By NINIEK KARMINI
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Thousands of taxi drivers caused traffic chaos in the Indonesian capital March 22 in a rowdy protest against what they say is unfair competition from ride-hailing apps such as Uber.
TV footage showed long lines of taxis and three-wheel minicabs blocking a central expressway, men setting tires alight and jumping on vehicles that refused to join in the protest. An Associated Press reporter witnessed drivers surrounding one taxi, forcing its terrified female passenger on to the road with her luggage.
It is the second major protest by taxi drivers in Jakarta this month. They say competition from ride-hailing apps, which don’t face the same costs and rules as regular taxis, has severely reduced their income. Many come to Jakarta from other parts of Indonesia and support their families as taxi drivers.
Driver Jeffrey Sumampouw said his earnings have slumped more than 60 percent since Uber and other apps starting getting popular in Jakarta about a year ago.
“The government must defend us from illegal drivers who have stolen our income,” he said. “We almost cry every day because it’s difficult to get passengers.”
Smartphone-based apps such as Uber have turned the public transport industry on its head worldwide. In the U.S. and Europe, the apps have been acclaimed by urban customers tired of struggling to find cabs, while taxi companies accuse the mavericks of running unlicensed services.
Uber has been making a big push into Asia, intensifying competition in a region where there already was a slew of ride-hailing apps such as Malaysia-based Grab, which operates in several Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia. An Indonesian startup Go-Jek, which hails motorcycle taxis, has also exploded in popularity in the past year.
The demonstrations elicited little if any sympathy from commuters in a city that already suffers massive congestion.
“This protest is so terrible. They really are rude and overbearing. I was very hurt,” said Dewi Gayatri, who missed her flight for a business trip to Makassar in eastern Indonesia.
“I still like Uber, and hope the government protects Uber, because it’s so easy to order and cheaper,” she said.
Officials have given mixed signals recently about how ride apps would be regulated. Indonesia’s president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has previously defended the Go-Jek app in particular as making life easier for Jakarta residents and refused calls to ban it.
Haryono, a driver for the Blue Bird taxi company who goes by one name, said he wanted to keep on working but couldn’t avoid the protest.
“I was forced to stop and join with them,” he said. “I cannot do anything because they look angry. It would be dangerous for me, my passenger and my vehicle if I denied their request.”