How will Indonesia’s ban on online transportation services impact the already marginalised disabled community?

The growing phenomenon of online in-city transportation pick-up services has been widely welcomed and embraced by Indonesians who have long awaited affordable, high quality, and accessible transportation.  Several examples of such services that are immensely popular are Gojek, Uber, and Grab, among others.

For many citizens, especially those who reside in the densely populated city and whose monthly wages lag far behind the costs of living, buying a vehicle is an option many cannot afford. Therefore, this recent innovation in transportation services brought many a fresh solution.

More so, for people with disabilities, online transportation services have transformed and increased their quality of life, allowing them be less dependent on others. These services are more flexible, convenient, and cheap than conventional transportation, as they are organised by major firms influenced by the transportation facilities in more developed countries.

Banned by the government

Although this revolution has garnered support, it has also attracted criticism, primarily stemming from conventional taxi and Ojek services. Many have demonstrated opposition towards Gojek, Uber, and the likes entering their regions. Traditional Ojek drivers usually have limited knowledge on how to use smartphones or operate apps. In addition, these traditional drivers do not want to share their income with the companies they work for. With Gojek for example, drivers would have to give 20% of their income to the company, which is seen as a disadvantage.

Moreover, the credit system where drivers are required to show their attained credit points in order to receive their income is viewed unfavourably, deemed complex and not instantaneous enough. Lastly, the fixed price set by the apps is also disliked as drivers cannot negotiate prices, even though practically, overall income is still higher due to higher consumer demand.

This commotion between the drivers from online and offline services is prone to further conflict, especially in Yogyakarta, Solo, and in other cities where these firms have planned to expand. This rapidly mounting tension can lead to violence, with protesters damaging competitors’ vehicles.

Seeing these growing controversies,  local governments surprised the public with their response by siding with the protestors. They enacted policies to ban online transportation services from their regions, and revised Permenhub No 32 to apply upper and lower tariffs as well as driver’s quotas in line with traditional taxis. There are worries that these rulings will erode the relatively cheap fare of these online services.

The impacts on the disabled community

Even though there has been a growing debate in the Indonesian public about the issue, its implications on the disabled community has not been touched upon properly.

Public transportation facilities are currently far from disabled-friendly, rendering those with physical limitations virtually immobile. Moreover, the majority of  the disabled community in Indonesia are low-middle class citizens who are also financially incapable of buying car or customising their rides to cater to their specific needs.

Even if their income is in line with the minimum regional wage, it is highly unlikely they can frequently order a taxi service for daily mobility needs, due to its high costs.

Hence, the presence of online taxi services such as Gocar, Grab, and the likes provided much needed solutions to these issues.

Solution for the disabled

Using conventional Ojek is considered difficult for the disabled, because people have to find them at their stations, unless they personally know the driver and can give them a call. Although these stations are widely spread across the city, their location distribution is uneven and the distance between stations is far. They are also mostly located in crowded areas.

These Ojeks are also subject to availability, and often in the station there is no driver vacant. For the disabled, walking for miles to find stations is not an easy task to perform.

The nature of people with special needs who are less-mobile than their normal counterparts adds another argument that online transportation services are in fact urgently needed. These services mean that ordering a ride is only one click away. Disabled individuals just need to open the app, click order, and their ride will find them minutes later.

Another drawback of the conventional Ojek is the absence of a pre-determined fare feature in their service. The fare is set out by the agreement between the driver and the passengers. The charge’s uncertainty is clearly disadvantageous to the customers who are disabled, particularly to those who are blind, deaf, and are unable to speak. Not all individuals are able to easily communicate with others, much less able to negotiate.

In the online Ojek, the fee is calculated by a standardised system. The drivers cannot set their own price, neither can they ask for extra charges to be paid.

Moreover, cashless payment choice is also available. For many disabled people, storing money in their wallets can risk their safety.

Concerns over safety when using conventional ojek services remain high for the disabled. But Gojek, for instance, offers safety since the vehicles are constantly checked and properly maintained. In addition, Gojek drivers are equipped with a complete package of accessories such as a jacket, helmet, raincoat, and masks both for the drivers and the passengers. Customers with visual impairments also do not have to be worried about not being taken to their destination precisely because the GPS feature in the app is enough to guide the driver to the right locations.

This argument may be the most important of all. In the case of the conventional ojek, discrimination usually takes place when the driver simply does not want to serve a customer with disabilities. Some can rudely refuse, but more often drivers hide behind excuses like not knowing the address wanted by the client, problems with the machine, or they cannot take a passenger during a lunch break.

With online services, the system will automatically assign a client the nearest suitable driver. This feature will lessen the prospects of the disabled being discriminated against and being subjected to harassment.

On top of that, a feedback form that can be filled out by the customer based on his/her experience establishes a control system from management to the drivers. If the clients are mistreated they can submit a complaint towards the specific driver that can result in the issuance of a warning or in serious cases, dismissal.

Furthermore, the online ojek app also comes with variety of assistance services, ranging from food delivery, cleaning, and grocery shopping, prescribed drug and medicine delivery services, hence further offering accessibility for the disabled.

The government needs to rethink

By identifying the critical role of online transportation services such as Gojek, Uber, and the likes in providing a quality and affordable transportation service for the disabled community, it is important for the government to re-think their policies on banning these services.

Advising the conventional ojek drivers to join Gojek and Uber brands so that their services are professionally managed is an ideal solution. The adaptation of technology that allows such services to be readily accessible online can double the drivers’ income. On the other side, the experience and knowledge held by traditional drivers who know the area like the back of their hand is a valuable asset for online transportation services such as Gojek.

Hence, instead of feeding the notion that online and offline services are two opposing parties bound to face conflict, it is now time for the government to take steps to encourage collaboration among both to benefit us all.