Most tuk-tuks in Cambodia do not have meters. Passengers need to negotiate the price either before or after the ride. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)
PHNOM PENH: For many commuters in Cambodia, tuk-tuks are the way to go.
They can be found in most parts of the city and offer a convenient way for people to get to their destination. It is usually quite easy to hail one – all it takes is a nod, a flick of the hand or brief eye contact with the driver. Most of the operators have a Google Maps-like memory and are happy enough to take their passengers just about anywhere.
Yet, a tuk-tuk ride can prove to be a headache for some. In the less busy parts of the city, finding one can be challenging. And paying the fare is even more of a lottery as most of the tuk-tuks do not have meters. That means the cost of most rides is a guessing game, with passengers paying what they think the service is worth.
If they make a good guess, the driver will usually smile and speed off. Sometimes, though, a heated argument erupts at the destination when the driver and passenger cannot agree how much the trip should cost. Foreigners, who may not know the normal fare, are particularly vulnerable to this.
Many tuk-tuks can be found near the Royal Palace, a popular tourist attraction in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)
But that may change soon with PassApp Taxi, a tuk-tuk hailing mobile application that was recently launched in Phnom Penh. Developed by a US company, the app was introduced to the Cambodian capital by an unhappy passenger, who wants every tuk-tuk ride in the city to be an easy, stress-free experience.
“Nobody wants to bargain. Everyone wants to have an easy ride and pay according to how far they go,” said the 34-year-old owner from Kampong Cham, Pop Nimol.
Like many commuters, the father-of-one is fed up with poor tuk-tuk services. Some drivers have been rude to him. Others refused to take him on because he was not willing to pay extra during rush hour. “They’d say, if you can’t pay this price – which is very expensive – I’ll leave now.
“After experiencing this a few times, I decided ‘no more’.”
Screenshot of the PassApp Taxi app on mobile.
Just weeks after the rollout, PassApp Taxi has already gained some 200 users. More than 100 tuk-tuk drivers have completed the registration and the number of passengers is on the rise. “About 20 people are using the app each day. Most of them are foreigners,” Nimol said.
Cambodia is home to a growing number of foreigners and is an increasingly popular tourist destination. According to the Tourism Ministry, 3.7 million foreign tourists visited Cambodia between January and September this year – an increase of about 5 per cent from the same period last year. The number is expected to reach 5 million by the end of 2016.
For Nimol, it is an exciting opportunity. “Foreigners will like it because it’s very convenient for them. They can now travel with metered tuk-tuks.”
For many drivers, however, the idea of fixed-price trips is not a welcome change. “I don’t like it at all. I can earn more with the existing system. Foreigners give me more money,” said Sok Khon. He has been driving a tuk-tuk for five years and is not ready to embrace the app.
“I don’t want to use this app because I need more income,” said fellow driver Khom.
“I can earn more with the existing system,” said tuk-tuk driver Sok Khon, who is against the idea of meters. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)
Currently, tuk-tuk fares tend to differ between foreign and local passengers, with the latter paying less. With PassApp Taxi, however, everyone is equal.
Passengers are required to pay the minimum fare of 3,000 Riel (US$0.75) for the first kilometre. The meter then continues to charge 70 Riel (US$0.0175) for every 50 metres. By indicating a drop-off point, passengers can also see the estimated pick-up time, fare and trip duration.
“They can get a receipt via email too. If they want to complain, we have a hotline number they can call. Drivers who behave badly will be suspended from the service,” Nimol said.
PassApp Taxi is not his first business venture but rather a by-product of his other business entity EZGO, a metered tuk-tuk service that allows passengers to book a ride by phone. Nimol said most EZGO users are Cambodians living in Phnom Penh and the business is doing so well that his fleet of 40 tuk-tuks can hardly keep up with the growing demand.
“I’ve also found that the system takes too much time to locate and assign a driver, 5-10 minutes on average. So, I came up with PassApp Taxi.”
Drivers using the application will be charged 10 per cent of the fare for each ride. However, the service is free for them until next year, as Nimol tries to draw more drivers to his fleet.
“Cambodia is going to change,” Nimol said. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)
Currently, he partners with Cambodia’s biggest tuk-tuk association, the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), which has some 6,000 tuk tuks under its umbrella in Phnom Penh. The entrepreneur is also considering expanding the e-hailing service to cover Siem Reap and Sihanoukville in the near future.
Besides business interests, though, Nimol hopes PassApp Taxi will help improve the mindset of drivers and eventually transform tuk-tuk services in Cambodia.
“They’ll change their mindset. They’ll think if they don’t change and use a meter, they won’t have any passengers. Cambodia is going to change. It’ll become a good place for both tourists and Cambodians. No more cheating.”
Still, there are challenges for him to take on. Many drivers cannot read or speak English and, as a result, are unable to communicate with foreign passengers or use the English-language application properly. Some of them fail to turn up in time because the GPS navigation is not always accurate or they simply take a longer route. Others forget to start the meter at the pick-up point.
Nimol is working on this: “I’ll provide my drivers with some training, showing them how to use the app and how to treat passengers. By the end of this year, the app will support Khmer language too.
“I want Cambodia to be a modern country. Passengers won’t have to worry about bargaining or being treated badly anymore.”