by Thong Chi and An Vu
Xe om (motor-taxi) is one of the most popular means of transportation in Ha Noi, as it presents an easy, convenient way to travel short distances. Unlike regular taxis, motorcycles can enter the city's many narrow zigzagging alleys.
Yet the unorganised nature of xe om transport concerns passengers, as prices are unregulated and some drivers even cheat customers. Several new motor-taxi services aim to eliminate this problem.
One afternoon, a group of motor-taxi drivers waited for passengers in front of My Dinh National Stadium. The drivers belonged to four big motor-taxi companies: Van Minh, Than Thien, Ha Thanh and Thanh Phat.
Each one had a uniform and motorbike labelled with the company logo. Moreover, the motorbikes were fully equipped with dust-blocking glass, meters, GPS trackers and company hotlines.
Most passengers who previously picked random xe om now hop on these motorbikes.
"Last year, I only saw two brands. Now the number has risen to five. I also do not have to ask the fare first. It only costs VND30,000 (US$1.4) to go from here to Thanh Xuan District," said passenger Nguyen Van Lien.
Nguyen Van Lang, the manager of My Dinh bus station, said the first company opened in 2012. Now, he estimated that there were 10 firms operating.
"Although they are new, these brands are very prestigious," Lang said.
My Dinh bus station is one of the most popular places for motor-taxis. Van Minh has the most representation there.
Truong Van Manh, a driver for the company, said the service had quickly become popular.
"When I joined the company, only a few people knew about us. Now, passengers seek us out. There are days we cannot catch our breath to serve clients," Manh said.
Nguyen Van Thang, a driver for Than Thien, said his income was higher and more stable after joining the company.
"Besides the passengers that signal me on the street, passengers also call the operator. Those account for up to 50 per cent of my passengers per day. They include students, housewives and cargo requests. If I work hard, I can earn VND7 million (US$330) per month," Thang said.
Chairman of Ha Noi Transportation Association Bui Danh Lien said the new service was totally transparent and safe.
"In order to guarantee the drivers' rights and benefits and provide the best service for passengers, each company must create a professional team with its own colour to distinguish itself in today's context of high competition," Lien said.
However, driver Nguyen Van Trung, 43, does not support the new idea. "Since motor-taxi services opened, we lost a lot of regular passengers. Even if I were invited to join one of those companies, I would say no," he said.
Meanwhile, many passengers are satisfied with the service.
"I remember the first time I saw these motorcycles. Since then, they have been upgraded with automatic meters and GPS just like a taxi. The drivers also dress nicely and properly. It's great! Just looking at them, I want to hop on right away," said Tran Ngoc Tu, a regular passenger from Long Bien District.
Another passenger, Nguyen Thi Hoa from Phu Tho city, feels secure when using the service.
"I live in the suburban area, so every time I enter the city, I was hassled by random drivers and I was really upset. But now, I feel very secure each time I get a xe om to visit my relatives here," she said.
The new motor-taxi service reflects the winds of change that are transforming life in the capital amid fast-paced modern development. — VNS