Grab Thailand's recent move to ease some rules, including suspending the zoning divide for GrabBike motorcycle taxi service between Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani, demonstrates its push to appease its rider partners to keep them in the fold amid fierce competition, though more needs to be done to cater to partners in its ecosystem, say industry analysts.
Grab's olive branch comes as protests against the ride-hailing and online delivery service giant for unfair treatment heat up.
Grab made a statement on Monday that it is aware of the problem caused by its recent announcement to divide GrabBike motorcycle taxi service zoning between the three provinces, which resulted in some technical problems and hindered rider partners from receiving work.
The zoning also had an impact on customers living near the provinces' border areas, it said, and such a zoning divide would be suspended from Aug 17.
"The company will find ways to address the problem until the system is ready to provide the service with zoning," Grab said.
Rider partners will be kept informed about further changes in the future.
According to Grab, the rule that obliges GrabExpress delivery motorcycle riders to have GrabExpress delivery containers before providing the service would be scrapped from Aug 24.
The company said it was aware that some rider partners were inconvenienced by buying and using the containers for the service. Customers can choose whether they want the deliverymen to have the containers, said Grab.
Any rider partners who had their service cancelled because of not having containers have been allowed to continue providing service since Aug 7.
Grab indicated it also provides accident insurance for rider partners with maximum coverage of 50,000 baht for injury during work and 200,000 baht in case of death.
Hundreds of Grab driver partners turned up in front of Thanapoom Tower on Mondaymorning, where Grab Thailand's head office is located, to call for better treatment.
They submitted a five-pronged demand to Grab for consideration, covering revoking the service zoning between Bangkok, Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi, cancelling the obligation for rider partners to buy GrabExpress containers, addressing lower service payments, providing accident insurance coverage for riders as well as tackling unfair work allocation.
Last week, some 100 motorcyclists working for Grab food delivery service went on strike and rallied in Pattaya.
They objected to the company's move to change the system of payment last November in a way that cut each rider's earnings from more than 1,000 baht to only 300-400 baht a day on average.
Late last month, Grab announced it would reduce incentive payments for GrabFood drivers in 27 provinces, excluding Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani, to maintain cash flow.
Pawoot Pongvitayapanu, former head of the Thai E-commerce Association, said he understands riders' gripes in terms of shouldering higher costs. But he said customers may want riders to have official containers to ensure safe delivery.
Referring to Grab's move to roll back its unpopular rule, Mr Pawoot said: "Grab, which is the market leader, must pay attention to these concerns and adjust to the social context. It is better for them to scale back than push forward and upset rider partners."
He said Grab should have surveyed its rules among a sample of partners first before trying it with the larger group. "This is what startups do," said Mr Pawoot.
Referring to the rule change, Anantaporn Lapsakkarn, a senior researcher at Kasikorn Research Center, said Grab needs to fine-tune its rules as the market now has many players.
"Not only Grab, but other players will have to adjust their business models to suit the market and maintain competitiveness," said Mr Anantaporn.
Grab may have put forward certain rules as a trial, but when they were not working as expected, it decided to scale them back, he said.
"If rider partners are unhappy with the system, they may decide to migrate to other platforms," said Mr Anantaporn.
As long as Grab has not lost a large group of rider partners, the impact of the protests is unlikely to be significant, he said.
Akkanut Wantanasombut, researcher at the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, said Grab's overtures to its drivers will likely not be enough, as one of the top demands to improve Grab's incentive structure has not been met.
"It is definitely not enough, but Grab holds all the power over its drivers, which should have equal negotiation power," Mr Akkanut said. "They call their riders partners, but the partners have no power to do anything and it is not easy for them to unite and make noise to bring attention to their concerns."
He said Grab's policy of requiring drivers to buy Grab containers hurt "hybrid diverse" or motorbike drivers that offer both food delivery and taxi services the most, as the large container takes up the passenger seat.
Mr Akkanut said the protest in front of Grab's headquarters will likely not be the last if Grab does not offer more transparency and fairness in its payment structure, which has been criticised by restaurants for charging a 30% commission fee.
"The workers and customers are the ones who add value to the company, but it doesn't seem like Grab really cares about the needs of its drivers," he said.