BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -The announcement by the Transport Ministry to legalise ride-hailing services by March 2020 comes in good time.
The Internet economy has, for the first time, crossed the $100 billion (S$136 billion) mark, according to a report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company.
The government is taking steps in the right direction to make sure that Thailand is well-positioned to reap the financial benefits of a booming industry.
The demand for ride-hailing services across the region is undeniable, with the number of active users ballooning five times to reach more than 40 million today, from just eight million in 2015.
For Thailand, the gross merchandise value of its Internet economy shows a growth rate of 29 per cent since 2015.
However, as regulators in Thailand begin to craft guidelines around the implementation of a ride-hailing framework, there are several areas that we must continue to watch carefully.
Ride-hailing has already proved beneficial to citizens and visitors to Thailand as it offers convenience, safety, value and access to services that were previously difficult to obtain.
It is useful to look at some of the common aspects of best practices across the world to find a balance in ride-hailing regulation which keeps consumers at the centre while still giving business and innovation room to grow.
Firstly, governments strive to develop policies that bring about the best benefits for their citizens. When regulating ride-hailing, countries like Singapore place the safety of passengers and commuters at the forefront.
Ride-hailing firms across the world have been innovating with safety tech features to give their users greater peace of mind, such as an in-app emergency SOS button, live location sharing via mobile GPS, and even more advanced tech like selfie recognition for drivers and passengers to deter potential crimes.
These innovations address public demands for greater safety in their day-to-day commutes.
The good news is that traditional players need not reinvent, as they can leverage these existing in-app safety features by tech companies, which are easily scalable and implementable for all users.
Setting minimum safety standards for all players in the transportation network will be a crucial step in serving the needs of our people – their demand for safe point-to-point travel.
Secondly, governments need to consider how to ensure a level playing field to empower all drivers across traditional and ride-hailing models to access equal economic opportunities through technology.
I have shared my opinion that ride-hailing is here to stay and will continue to play a significant role in uplifting the transportation sector.
At the same time, we must find a way for ride-hailing and traditional taxi businesses to co-exist.
Traditional taxis are a critical backbone of every country’s public transport network, and they continue to serve commuters through street-hails.
Seeing ride-hailing versus traditional taxi industry as an “either/or” choice is limiting.
The mindset needs to shift to how an integrated industry of drivers can continue to stay relevant to the changing needs of commuters, and how taxi drivers could use ride-hail jobs to supplement their street-hail income and earn better incomes.
Starting from a mindset of coexistence, regulations can ensure that all players integrate in a seamless mobility network geared toward serving the public’s critical transportation needs.
Associate Professor Saksith Chalermpong is the deputy director at the Transportation Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University. The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.