Sun, Jan 03, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Female-only motorbike taxis dent market

AFP, JAKARTA

Female motorbike taxi drivers in headscarves zig-zag through heavy traffic in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, the latest two-wheeled transport service for women making a dent in the male-dominated world of ride-hailing apps in the Muslim nation.

A flurry of new motorbike taxi options have in the past year appeared in the metropolis of 10 million, led by popular service Go-Jek, giving Indonesia’s growing middle class a greater choice of transport to get through some of the world’s worst traffic jams.

The services — many inspired by ride-sharing app Uber and accessible on smartphones — are a challenge to traditional motorbike taxis in Indonesia, known as ojeks, which are ubiquitous, but have drawn criticism with their disheveled, dangerous drivers and unpredictable pricing.

Several services with women drivers entered the market last year after years of growing piety in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, and amid heightened safety concerns following reports of attacks on women by male motorbike taxi drivers.

They are in part designed with religious sensitivities in mind, as an increasing number of Muslim women wear headscarves and follow strict interpretations of Islam that forbid close contact with the opposite sex, except between married couples.

“The need for transportation for women is huge, especially in big cities where rates of crime and sexual harassment are very high,” said Evilita Adriani, cofounder of motorbike taxi company Ojek Syari.

Popularly known by its nickname Ojesy, it is the service that aims most clearly at devout female passengers, requiring its drivers to be Muslim women wearing headscarves and loose-fitting clothes.

Ojesy drivers can currently only be hailed by a telephone call or through mobile messaging service WhatsApp, but the service is also developing an app that was being tested out this month.

The service, which began in Indonesia’s second-largest city Surabaya in March before expanding across the main island of Java, only accepts female passengers or children.

“I feel more comfortable sharing a ride with a fellow Muslim woman,” said Nurlaila, a Surabaya housewife who goes by one name. She uses the service to take her children to school — a common practice in the nation where whole families often travel squashed together on a motorbike.

“Thank God for Ojesy,” she said.

The company said business is booming — after starting in March with Adriani as its only driver, it now has 350 drivers.

Other motorbike taxi companies vying for a stake in the female market include app-based service LadyJek, whose drivers dress in pink jackets and helmets, and Sister-Ojek, a start-up that began operations earlier this year with capital of just US$100.

Indonesia stands out for the number of motorbike taxi services aimed at women that it boasts, with female drivers relatively rare in many developing nations where the mode of transport is popular, but they do exist in some other nations, including in Liberia where a group of female drivers, sick of being robbed, took to the wheel, reportedly donning pink helmets and jackets and calling themselves “The Pink Panthers.”

The trend for motorbike taxi-hailing services started in earnest last year with Go-Jek in Jakarta, a general service for anyone wishing to order a motorbike ride, which was quickly followed by others such as GrabBike and Blu-jek.

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