In less than two weeks, travelers to Southeast Asia will have to download a new app to hitch a ride in from the airport to their hostel or to get around town. Ride-sharing giant Uber is leaving the eight countries it serves in the region, ceasing all operations in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Cambodia. The company sold its business rights in those countries to competitor Grab.
Grab is a Malaysian company which built a platform very similar to Uber’s. No cash is involved, rides can be booked quickly via the app, and their GrabFood service picks up food from restaurants and delivers it to customers, very much like UberEATS. But Grab’s services are also more customized for ground transportation in some Asian countries such as Indonesia, where motorbikes are more common on the roads than cars. The GrabBike service allows riders to hail a motorbike — which may prove to be a big time-saver for riders in crowded cities as bikes tend to move through traffic at a faster pace than passenger vehicles. GrabTaxi allows passengers to hail a taxi instead of a private passenger vehicle.
For Uber, the sell-off of their Southeast Asia business marks the third time in recent years the company has pulled out of a major market. They left China in 2016 after failing to top local rival DiDi, and were unable to successfully compete with Yandex in Russia, where they pulled the plug in 2017.
Uber entered Southeast Asia in 2013 but never quite mastered the local markets. Their services were strikingly similar to what the company offered in the United States, where private vehicles and interstate highways are the norm. The company also did not appoint a regional head of operations until August of last year.
That said, the easiest (and cheapest) way to get transportation in these areas may still be the old-school ways of doing so, such as the songthaew red pick-up vans in Thailand that locals use to get around for next to nothing.