How Indonesia’s Gojek is redefining “on-demand”

By Will Duncan

Following our look into transport innovation in the Global South, we take Indonesia’s Gojek as a case study to examine Southeast Asia’s bustling on-demand transport market.

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Photo: findracadabra/Shutterstock

Born on congested streets

Jakarta might just have the worst traffic in the world. In serious need of solutions, perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the Indonesian capital became home to Southeast Asia’s most successful innovative transport start-up: Gojek.

More than 30 million people live in Greater Jakarta — the third-largest megacity in the world, behind Tokyo and Shanghai. Cars can barely move on its congested streets so locals tend to get around on scooters or motorcycles. After all, they’re smaller, simpler, and importantly, cheaper. As in countless other Southeast Asian cities and towns, the scooter is king.

Ojeks — informal motorcycle taxis — are widespread; often more appropriate than conventional four-doored taxis. In 2010, Gojek was born as a ride-hailing call centre with twenty drivers. Just a few years later, the Jakarta-based company launched an app and with astonishing pace transformed on-demand transport and service delivery in the region. Today, its principle service GoRide, has more than two million drivers in 203 cities and districts in Indonesia. It has expanded internationally into Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand, garnering an estimated worth of US$10 billion, making it Indonesia’s first “decacorn” start-up.

Armed with a fluency of the local market, Gojek has succeeded where Western competitors have not. Ride-sharing services in the busy cities of Southeast Asia tend to move on two wheels. While Uber has been in the region since early 2013, it was late to embrace motorbike taxis, waiting until 2016 to introduce two-wheelers. Gojek’s strongest rival, Singapore’s Grab, also happens to be a regional neighbour. Understanding how Southeast Asia works, how its people typically get around and access services, has proven to not only be an advantage — but essential. After years of competition, in 2018 Uber yielded to its rivals, ceding its ride-hailing and UberEats businesses to Grab in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, in return for a 27.5% stake and a seat on Grab’s board.

Lifestyle on demand

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Photo: findracadabra/Shutterstock

Offering rides on the back of motorcycles was just the beginning. After sufficiently disrupting Indonesia’s typically informal ojek market with a good quality app and a reliable payments system, Gojek, like its rival Grab, has quickly become a one-stop-shop “super app” with over twenty different services, broadening its offering to meet varied and evolving demands. What is striking throughout this expansion is Gojek’s business model, which places a strong emphasis on the role transport plays in all other service markets.

Food delivery quickly became a core element of Gojek’s business. Its GoRide motorcycle drivers could easily double as GoFood delivery people — there’s little difference in carrying passengers to carrying nasi goreng. But why stop there? GoMed offers home delivery for medicines and pharmacy products. Urban logistics are covered by GoSend and GoBox.

GoLife, a smartphone application, allows users to order from GoClean, GoAuto, and GoLaundry — each service is ordered and arrives at customers’ homes on-demand. GoGlam will send a mobile stylist your way; GoMassage lets you order a masseuse!

Despite expanding in several different directions, Gojek’s services are unified both in terms of the user experience, and the logistical networks. A single “super app” with consistent branding supports a sense of familiarity to customers. And each service is powered by Gojek’s locally-driven on-demand transport infrastructure.

This type of service integration within a single umbrella application is radically changing how companies and regulators alike understand app-based mobility services globally. Rather than non-transport sector players using transport providers as a service, Gojek has used its local expertise of how transport works as a springboard for expanding beyond its original business model. In the process, it has flipped traditional roles on their head by sub-contracting non-transport businesses rather than being contracted itself.

A new regulatory challenge

The service industry around the world is experiencing a major shift towards mobile-based on-demand business models. These changes can mean excellent news for consumers; they’ve typically offered greater choice, convenience, comfort, and often lower prices than what was offered before the on-demand disruption began. However, they also pose new regulatory challenges for countries in the Global South and North alike.

First of all, there are safety concerns. Policy makers must ensure that as the market shifts to on-demand gig-economy services, vehicle safety standards are adhered to. Drivers must be properly vetted and trained for the job. It’s worth noting that the rating systems built into most gig-economy applications tend to incentivise personal and professional responsibility on the part of drivers and, indeed, passengers who are also made more accountable for their behaviour. Nevertheless, governments must recognise their role in setting appropriate safety standards.

Then, regulators must confront the global headache that is the gig economy. In Indonesia, millions of people drive passengers, goods, medicines and the like for Gojek, for example, but they aren’t considered employees. This lack of formal employment represents a significant regulatory challenge, both in the Global North and South. It may also offer opportunities, however: in the Global South, to improve the welfare of workers in the informal sector; in the Global North, to create more flexible job opportunities. Gojek again leads the way in this respect, by providing health and accident coverage for its drivers while offering them highly flexible work arrangements.

