too costly to buy one for myself,” says Nho.
Sau, a 56-year-old motorcycle taxi driver who is stationed at a corner near Nho, says he refuses to be part of these companies out of principle.
“They play dirty. They are lowering prices because their drivers are usually young people who work temporarily. They are leaving poor people out of work. I don’t want to give them 15 per cent of what I earn,” he complains.
The conflict has deteriorated into violent confrontations in some areas of the city, with at least 65 Grab drivers attacked by traditional motorcycle taxi drivers in December.
According to Grab, which reported the assaults to the police and has demanded vigilance from the authorities, almost all the brawls have occurred near the airport and two bus stations, territories that the old-fashioned motorcycle taxi drivers consider their exclusive spots.
Van Thanh Sang, a 42-year-old independent motorcycle taxi driver working at the urban bus station, said he is not in favour of violence but believes it is important to reserve the territory.
“We don’t let them in. They stay in front. Some months ago, there were two people trying to catch passengers and then a fight was picked. Nothing has happened again. They can work, but they also have to leave us something,” he says.
Many drivers from Grab and Uber are now avoiding showing their distinctive work uniforms in these urban “conflict zones”.
“I don’t go to the airport or to the bus stations because I’m afraid,” says Hieu, a 24-year-old Grab driver.
Fellow Grab driver Pham Ngo An, 35, said he understands that there are exclusive zones for his rivals, as the arrival of digital platforms has greatly reduced their income.
“They earned double before. I am not in favour of violence but it is normal for them to defend themselves,” he says. “I think there can be work for everyone.”
Australian Associated Press - January 21, 2017