Barely a day goes by without local news sites reporting yet another incident involving Go-Jek, Indonesia’s motorcycle ride-hailing app, which gained a ton of momentum this year. Media outlets – Tech in Asia included – scrutinize each turn along this young company’s way because it’s a captivating story. Go-Jek is the poster child of Indonesia’s new, digital economy on the rise. And it’s not always a pretty picture.
It began with “traditional” ojek drivers protesting the new, app-based on-demand system Go-Jek introduced. Ojek is the Indonesian word for independent, informal motorcycle taxis.
Go-Jek couldn’t be stopped. Its promise to drivers (more income, more efficiency) and passengers (more safety, cheap promo fares) overpowered doubters. Mid-year, Go-Jek signed up tens of thousands of new drivers onto its partner network in a mass recruiting event. But more drivers also meant more trouble.
Crackdown on fake bookings
In the past weeks, some Go-Jek drivers became vocal about their disappointment with the company. Changes the company made to the drivers’ compensation structure led to a small demonstration in Jakarta. The recent suspension of some 7,000 drivers for alleged fraud led to larger protests in Denpasar. Similar scenes were reported in Bandung.
It’s possible some drivers are gaming Go-Jek’s booking system. This could be done by creating fake bookings, say from a friend’s phone. The driver snatches up the booking and collects the payment, but never actually performs the ride. But protesting drivers insisted they had done nothing wrong. They also said they weren’t given a warning before their suspension, and that the fines Go-Jek asked for were outrageous.
Go-Jek founder Nadiem Makarim, in a brief statement, argued the company collected sufficient proof against these drivers, and needed to take a strong stand to discourage future fraud attempts. But just like it’s possible some drivers did cheat, it’s possible some were wrongly snatched up by Go-Jek’s fraud detection algorithms. Go-Jek does not reveal how, specifically, it defines fraud. A company spokesperson told Tech in Asia that Go-Jek does have a process in place to deal with each driver’s suspension case by case.
7,000 drivers is a small number, when viewed in relation to the 200,000 drivers Go-Jek claims to have in its network. Put bluntly, Go-Jek can afford to piss off, and even lose some drivers. The incident, in the eyes of some, left the company looking evil. It coldly suspended drivers and dictated the rules of the game.
Many drivers still identify with the company despite the controversy, and are proud of their profession. The existence of make-shift Go-Jek driver cafes in many parts of the city is proof.
Go-Jek drivers gather at spots like the Gojek Warkop on Jalan Satrio in central Jakarta to take a break, to gossip, pass along information, help each other solve technical problems, and to recharge their phones and nicotine levels.
Hidayat, Sadarno, and Lokot are three drivers I met at Gojek Warkop. They were thoughtful and extremely well-informed about recent media coverage on Go-Jek. All of them joined the company about four months ago, as part of the mass recruitment effort in August. Together, we identified three areas the company could improve in to shed its evil image.
1.How it treats driver partners
None of the three drivers I interviewed ever received a suspension, but they agreed Go-Jek’s communication with drivers could be better.
“We are called partners, but we’re not involved in decision-making,” Hidayat said. He was the most talkative of the group. “When they changed the tariffs, we had no say in this. If we were truly partners, we should be involved.”
Hidayat also criticized the company for hiring too many drivers, too fast. “It used to be that we were all a team, supportive of each other. Now, we are competitors.” It’s more difficult to get bookings these days, he said. Hidayat thinks GrabBike does a better job at pairing supply with demand. “GrabBike hires in waves, and makes sure each wave of drivers gets enough rides.”
Where before Go-Jek drivers could remain stationary and wait for bookings to come in, they are now expected to roam around and search for passengers proactively. Clever drivers found a workaround in using the app “FakeGPS,” Hidayat told me. With this app, drivers can pretend to be at different locations, to search for orders without tiring themselves out. But using this app, Hidayat says, is now forbidden.
It’s not clear whether using this app constitutes one element of fraudulent behavior in Go-Jek’s consideration, or how it detects if drivers use this app. When asked about its stance on FakeGPS, a company spokesperson declined to comment. Hidayat insists using FakeGPS isn’t wrong, because the bookings taken via this app are real.
Go-Jek drivers do not have a formal organization or representative body – there isn’t anyone to speak on behalf of drivers in an argument with Go-Jek’s management. Building a representative body is something Go-Jek could help facilitate to mediate future conflicts. In the US, app-based drivers associations are starting to emerge.
2. Focus on the core product
Go-Jek’s app is very often “error,” everyone agrees. “Error” being Indonesia’s universal word for buggy and unreliable. As a regular Go-Jek passenger, I’ve had that experience myself many times. Bookings freeze or can’t be canceled. If the app’s functions fail, the call center is difficult to get through to. Drivers seem to be experiencing a similar unreliability. If drivers are judged based on the number of double bookings, cancellations, and other data tracked by the app, Go-Jek’s priority should be to increase the app’s performance and reliability.
But rather than dedicating itself to increasing app stability and the flawless functioning of its core products, Go-Jek rolled out new features, and has another major product announcement lined up for the new year.
3. Release more data
Of the three drivers I spoke with at the cafe, none had been a traditional ojek driver before. Hidayat worked at a hip restaurant in the business district, but decided to give Go-Jek a try because he wanted more freedom. Lokot and Sadarno were both peddling other jobs on the side. Driving motorcycles for Go-Jek, to them, is just one source of income.
But they all voiced concern for drivers who relied on Go-Jek entirely, and even suggested those who don’t have other jobs should be given more bookings.
Go-Jek sits on a wealth of data about people working in the informal sector, and it wants to play an even bigger role in Indonesia’s services industry with its cleaning, beauty salon, and massage services.
Go-Jek could improve its public image by releasing more data. How many of its current partners rely on the service for a living? How many do it part-time? How many have made the switch from being a traditional independent motorcycle taxi driver to joining Go-Jek? This would help understand the impact of on-demand services, and would at the same time deliver valuable data about Indonesia’s informal labor sector.
Loyalty not guaranteed
Hidayat, Sudarno and Lokot accept that Go-Jek is an opportunity they have now, but that it might not last. “We got by before Go-Jek, and we will get by without Go-Jek,” Hidayat concludes. He says he is still loyal with Go-Jek for now, but would also consider trying out other motorcycle services, if those offered better conditions. Drivers pay attention to the details: they criticized Go-Jek for limiting the opportunities to withdraw money from their accounts. GrabBike, on the other hand, transfers the money, which they find preferable.
Can Go-Jek keep the loyalty of its supposed network of 200,000 drivers once the days of cheap promotions for passengers are over? There are plenty of alternative apps waiting for the opportunity to carve out a niche. One of them is the up-and-coming Philippine startup U-Hop, which has plans to come to Indonesia with its own on-demand motorcycle fleet this month.
U-Hop founder Marvin Dela Cruz is quite critical of Go-Jek. He says drivers “deserve better.” He believes U-Hop’s system, which offers monthly subscriptions for regular users, is much better at providing security for the drivers, because they get a fixed base rate. U-Hop will even end up costing less than the existing on-demand motorcycles for subscribers, claims Marvin.
Go-Jek will soon face competition from companies with new ideas, alternative driver compensation models, and a pronounced “pro-driver” attitude. It should start shedding some of its “evil” ways to retain user confidence and driver loyalty.
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