JAKARTA — Amid violent anti-Uber protests by taxi drivers in the Indonesian capital, the country's largest taxi company is trying to defeat its app-based American competitor with an innovative approach: uberize itself. Leading Indonesian magazine Tempo reports that the Blue Bird taxi company is seeking to shift its business model to a car-sharing service, competing directly on the terrain of Uber and other local digital upstarts.
Founded in 1965, Blue Bird has more than 32,500 vehicles in its nationwide fleet. Thousands of taxi drivers from Blue Bird and rival taxi services took to the streets last week to protest against Uber, shutting down the Jakarta's main thoroughfares, adding to the capital's infamous traffic jams.
But unlike other legacy taxi companies, Blue Bird management has been swift in reacting to the new kind of competition, becoming one of the first taxi companies in the world to launch its own smartphone app in 2011, which allowed users to order rides immediately or by appointment.
The app since migrated to Android and Apple iOS, but the company wants to go further: building in cashless payment and GPS-based ride sharing to compete against Uber and Grab, a popular Malaysia-based taxi app.
For now, however, Blue Bird is up against government regulations that require cab companies to operate using a meter, whereas sharing apps charge prices based on real-time demand and supply. Taxi companies must also pay expensive business license fees and other assorted taxes.
But if Blue Bird gets its way, it could be a model for taxi companies around the world looking to move into the fast lane of the digital revolution.