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Uber Brings Motorbike Taxi Service to Jakarta

FILE - Taxis are lined up during a protest against competition from ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Grab at the main business district in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 22, 2016.

Ride-hailing service Uber on Wednesday launched a motorbike taxi service in Jakarta, where Southeast Asian rivals Go-Jek and Grab are already battling for dominance.

Jakarta is one of the world's most congested cities, and the practice of ordering motorbike taxis via a smartphone app has exploded in popularity in the past 18 months as a way to beat snarled traffic.

Uber said that its "UberMotor'' service would provide cheap, reliable transportation for hundreds of thousands of people.

The company used local social media and YouTube star Arief Muhammad to launch its service, saying he was the first person in Jakarta to use an Uber motorcycle taxi.

Both Go-Jek, an Indonesian startup, and Grab, which operates in several Southeast Asian countries, claim to be the biggest provider of motorbike taxi rides in Indonesia.

The popularity of motorbikes and regular taxis ordered from smartphones has provoked a backlash in the taxi industry. Thousands of taxi drivers caused traffic chaos in Jakarta last month in a violent protest against what they believe is unfair competition. Drivers say the app companies, which are using funding from venture capitalists to offer heavily discounted fares, have severely reduced their income.

The app companies say the transport industry should adapt to new technology.

The Indonesian government is drawing up new regulations to govern transport apps but has so far resisted calls to ban Uber and similar services.

Officials estimate Jakarta's traffic jams cause economic losses of about $3 billion a year.