The rise of Jakarta’s app-based couriers: Ojek a-go-go!

Our curious market researchers are always spotting and sharing the latest trends in business, tech and Asian consumer lifestyles.

When we spotted something that covered all three, we just had to take a closer look...

To our international clients, hopping into a taxi is a mundane reality of life. A quick thumbs-up to check whether your cab is free, those obligatory questions; ‘busy day? What time do you finish?’ and a fumbling exchange of cash at the end are about as exciting as things get.

You might not even need that last step. App-based taxi services like Uber have disrupted the traditional means of booking cabs, paying for them digitally and doing away with the time-honoured tradition of hanging about at a taxi rank. Uber’s rise has been meteoric, brushing off negative press by simply being a better option than what’s gone before.

Two wheels good. Four wheels bad

A world away, for our InsightAsia team in Jakarta, chariots await in the form of the ojek, motorcycle taxis. Owners of the city’s ubiquitous motorcycles often supplement their income by driving passengers around the city for as little as US$1for a common journey. Ojeks saw an explosion of popularity in the mid-90s as a popular response to Jakarta’s ban on cycle rickshaws, and have since become an Indonesian cultural institution.

Becoming an ojek driver is simple. There’s no licensing or control over who can do the job beyond the ability to drive a motorcycle. By law passengers have to be provided with a helmet, but the back streets of Jakarta aren’t just fantastic shortcuts; they also help avoid any unwanted police attention.

Why, you may ask, would anyone in their right mind risk the obvious safety risks inherent in such a form of transport? The answer is simple pragmatism. The modern Indonesian has places to go and things to do. Spending hours of each day stuck in Jakarta’s infamous traffic just won’t cut it, and in rural areas the quality of roads makes many areas inaccessible to four-wheeled vehicles. That’s where the nimble ojek comes into its own.

The evolution of app-based courier services

This free-for-all approach leads to the old stories of half a dozen people (or one fridge) teetering precariously on a single motorcycle, to tales of drunk ojek drivers and scams to take advantage of uneducated newcomers. One company is using mobile technology to try and change that.

Go-Jek style themselves as Jakarta’s personal time-saver, with an app that does away with haggling over the price of a ride at the roadside via in-app transactions and GPS tracking of your driver. A guaranteed helmet, as well as free face and hair protectors make the experience downright sanitary, and it’s all powered by more than 1,000 registered, green-jacketed drivers across the city.

So… it’s Uber for motorbikes, right? Well, not exactly. Go-Jek has been around for about a year operating as a taxi service. Recently, however, they introduced the masterstroke that’s brought them international attention. Go-Jek is now a fully-fledged courier service, delivering more or less whatever you want anywhere in Jakarta in less than 90 minutes.

Jakartans are big foodies, so the ability to order from your favourite restaurant without the hassle of driving there was an instant winner for Go-Jek. To draw customers in, the company ran an introductory offer where ordering food through their app meant you only paid for the food, there was no extra added on for the courier service.

Mobile stays winning

This ethos of speed and simplicity extends to all aspects of their courier service. Medicine, clothes, in fact anything under 1M rupiah is pre-paid for by your driver. The power of in-app cashless payments has trimmed 50% of the steps required of a traditional courier service.

GPS tracking brings an unprecedented level of accuracy to what was previously a haphazard means of moving consumer goods. This is refined further by letting users contact drivers directly to make sure they’re getting exactly the right brand, flavour or any combination of goods.

Go-Jek is ground-breaking, multi-award-winning and uniquely built around the needs of Jakarta’s modern citizens. In many ways it is the natural progression of services like Uber, taking traditional services and reinventing them with mobile technology.

Competition for a more consistent ojek service does exist in Jakarta from services like Handymantis and Wheel Line, but they’re services and not apps. No cashless payments, no GPS, no direct contact with your driver. It’s mobile that wins for Go-Jek and it looks like they’re very much on the cutting edge of Asia’s mobile services revolution.

Posted on June 1, 2015 and filed under News.