Malaysian taxi boss apologizes for saying moto taxis ‘only for poor people like in Jakarta’ amid threat of protest

Motorcycle taxi drivers working for ride-hailing services Go-Jek and Grab demonstrate at a protest demanding higher tariffs in Jakarta on April 21, 2018. Photo: Lambe Ojol / Instagram
Motorcycle taxi drivers working for ride-hailing services Go-Jek and Grab demonstrate at a protest demanding higher tariffs in Jakarta on April 21, 2018. Photo: Lambe Ojol / Instagram

A dispute between neighboring countries may well have been averted after motorcycle taxi drivers (locally known as online ojek or ojol for short) in Indonesia threatened to hold a huge protest over a remark by a Malaysian taxi boss that they perceived to be insulting to their profession and their country.

Shamsubahrin Ismail, founder of Malaysia’s Big Blue Taxi Services, last week held a press conference in Kuala Lumpur in which he voiced his strong opposition to Indonesian decacorn Go-Jek expanding its motorcycle taxi hailing service to Malaysia.

Go-Jek is expected to enter Malaysia after the country’s government last week gave it the go-ahead to operate in the countrya U-turn from its stance against motorcycle taxis last year — pending the passage of legislation governing the operation of motorcycle taxi services. 

In his press conference, Shamsubahrin said that Go-Jek’s motorcycle taxi service was “only for poor people like in Jakarta, Thailand, India and Cambodia,” The Star Online quotes. 

Free Malaysia Today also quoted Shamsubahrin at the conference saying, “Gojek as a career will not ensure a promising future, our youths deserve better than that.” 

“Also, their culture is very different compared with ours. In Indonesia, their women can hug the rider (most of the riders are men) just like that but how about Malaysia? Do we want to see our women hugging the riders here and there?”

(Ed. note: There is no law preventing women from hugging male motorcycle drivers in Malaysia, and it’s likely that Shamsubahrin was echoing a similar statement made around the same time by an Islamic cleric in Selangor in his criticism of moto taxis.)

Shamsubahrin — who was found guilty of money laundering in 2015 but was acquitted in 2017 — threatened to organize a protest if the Malaysian government approved Go-Jek. But his words soon caused warning of another protest in Indonesia.

The Two-Wheel Action Movement Presidium (Garda Indonesia), a union representing the interests of ojols across the country, said they were insulted by Shamsubahrin’s statement and threatened to “surround” the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta and Malaysian consulates throughout Indonesia with up to 10,000 drivers in protest if the taxi boss didn’t apologize.

“Maybe this week we want mediation [with the Malaysian Embassy], maybe the Foreign Affairs Ministry, police or any other party can facilitate it,” Garda Chairman Igun Wicaksono said in a statement yesterday, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

Igun stressed that the protest is being planned solely by drivers. He said the protest will go on unless Malaysian diplomats in Indonesia give Garda an audience by the end of the week.

Go-Jek has yet to issue any statement regarding Shamsubahrin’s remark.

In a press conference today, Shamsubahrin apologized to all Indonesians and moto taxi drivers for his statement.

“I hope there are no demonstrations, in the interests and relationship between both countries,” he said, as quoted by The Star Online.

Garda has not yet stated whether they will go ahead with the protest or not in light of Shamsubahrin’s apology.

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