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.

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.

 

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Of taxis and smart phones: balancing innovation and regulation

Sharon Masterson, Corporate Partnership Board, International Transport Forum

app-based-ride-taxi-servicesNecessity is the mother of invention – or is it? It could be argued that the time-honoured adage only holds when we know what we want or need. But what if we don’t? “If I had asked people what they wanted”, Henry Ford famously quipped, “they would have said ‘faster horses’.”

While the car was a revolutionary innovation, it was not immediately disruptive. Early cars were expensive luxury items, so the market for horses and carts remained intact until the Ford Model T created a mass market by making the new technology affordable, thanks to more efficient production methods.

What the transport sector is facing today in many areas follows a similar pattern. True, this time around, innovations are not as disruptive to the eye as motor cars replacing horses. Instead, current disruptive forces in the mobility sector hide under the hood of largely familiar-looking vehicles and in the invisible “cloud” – for instance in the shape of autonomous driving, electric mobility or app-based transport services.

But there are parallels. Take ride-hailing via smart phones: The technology has been on the market for several years. Not even the leading players like Uber or Didi Chuxing, its Chinese rival, have come to dominate the provision of mobility. They are rapidly gaining ground against the traditional forms of moving about in a car, however, and within a decade or two could well become dominant. In a recent survey in China, 8 out of 10 respondents aged 18 to 35 said they had already used a car-hailing app.

The potential of app-based transport has certainly fired up investors: Uber recently received USD 3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, and Didi Chuxing raised USD 7 billion from investors and lenders, including 1 billion from Apple. Today, Uber is the world’s most valuable start up, with a market capitalisation of USD 62.5 billion. Conversely, the Nasdaq-listed Medallion Financial, a huge provider of loans to buy taxi licenses, has lost well over 50% of its stock value since December 2014.

Policy makers in many countries have been caught somewhat off guard by the rapid rise of app-based ride-hailing platforms. In many countries, regulation has been lagging and policymakers struggle in balancing the need to ensure public safety, consumer protection and tax compliance with the potential benefits: higher efficiency of transport, better service, more transparency and the simple fact that consumers like the convenience of pushing a smartphone button to order a ride.

What has not been lagging is the response of those who could possibly to lose out. Legal action by traditional taxi operators has led to some app-based services being banned, operators fined, executives taken into custody, and even violence.

Against this backdrop, a reasoned debate about principles that can serve as a basis for regulators to set frameworks is urgently needed – and this is what we have been working for at the International Transport Forum with key actors. Uber and the International Road Transport Union (IRU, globally representing taxi drivers, among others) are both members of the ITF Corporate Partnership Board (CPB),  and we brought the two together at our 2015 summit of transport ministers. For the first time ever, Uber’s chief strategist David Plouffe and Umberto di Pretto, Secretary-General of the IRU, shared a stage to discuss what the rise of the shared economy means for transport. They agreed that new regulation was needed and just disagreed about how to move forward until that happened – demonstrating that constructive dialogue is possible, even invaluable in such a process.

As a next step, as part of the Corporate Partnership Board’s programme of work, a workshop was convened. Representatives from Uber and Lyft, the taxi industry, regulators, academics and other stakeholders came to Paris in November 2015 to seek points of consensus on regulation and identify persistent points of tension that need focused attention to resolve. The report emanating from that meeting, entitled App-Based Ride and Taxi Services: Principles for Regulation, will make fascinating reading for regulators. Among other things, it offers them four pieces of concrete advice:

  • Focus policy regarding for-hire transport on the needs of consumers and society. This will enable the development of innovative services which could contribute towards public policy objectives such as equitably improving mobility, safety, consumer welfare and sustainability.
  • Keep the regulation framework as simple and uniform as possible. Avoid creating different categories for regulating new mobility services. Regulators should seek to adapt frameworks to better deliver on policy objectives in innovative ways and not simply preserve the status quo.
  • Encourage innovative and more flexible regulation of for-hire transport services. Use data and the findings from data analysis for more timely intelligence to inform the policymaking process. Today’s data accuracy and availability mean that more than ever before, policymakers have tools at hand which enable them to take a more flexible approach to regulation and through monitoring, evaluate how these regulations are working, and adapt or streamline as necessary.
  • Work more closely with operators to achieve data-led regulation.. The emergence of digital connectivity and wireless communications has opened the possibility of new types of instruments that could allow better control of the efficiency and provision of services as well as giving authorities a completely new and transparent way of pursuing policy objectives.

The emphasis on the role of data here is particularly interesting. Do app-based transport services increase congestion or reduce it? Do they provide better mobility for people without cars or access to public transport, or not?  These questions, among the most hotly debated issues around the arrival of these services, can only be settled with enough relevant data. (“In God we trust, everyone else, bring data”, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg often said, quoting the eminent statistician W.E. Deming).

If regulators learn to work with those who have the data, and learn how to harness the power of this data, it will be for the benefit of businesses and citizens. We have also just published another report on data-driven transport policy. But – in the immortal words of Rudyard Kipling – that’s another story!

Useful links

The reports mentioned above are part of a series of Corporate Partnership Board reports. For more information, please contact either Programme Manager sharon.masterson@itf-oecd.org or Project Manager philippe.crist@itf-oecd.org

Recent ITF reports:

The sharing economy and new models of service delivery

Ministers, the business community, civil society, labour and the Internet technical community will gather in Cancún, Mexico on 21-23 June for an OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity

This article is co-published with the OECD’s Insights Blog.