Editor's choice
29 May 19

Grabbing a Grab

Second instalment of an incidental series in which our journalists try out new ways of getting around. This episode: Global Fleet journalist Fien Van den Steen tries the ridehailing scheme Grab in Bali, Indonesia. 

Although Bali is known as a party and surf paradise, I’m spending the days here working on a project which requires me to move across the island in a fast, convenient and flexible. Considering traffic congestion, and the narrow streets, cars are not an option. 

On two wheels

A bicycle would be my favourite, but not in this melting pot of traffic where even walking is quite a risk. Add the long distances I need to cover, and I decide that a motorised two-wheeler would be my best bet. 

Yet, I lack a scooter, and an adequate driving licence to rent one – I know you can still try and bribe the police if you are caught, but let’s do it the legal way. So, I decide to go for a Grab, not a Grab car – what the ridehailing company is known for – but a Grab scooter. 

First date

Like any other ridehailing app, you can order your ride based on your location and your destination, which will be matched with the Grab riders' availability. My first ride goes to an interview about 35km away. I locate my position at my front door, point to my destination and the Grab app suggests two prices: the Grab scooter will cost me about 34,000 Indonesian Rupi (€2) while the Grab car will cost me four times this price. Definitely the most economic choice! And definitely the fastest one as well.

Once I opt for the Grab scooter, the app alerts the riders in the vicinity and in a couple of seconds I have a match. Immediately the rider sends me an ‘ok’ message, meaning he accepted my request and is on his way. It only takes him a couple of minutes to make his way to my home, which I can follow on the map. 

Confirm identification

One might call me paranoid, but the main reason why I opt for ridehailing, rather than taxis is safety. Especially after the time I nearly got beaten up by a taxi driver in Costa Rica and nearly got robbed by a taxi driver in Nicaragua, not to mention all the times I got in disputes about the price  – broken meters, road blocks or road constructions, you know the classic excuses for charging you more than you should pay. 

Fortunately, these issues normally do not apply to ridehailing: you know the identity of your driver and so does the ridehailing company, so this kind of issues should not happen, or they lose their job, or you write a bad review and nobody wants them to take their request. In addition, your route is tracked from the beginning to the end and most ridehailing companies have safety features in their application if anything goes wrong.

In addition, I often take a screenshot of my rider and ride and send it to someone I trust before embarking the route. 

Yet, I noticed that in Indonesia often a different rider and/or number plate show up since people share their scooters and own more than one. Hence, I adapt my strategy and ask them for my name and to show our ride on their phone. 

Off we go

Safety first as I said, so here Grab is off to a good start. Every scooter comes with 2 helmets, one for the rider and one for you. Excellent. 

Traffic is chaos, scooters are all over the narrow streets, going in all directions. Often to indicate your direction you just honk and assume others have noticed you. Especially in these traffic circumstances I have more trust in the local Grab driver than in myself, and here is why: they know the core of the roads, which is not only routing, but also 

  1. Every pothole in the road
  2. Every tricky point, such as narrow turns and risky crossroads
  3. The written traffic regulations ...
  4. ... and the unwritten traffic regulations, they know how to anticipate on other drivers’ behaviour and how to be predictable for others.  

Here we are

On the road I decide I want to get off earlier, so I tap him on his shoulder and ask to pull over. Which I tried on another ride as well but did not work because my Bahasi (Indonesian language) is not good enough, I’ll keep on practising! 

I pay him the amount in cash and return the helmet. Often in the ridehailing applications you can choose whether you want to pay in cash directly after the ride, or if you want to get the ride paid by credit card via the application. This is up to you, however in a lot of places you might find that cash is the only option since some drivers may not have a credit card and/or bank account. The good thing however is: you pay the exact amount as was told at the beginning of the ride. No scam, no negotiating. 

Free as a bird

When I see him taking off for his next ride, I head to my first interview of the day without carrying a helmet, and without the hassle of finding a parking spot. Moreover, since my second interview is at walking distance, I decide to walk there, while I’ll grab another Grab scooter to head to my third interview which is another 10km further. If I owned my own scooter, I would have had to drive the distance between the first and the second interview or I would have to relocate my scooter. Now I can focus on my interview without having to think of my vehicle, helmet or parking spot. 

I remember someone asking me why I don't rent a scooter ‘to have more freedom’. I guess this is freedom to me: on the road, I don’t have to worry about the traffic around me, either about the routing, while on location I don’t have to worry about a helmet to carry, a key to lose, or a scooter to park. The only thing I need to think of is my phone. 

Hence, to me, freedom is having my mobility in my pocket. A click on an app and I opt for the transportation mode I like the most. If the weather turns bad or I have more people or stuff with me, I can still opt for a Grab car, rather than a scooter. 

PLUS

  • Easy and flexible: download app and grab rides whenever and wherever you want. In addition, contrary to Uber rides, you can cancel the ride for free.
  • Safe and convenient: you know who will get you, where they take you, when and how much it will cost you. Hassle and scam free, and the ride is gps-tracked both in your phone and by the ridehailing company. The extra helmet they carry around is a plus – notice that many scooter riders here don’t wear a helmet at all.
  • Economic: Grab scooter rides are cheaper than the Grab car rides and much cheaper than taxi rides.
  • Worry free: not having to figure out routing, working out traffic regulations and conditions, and not having to carry your helmet, and park your scooter gives you an enormous freedom.
  • Environment: Grabbing a scooter ride is definitely more sustainable than grabbing a car on your own, not only in terms of direct emissions, but in terms of traffic congestion as well.

MINUS

  • The service does not work everywhere, especially in zones where taxi companies are in discussion with ridehailing services. I once had a Grab scooter driver make me walk 2 blocks to avoid angry taxi drivers. I don’t mind the walking, but I do mind the angry taxi drivers.
  • The availability of the riders can differ not only in various zones but also depending on the time. Chances are higher to rely on Grab during the day and evening than during the night for example. 
  • Not for anxious people, I advised another girl to take a scooter ride and she came off shaking, because she was not used to riding a scooter and to the chaotic traffic of Bali. Hence, be aware, you’re still on a scooter or motor bike. Love it, or hate it! I love it...
Authored by: Fien Van den steen