Penang Uber drivers revolt with ‘silent protest’

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GEORGE TOWN: Drivers with the Uber ride-sharing service went dark for the past seven days in a silent protest over their grievances on fares, trips and “mountains of complaints” being “ignored” by Uber management.

“We have been treated like low class drivers,” said Francis Loke, a spokesman for the drivers, at a press conference to air their complaints. He claimed the Uber management had ignored their complaints and discussions had broken down.

The chief complaint raised today was about their fare rates being slashed on April 29. Another complaint was about driving a longer distance to reach the customer than the length of the actual trip for which they are hired. Loke said the drivers were also concerned by Uber management’s apparent disregard for their safety.

“Many new and old Penang Uber drivers have been suffering in silence. We have been treated like low class drivers. So this press conference is to get the public to understand the predicaments we face daily,” he told reporters.

Loke said drivers were unhappy at the fare rates being slashed beginning on April 29. There is no more starting fare at flag fall, and trips are charged at 50 sen per kilometre and 20 sen per minute.

In contrast, when Uber began in Penang last year, the rates were RM3.50 starting fare at flag fall, 70 sen per km and 40 sen per minute.

Uber takes 20-25 percent of the fare as a fee.

Loke said drivers would be happy if the reduced rates were removed as well as “surge pricing” abolished. With surge pricing, Uber charges customers higher fares when there is high demand for cars or a low number of drivers on the road: fares are multiplied, from 1.5 times onwards.

“We want them to remove the surge rate and incentives and replace it with  flat base rates of RM3 followed by RM0.60 per km and RM0.30 per min,” Loke said.

Drivers also complained about the “long trip short ride” problem, when they travel a longer distance to be hired for short ride by the customer. They wanted Uber to reduce the search radius from 10km to 3km. “They verbally agreed but sad to say nothing was done,” Loke alleged.

Former Uber driver M. Thayalan, 31, said a 35km trip from Penang airport to Batu Ferringhi would cost the customer RM19 with the present rates, which he said was too low for him.

Loke also claimed complaints to Uber management would only result in fares being cut further. “Whenever we discuss, they lower the fares. And they impose other conditions. What is the use in talking to them then?”

Loke said the drivers were hesitant to file any more complaints, fearing suspension. He himself has been permanently suspended, he said and claimed Uber did not provide any explanation.

Loke said Uber suspended him for “a policy breach” and claimed that Uber did not explain exactly what he had done wrong.

He also claimed that Uber had shown no concern about an attack by a taxi driver on a Uber driver at Penang airport two weeks ago. “Our safety was of no concern, they did not do a thing,” he said.

Loke added Uber must heed suggestions by their Penang drivers. He said Uber “does not know the Penang market well and does not take feedback seriously. We want to know what the management can do in the next three to six months. We want fair and reasonable rates. With this current rate, we do not think we can survive,” Loke said.

Uber is a ride-sharing service in which customers use a mobile phone application to hail private drivers for trips. The service began on Penang Island last May and expanded to mainland Seberang Prai this year. About 2,000 people have signed up with Uber as drivers.

FMT is awaiting a response from the Uber management to the drivers’ claims.