Commuters in Phnom Penh no longer need to pick up a phone to call a taxi or flag down a tuk-tuk or a moto in the street.
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Thanks to a range of new ride-hailing apps, Phnom Penh residents with a mobile phone and an internet connection are always within a few minutes of their next ride.
A number of ride-hailing apps have sprung up across the capital in the last few months, providing fast and affordable transportation to city dwellers, while diversifying drivers’ sources of income.
App-based transportation network and taxi company Uber – an American company present in 633 cities worldwide – launched operations in Phnom Penh last week, after having tested its app in the city for several months. The presence of Uber in the market is strong indication that demand for ride-hailing apps is robust, experts say.
Hailing taxi rides the old way, without the help of mobile phones, can sometimes result in a lot of wasted time, says Ty Vanna, an executive at a local production company.
Mr Vanna, who has never used a ride-hailing app before, said he had heard from friends that the technology is great, offering an easy-to-use interface, cheap rates and fast pick-up times.
“I will try using one of these apps next time, because I heard they are very easy to use and very efficient,” Mr Vanna said.
Phoun Sokleng, a taxi driver who recently quit his job with a local taxi company to start working with Uber, said the customers are mostly interested in the US-based ride-hailing app because of its impressive pick-up times.
“Since I started working with Uber, most riders I have taken said they like booking taxis with the app because it is fast and prices are shown on the screen of their smartphone. Prices are accurate too,” Mr Sokleng noted.
“Also important is that no time is wasted in negotiating fares,” Mr Sokleng said, adding that foreigners are very interested in using the Uber app because it is an international company.
With a population of about two million people living in the city area, experts believe this kind of technology could help alleviate the capital’s worsening traffic congestion.
“The new technology will ease traffic problems in the city,” said Va Simsorya, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT).
“The service is also very safe for the passengers, as the names of the drivers, plate numbers and other important information is registered in the system,” he added.
Although user numbers are only increasing at a moderate pace, the presence of more and more ride-hailing apps in the market is a sign that demand for the service is strong, said Rin Darith, project manager at iTsumo, a Cambodian taxi-hailing app.
“Using mobile phones to book taxis is a practice that is gaining popularity in Cambodia, as now we see the service being extended to tuk-tuks and rickshaws as well,” Mr Darith said.
Brooks Entwistle, Uber’s chief business officer for Asia Pacific, speaking last week during the official launch of the app in the capital, said the company was working closely with the MPWT to ensure the safety of passengers.
“We do this in every city. We first make sure that we provide the products for passengers and opportunities for drivers, before we think about where we will move on next,” said Mr Entwistle, adding that Phnom Penh is a priority for the company at the moment.
Toun Chan, a civil servant who works as an Uber driver in his spare time, said the app has allowed him to earn some extra cash to supplement his salary.
“When I am free, I turn on the app and I start picking people up and driving them around, but if I am busy with other work, I just turn my profile off,” Mr Chan said.
Mr Simsorya, a representative of the MPWT, said Grab, a Singapore-based taxi company, has been testing the local market and will hopefully join Uber, iTsumo and PassApp in the near future.
According to Mr Simsorya, Cambodia lacks specific legislation to control the ride-hailing app market, but the MPWT has already taken action to facilitate the registration of companies in the sector.
“Companies can register at the Ministry of Commerce, but they also need to register with the Ministry of Transport, so there are multiple ministries involved,” Mr Simsorya said, adding that various ministries will have to work together to come up with the legislation needed to regulate the nascent market.