On a balmy night in Canggu, a resort village in the south of Bali, my wife receives a call from an Uber driver, his voice tense and insistent. He asks for our destination, violating Uber’s rule against drivers cherry-picking destinations to their liking and rejecting the rest. Hesitant to aggravate the only driver to accept our request, we relent. “In Tibubeneng,” my wife answers. But the Uber driver calls the deal off, saying, “I know that area, they beat up online drivers there. Dangerous.” After several more failed attempts with Uber, Grab and GoCar, we wearily look around the neighborhood, the empty streets reminding us that except for the rare (and occupied) taxis passing by, Bali has no comprehensive public transport system.

Just 4km away from Canggu lies our destination, Tibubeneng—an area of tourist inns crowned by intricate spires and surrounded by lush paddy fields, exuding Bali’s famed melding of elegance and rustic simplicity. But even the allure of Tibubeneng cannot hide the signs of conflict between technology and tradition. On walls, alleys and pavements, driver associations—mainly composed of taxi drivers—have put up tarpaulins and plastic signage forbidding ride-hailing app drivers from operating and warning passengers not to use them. For good measure, the signage depicts pictures of Grab and Uber cars defaced by bold red marks, hinting at the potential violence that could arise from defying these “prohibitions”. In Bali, first blood was drawn in 2017, when several men dragged an Uber driver from his car, beat him to a pulp and wrecked his car with rocks and wooden beams.[1]

A protest sign on a pole declaring a ban on Uber and Grab in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

This conflict in Bali is not an isolated case. Starting with the launch of MyTeksi (now Grab) in Malaysia in 2012 and the arrival of Uber in 2013, the entry of ride-hailing apps and online drivers across many Southeast Asian cities brought competitive pressure to drivers of conventional transport such as taxi cabs and two-wheeled taxis. The stakes are high.

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Godofredo Ramizo Jr.

Godofredo Ramizo Jr is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, studying the social impact of digital technologies and the platform economy. An Oxford Clarendon scholar, his dissertation investigates the effects of ride-hailing technologies in Southeast Asia’s gridlocked megacities.