JAKARTA: Thousands of Indonesian taxi drivers staged a violent protest Tuesday against Uber and other ride-hailing services, blocking major roads in the capital, clashing with drivers from app-based rivals and setting tires alight.
The protesters, who also included motorized rickshaw and bus drivers, adorned their vehicles with signs saying “stop illegal taxis” and rallied in front of parliament and the communications ministry, in an upsurge of anger at apps that the drivers say are threatening their livelihoods.
As convoys of vehicles brought downtown Jakarta to a standstill, the demonstration turned violent, with protesters jumping up and down on vehicles that refused to take part, while taxi drivers and rivals from app-based services clashed and hurled rocks on a main thoroughfare.
Commuters faced rush-hour travel chaos, with even the motorcades of President Joko Widodo and the vice president getting stuck in the gridlock, making both men late for a meeting.
Anger has been growing among taxi drivers worldwide at the challenge presented by US company Uber, one of the world’s most valuable start-ups, and a flurry of other app-based services that typically offer cheaper fares than traditional transport operators.
Herman, a 49-year-old taxi driver involved in the Jakarta protest who goes by one name, said his earnings had dwindled from around 250,00 rupiah ($20) a day several months ago, to almost nothing due to the increased competition.
“I haven’t paid my rent, and I need to feed my three children and my wife,” he said.
The demonstration came after weeks of rising tensions between traditional public transport operators in the sprawling, traffic-clogged metropolis of 10 million and a flurry of new ride-hailing services.
As well as Uber, Malaysian app Grab and homegrown motorbike taxi-hailing app Go-Jek are providing stiff competition for Jakarta’s taxi drivers.
Traditional taxi, motorbike taxi and other public transport drivers are angry that the new services are offering rides at lower prices, claiming they are not paying taxes, and are operating without official permits.
“Why should thousands of people who didn’t pay tax, get a permit, or undergo car checks roam the roads freely while we have had to fulfil those duties?” said Yohannis Rorimpandey, a protester who works for Blue Bird, one of Indonesia’s biggest taxi groups.
After rallying outside parliament, a large group of protesters moved to the communications ministry, demanding that the minister block the apps.
Uber and other app-based services currently operate in a legal grey area in Indonesia, and there is an ongoing debate in the government about how to handle them.
Indonesian law gives a narrow definition of “public transport”, which does not include the ride-hailing apps, and the transport ministry has sought to ban them.
However the communications ministry has refused to block the services, saying that it is committed to supporting the growth of the digital economy, and President Joko Widodo has also backed the apps.
Jakarta police estimated that up to 6,000 drivers were involved in Tuesday’s protest, and 6,000 police were out on the streets for the protest.
It was the second anti-app protest by drivers in the space of a week, but the first was on a much smaller scale.
There was little sympathy for the protesters among commuters caught in the rush-hour travel chaos in the heaving capital.
“Must it be anarchy? This only scares passengers and makes them prefer app-based taxis,” said Twitter user Petricia Yuvita.
And there was no sign that the government was ready to give in to the protesters’ demands.
“You can’t defy technology, it just needs to be regulated,” said Vice President Jusuf Kalla.