JUST like how the Internet has changed snail mail to email and Internet-based messaging such as Whatsapp has replaced short-message-service (SMS) as technology, market forces determine our relevance and have the power to change the conventional labels.
When transportation is connected to the Internet, new business models are created and begin to break into the market. They offer unique and niche solutions to specific problems that we didn’t realise were problems before.
Today, new types of ride-hailing services are constantly introduced to the Malaysian market, with niche solutions emerging to challenge norms of the automotive, transportation and mobility sectors.
This column has discussed in depth transformation of the automotive sector into the mobility sector, in which mobility-as-a service would be at the core of the evolution.
The recent discussion on the introduction of motorcycle based ride hailing was met with both support and criticism.
While the main intention was to offer more choices for the end users, and create new job and business opportunities, many argued that safety and socio-economic concerns must be addressed.
Thus, we must set aside our prejudice and dissect this issue with the appropriate nuance on the issues at hand.
It is worthy noting that some facts are important in forming a basis for our opinion on the matter.
Firstly, it has been made clear that this is not a monopoly, but it is open to both local and international players.
Secondly, the use of motorcycles for Internet-based commerce has gained popularity in Malaysia for a while now, and the issue at hand is — should we extend this service to ferry commuters, instead of only goods and other services?
Concerns of safety, security and “social decorum” create new opportunities themselves, thus providing secondary job and business opportunities that address those problems.
While safety of passengers has been a top concern, it opens the way for discussion towards better safety regulations and the introduction of technologies that have been long overdue to improve the two-wheeler safety, such as ABS braking, blind spot detection or even road maintenance standards.
Concern for the safety of female passengers is not limited to motorcycles, but also in car based ride hailing. Viewed positively, it creates new niche markets for “female-friendly” ridesharing services.
Most importantly, it adds a new range and dimension to the existing choices in public transportation, particularly last mile connectivity.
While the government and private sector can easily build the main network lines for rail and bus transportation infrastructure, ride-hailing caters to the intricacies of last mile connectivity to different localities, terrains or urban configurations.
The immediate consequence is that as motorcycle usage rises, so would the number of casualties, if an increase in road safety awareness among Malaysian riders is not implemented.
While we should not make blanket statements about all motorists, the general view among Malaysians is that driver’s attitude is not at an ideal point. More needs to be done to curb dangerous behaviour on our roads.
Most importantly, it is a serious issue that must be tackled not just for the introduction of different ride-hailing options, but also to ensure more connected mobility services are introduced globally.
If we look at countries within Asean that have achieved a significant penetration of motorcycle ride hailing — Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia — they are all within the top 15 countries with the highest motorcycle fatalities.
In Malaysia’s case, let’s look at the overall picture — with or without the introduction of new transportation and mobility models, the issue of road safety must be a top priority for the nation. Otherwise, global trends will leave us behind.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii)