Dangerous to Use Uber in Bali?

November 5, 2016

Uber is a mixed bag in Asia, just as it is in the US; sometimes you’ll get a driver who wants to talk while you prefer staying silent. Sometimes it seems like the driver isn’t moving, when it’s probably just the GPS lagging. I appreciate the fact I can deplane in Manila and call a car using the airport’s wifi for under 150 pesos. I still strongly advocate using the service abroad. However, I’ve had my own set of challenges using Uber on this trip.

In Indonesia, Uber is illegal. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Yes, the service is still available in Bali and Jakarta. The app will function without a VPN. However, there are a few complications, which you’ll realize as soon as you try to call an Uber from Denpasar Airport. Earlier this year, there were violent protests in Indonesia, pushback from taxi, bus, and scooter drivers rallying against ridesharing services.

I had heard Uber simply wasn’t allowed at the airport. Technically, that’s true. When I read that a taxi to Legian was only 55,000 rupiah (less than 5 USD), it didn’t seem like an issue. However, the official fares just doubled, and it wasn’t too long ago they doubled again. 10 USD isn’t a terrible price for tourists to pay, but this move isn’t keeping up with inflation or petrol prices; it’s a blatant attempt to squeeze visitors’ wallets. Once I saw that the taxi fare had increased, I tried to call an Uber using the wifi from the Starbucks near the domestic terminal.

Everything seemed to be going well; I could select the domestic drop off area as a pickup zone, and was given the driver’s details. When the car approached, I realized just how obvious it was I was waiting for an Uber: the phone was in my hand with the app open, and I was a white face being picked up by an unofficial vehicle. Security waved the car away, and told me Uber wasn’t allowed. He tried to get me into a taxi, but, being fed up with taxi drivers overcharging me and relentlessly yelling to get fares, I decided to try again.

I went back to Starbucks and put in a trip request. Though I couldn’t change the pickup location, I was careful to approach the domestic terminal against traffic and position myself at the very end of the drop-off area. The driver found me without a problem, and I jumped into his car before security spotted me.

This is just one challenge you might face using Uber in Bali. In general, taxi drivers are so fed up with competition from apps like Go Jek (Uber for motorbike taxis) and Uber that some drivers have started to fear for their personal safety. It’s very unlikely you’re going to have a problem calling for an Uber going from one hotel to another, but if you’re getting dropped off in an area rife with taxis, the driver may simply refuse the trip. In Uluwatu, a temple popular among visitors for its beautiful sunset, it’s next to impossible to request a pickup; other drivers – on different trips – told me they heard Uber drivers were beaten if caught.

uber-in-bali-3

Anywhere these signs appear is a good indication Uber pickups may not be accepted. I don’t know all the forbidden areas, but Uluwatu and most of the west side of Bukit Peninsula is off limits, as is the airport.

So why would drivers keep using Uber, with all this hassle? Because Bali is inundated with taxis, many of whom may not be able to get fares, and the app provides a direct line of communication between drivers and their target consumers: foreign tourists. Uber drivers are well aware the official rates have recently doubled, and know demand for their services will increase as tourists resist haggling with taxi drivers.

Variable prices… I hate them. An Uber from Legian to Uluwatu cost 100,000 rupiah. No problems getting picked up or dropped off. After the sunset, my friend and I had an overpriced but rather nice meal at the restaurant just outside the temple gates. Luckily, there was wifi and an Uber was only 15 minutes away. I requested a pickup (surely they weren’t worried about a pickup at night, when all the other taxis were gone, from a restaurant?)… and nothing. The car didn’t move, didn’t cancel, didn’t call me. Just accepted the ride and never approached our location. In the end, we had to pay a taxi 250,000 rupiah to get back.

Those two prices should tell you everything you need to know about using taxis or Uber in Bali. One is a reasonable fare considering wages and petrol costs. The other is inflated and will probably continue to increase as taxis keep intimidating Uber drivers. By all means, don’t roll over and blindly accept a taxi driver cheating you out of your money, but don’t ask an Uber driver to put himself in harm’s way because you want to save a few dollars. There may be efforts to regulate this industry in the near future, but for now, it’s still somewhat controversial.

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