Grab- a good alternative for travel

Grab is popular and legalized e-hailing services in Malaysia.

Note: It has been announced that Uber would be selling its South East Asia operations to Grab…hence both companies would no longer be competing.

Initially when Uber was not yet legalized in Malaysia, there were many negative reactions from taxi drivers….. so much so that once when I was taking Uber from KL Sentral back home, the driver was so relieved when I sat at the front seat (as there was newspaper report of Uber drivers being beaten up by taxi drivers).

When I was young and my mom brought us to visit Penang (decades ago), there were many illegal private car services (known locally as ‘kereta sapu‘) competing with the taxis. You would be standing by the road and a car will drive past to ask if you wish to take a ride. After the destination and charges are being agreed upon, the driver would then take us to our destination. Usually, the fares quoted are cheaper, however there is a safety concern as this was not regulated.

After enforcement came down hard on these kereta sapu, there were very less of such cars in the road when I went to stay in Penang years later.

With Uber and Grab car, I thought back of the times of the kereta sapu and how both services are so similar, with exception that the pickup, routes and fare calculation are recorded. Should there be an issue later, it is easy to track the driver.

My experience travelling with Uber.

Personally, I have not tried Grab car but many friends praise the service. I would engage Uber when:

  • I arrive at KL Sentral from the airport at the time when all train services have stopped. It is a relieved to be able to take Uber and pay only half the price of a taxi after midnight
  • When taking my mom to medical checkups or if she wish to visit a place with difficult parking. It is notoriously difficult to find parking at most hospitals even though you are willing to pay for it. Even though if you can get a parking, it is usually located far away from the clinic, making it inconvenient. Now when I take my mom for her checkups, I would engage Uber.

As for my friends, they would take Uber/Grab to get to the train station and some used Uber as a transport means to commute to and fro work.

The difference between Uber & Grab:

  • The final charges in Uber may change especially there is traffic jam or travelling at peak time.
  • Whereas for Grab, the charges are more or less fixed. Hence during peak hours, my friends prefer to take Grab

If you are visiting Malaysia, I strongly advise you to try our local Uber/ Grab services because:


  • The drivers are very courteous. I’ve had very positive experience when travelling with Uber. I find the drivers to be friendly and energetic. They seemed motivated at their jobs, perhaps it is due to the fact they are able to command their own hours. A former colleague of mine drives Uber to supplement his income and he said all he had to do if he decide to take passengers is to turn on his app and usually there would be a request. I’ve sat in taxis where the drivers had a bad day and once, a lady driver started talking foul language when sharing about her relationship with men
  • The car is usually clean and does not smell. Most of the time when I take taxi, the taxi really smells. However in all the Uber rides I have taken, the cars were all very clean and usually smells nice. I could see that the Uber driver takes pride in the car, most probably because they are using their own car to ferry passengers.
  • The charges are usually cheaper than taking taxi. Except probably if during peak hours – because for taxi drivers, their meters are calibrated to take account of peak time.
  • You usually do not need to give directions to the driver. When I sit in Uber, I just can take a rest and need not tell the driver where to turn as he would use Waze which would be able to guide quite accurately. Whereas when taking a taxi, I had to be on the alert and tell the driver which way to turn, especially if the driver is not familiar with the area. Imagine if he is ferrying a passenger who is also not familiar… well, he would end up going round and round with the meter ticking away
  • The Uber/Grab driver is not interested to earn more from you so he would try to take you to your destination at the fastest and a route with the least traffic jam (following Waze). Because after that, he may most probably have another pickup nearby.  Whereas, sometimes taxi drivers may purposely go for a longer route just to get more out of the meter. Note: However a friendly Uber driver did share with me that there are some black sheeps who tried to cheat- for example they purposely took a longer route and charged more…..if the customer lodge a complaint, Uber and Grab would investigate. He mentioned that for Grab, the driver’s earnings for the week may be possibly suspended.
  • Uber enables each customers to rate each driver directly for their services. The rating would affect the driver’s performance. If the driver constantly had complaints, the driver would be banned from driving Uber. Whereas for taxi, it is not user friendly for a passenger to give a compliment or to file a complaint. The passenger need to go through a lot of hurdle before the compliments and complaints get heard. However, it is unsure if any actions are taking against complaints such as rude drivers. Hence, most passengers do not bother to go through the hassle and for rude drivers, they would get away for years.

Then, would anyone else still use a taxi?

Yes, taxis would be useful especially for the older generation who are not tech savvy and do not use a Smartphone. Example is my mother who refused to have anything to do with a mobile phone. I’ve seen many older folks at bus stops and roadsides hailing taxis.

Also for someone or outstation visitors/ tourists who prefer the familiarity of taxi rather than looking around. It is easier to spot a taxi at a busy place than a car with a plate number (I think it would help if Uber could also provide the colour of the car).

There are also times for some unknown reasons the app on the phone does not work or the customer have not upgraded the app hence unable to use it for the ehailing service.

But of course this remains a minority as more and more people are using Smartphones today. Even though my mom does not want to use Smartphone, but literally all her friends are already using Smartphone and are on Facebook (I actually share photo and share messages with them using Whatapps).

Times would change and eventually it may come a time where taxis are hardly seen around anymore. In fact, many taxi drivers who have a family to feed would drive taxi during the day and Uber at night. They may even switch full time to Uber/Grab once they find the earnings are equivalent to driving a taxi.

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