As you are probably aware, Uber is here! And, with the brave entry of another of Silicon Valley’s hottest developers into the Myanmarket, it is time for a round-up and evaluation of Yangon’s foremost taxi services:
Grab is a Singapore-based firm, with a business model that emerged from the notoriously difficult Malaysian taxi market. Following a rapid expansion programme, they now operate across Southeast Asia. Stealing a march on Uber, Grab has been available in Yangon since March. The company’s app is comprehensive, intuitive and reliable in displaying nearby drivers and providing quick and accurate wait times. The company gives the option of card payment (currently not possible in Yangon) and allows you to schedule future rides and save favourite routes. There is also a responsive support function.
The only previous time that I have attempted to use Grab in Yangon was in desperation at 3 a.m. when I needed a lift to the airport. Unsurprisingly, there were no pixelated drivers zipping along the virtual map of Yangon. Next time, however, was different, and showed why most people’s first response when you ask about cab services is still Grab. A search from Sanchuang provided a whole host of options under five minutes from my door. After comparisons with a few haggle tired drivers, the price seemed to be identical to the going rate for a foreigner. Having now used the service a few times, I can confirm that, put plainly, it works, and Grab still has the comparative advantages of price, a large fleet of drivers, and a simple, intuitive interface.
In addition, the company is currently running a reward points scheme plus monthly promotion promo codes which is a smart way to compete in this increasingly competitive market.
Home-grown Hello Cabs have been in town for a while now, yet in April launched their on-demand metered cab service (an innovation in Yangon, a city used to haggling for a ride) with the introduction of a new app offering a relatively rudimentary interface: similar to Grab, yet lacking the polish.
My problem with Hello Cabs was simple – the app just did not seem to work. I tried multiple times to book a cab, but each time waited for five, ten, thirty minutes, and each time received no contact from a driver. Finally, as I believe in giving things seventh chances, I made one final attempt to summon a taxi with the app. Forty-five minutes later – after waiting, cancelling and jumping in a car which sat a few metres from my apartment – I got a call from a Hello Cabs driver, patiently sitting off my street. Was it time to say ‘Goodbye’ to Hello Cabs? Hopefully, my experience was just unusual.
After failing to get a cab with the app, I tried the website. It was here that Hello Cabs showed itself to be more than a simple taxi service. The company offers a huge range of rental options: their fleet contains most types of vehicles – saloon cars, vans, high-end rides, SUVs, and their services include self-drive, long-distance rides and simple cab journeys. The company is perhaps the most well established provider in this market, and these services are not offered by Uber and Grab by their very nature. These services were not evident from the app – something that, given the intensification of the Yangon taxi market, the company would be wise to play up. My advice to Hello Cabs: stick to what you do best.
Another local Myanmar outfit, Oway began by operating in the more traditional transport market, selling reasonably priced flights and bus trips throughout the country. This capability is factored into the new app – which works exceptionally well (as with Grab, the GPS lags a little and, regardless of where I want to be dropped, the app intriguingly and consistently tries to book me a ride to ‘Ward 31.’ But, as we know, the GPS and mapping systems of Yangon are not yet 100 percent reliable) and offers a full range of easy-to-use features to the customer. A notable innovation offered by the company is the “Track Friend’s Ride” feature, which should bring great comfort to anxious parents, impatient mates, and jealous spouses throughout Yangon.
My experience of using the app was also particularly pleasing. My driver called as soon as I booked the cab – terrifyingly quickly in fact – and confirmed that he would be rushing to my door. A pleasant cruise to Bo Yar Nyunt Street ended in the driver giving me a ridiculously low price, even when compared to a local cab. And it was the same story with my later journeys: responsive, professional and well priced. Overall, I’d vouch for Oway.
Uber was great when it was launched in London (and, no doubt, New York, Singapore, Tokyo etc.). It democratised the ridiculously overpriced taxi market, smashing the monopoly of the black cab and providing a service that was safe, legit and accountable to the customer. The app revolutionised the use of GPS in tracking traffic, and looked pretty damn sexy into the bargain. A few years on, despite the onslaught of competition, Uber’s simple, minimal, ‘pin-drop’ interface is still the slickest on the market, and the app works like a charm. And, after some – no doubt – hard fought negotiation from the American giants, we can now use Uber in Yangon.
First attempt – outside Sharky’s, Dhammazedi: legions of cab drivers vying for custom. Also, as will be the case with Myanmar for most of the next few months, it was raining hard. At times like this, it takes a lot of brand loyalty to order a ride with an app. When Uber told us that their nearest driver was over ten minutes away, we quickly jumped into the back of one of the queued cabs. Various mumbles from the guy I was with confirmed that most people had been given the same long wait times. Not a good start for old ‘Oobs.’
I tried again one day later and was picked up in a regular taxi. This is unusual for Uber who usually hire private vehicles – maybe a stipulation of the contract in Myanmar to assuage the fears of the powerful grassroots taxi lobby? (Check with Reuters, confirmed.) The ride was, unsurprisingly, exactly the same as a usual taxi trip… except for the fact that I was given the price of the journey at the end of the trip, as, after a few nerve-wracking seconds of staring hopefully at a small screen, the driver’s complimentary smart device cautiously revealed it’s very cheeky fee.
Overall – judging on cost and wait times – despite Uber’s shiny interface and all it’s bell’s and whistles that work so well abroad, I can, as yet, see no discernible reason to use the service in Yangon.
Saying this, Uber’s bells and whistles certainly do outshine those of its competitors. It undoubtedly has the most user-friendly, well branded, and advanced app on the market. Because of this (and also because of the huge budget that Uber commands) when restrictions on drivers and cars are lifted in line with other countries that use the service, I have a hunch that Uber will prevail.
And the winner is…
The big boys are now all here. I tried them all, and they were all…. OK. In the future, Uber and Grab’s entry to Yangon’s taxi market will no doubt provide a boon to passengers everywhere.
Editor Note: The article was written during the trial period for some of the apps. It was first published in MYANMORE Magazine July issue.