There are externality issues to consider, too. New home delivery services and on-demand transport options ultimately contribute to more traffic on the roads — motorcycles or otherwise. This means that regulators must consider the traffic and pollution implications of new mobility services — from on-demand ojek services to mobile masseuses.

These challenges are common to countries across the world. And policy makers everywhere should approach regulation carefully. While the changes in the service industry require stricter parameters and oversight, governments risk forcing innovation out of their cities and industries, should their rules go too far.

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To learn more about global transport innovation, check out the ITF Corporate Partnership Board’s new report Expanding Innovation Horizons: Learning from transport solutions in the Global South.

Will Duncan is currently studying a Master in Public Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, and is an intern at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.

 

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Born out of need: How the Global South is driving transport innovation

By Will Duncan

The world’s emerging nations are fertile ground for radical and creative mobility solutions. Government-supported innovation is helping the Global South become a leading force in the future of transport.

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RT-Mart electric bus in China | Photo: Mars Hartdegen/Flickr

The transport sector is moving quickly these days. New technologies, shared services, and GPS are changing how we get from A to B. But perhaps one of the most interesting trends in transport is where, exactly, these innovations are coming from.

“The future of transport is in the Global South’s hands,” says Bambang Susantono, former transport minister of Malaysia and now vice-president of the Asian Development Bank.

It’s easy to see why: Twenty-seven of the world’s 33 megacities are in the Global South — a term that describes low- and middle-income countries in Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Extraordinary economic growth and rapid urbanisation have brought sudden change to the Global South. With progress comes a host of challenges — and, first among these is transport.

But need begets innovation. And thus, the assumption that innovation flows from rich to less prosperous regions, from industrialised to developing countries, from the northern to the southern hemisphere is being challenged. Inspiration for tomorrow’s transport solutions can be found in the Global South’s emerging nations by those who care to look.

Decades ahead

Take shared mobility. No other topic preoccupies city officials, transport planners and entrepreneurs in the industrialised North today as much as the question of how to get more than one person into a car built for four or more.

In the South, it’s been a reality for decades. “Shared mobility is everywhere when I travel cities as a global researcher,” says Fábio Duarte, Professor of Urban Planning in Curitiba, Brazil. “I take taxis in Brasília, hold on tight to ojek motorcycles in Jakarta, or figure out how to reach my destinations with matatus in Nairobi.”

Durante says that “thinking of shared mobility as a novelty is a narrow view held in the Global North”. It ignores the creative ways that societies with few cars and inadequate public transport are coping with the lack of options.

WhereIsMyTransport, a UK start-up, secured USD 1.5 million in funding in 2016 to create an accessible and accurate data service for Cape Town’s formal and informal transport routes. Informal shared minibus routes make up a significant proportion of the city’s commutes, which is typical of many cities outside of Europe and North America. WhereIsMyTransport’s digital map has made these services visible. They’re presented as complimentary or, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to any other way to get around the city.

After securing further investment, the company has expanded its data and mapping service throughout Latin America and Asia. A recent project saw informal transport in Mexico City mapped to include over 30 000 informal minibus routes.

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Formal and informal transport networks in Gauteng, South Africa. Source: WhereIsMyTransport

The South is electric

Electric mobility is another example. Despite ambitious pledges, the share of electric vehicles in the Global North remains marginal: just 2.5% of 2018 car sales in the UK were electric, 2.1% in France, and 1% in Japan. Only Norway stands out, with just under 49.1%.

The world leader in electric mobility today is China. Almost 99% of all electric buses and two-wheelers, and 40% of the world’s total of private electric cars can be found there.

This hasn’t happened by accident. The electric mobility revolution that is sweeping the Peoples’ Republic is the result of deliberate government policy. Beijing’s regulatory push mixes substantial investment into research and development, and strict emissions standards designed to force out internal combustion engines with targeted subsidies that have reduced risk for transport operators looking to adapt to the new cleaner technology. Thus, research, industry, and government are steered towards a prevailing direction, turning the country into a world market leader.

Both national legislation and city halls are in a position to provide the “enabling framework” for healthy competition, innovative ideas, and for market disruptions with the potential to greatly benefit citizens.

Emerging nations find themselves with greater freedom to innovate, as they tend to be less restricted by the historical legacies of some more developed countries. “Developing countries can break the mould of traditional transport,” says Susantono. ”The Asian car market is less wedded to internal combustion engines; hence the region now has the largest share of e-vehicles worldwide,” Susantono explains. “In this dynamic, governments of the Global South can be the leaders of change.”

In a further article looking into transport innovation in the Global South, we take Indonesia’s Gojek as a case study and examine Southeast Asia’s bustling on-demand transport market.

expanding

To learn more about global transport innovation, check out the ITF Corporate Partnership Board’s new report Expanding Innovation Horizons: Learning from transport solutions in the Global South.

Will Duncan is currently studying a Master in Public Policy at Sciences Po in Paris, and is an intern at the International Transport Forum at the OECD.