"I will just have to keep driving": A Mixed-methods Investigation of Lack of Agency within the Thai Motorcycle Rideshare Driver Community

Nussara Tienklin, Joseph Breda, Tim Althoff, Kurtis Heimerl


This paper presents a mixed-methods study of app-based motorcycle taxis in Thailand to explore the social dynamics of rideshare drivers and their exercised autonomy both through social pressure and a hostile work environment. As motorcycle taxis are open-air vehicles, drivers can be exposed to prolonged air pollution and other weather events, potentially impacting their health. In an initial quantitative study of server-side rideshare logs, we unexpectedly found that drivers do not exercise the autonomy provided by their rideshare platform to avoid air pollution events. This prompted a follow-on investigation through semi-structured interviews of both drivers and passengers in three provinces to explore why these drivers fail to experience the autonomy promised by gig-work in this context and elucidated further examples this lack of autonomy experienced by drivers. Our study sheds light on the social context that may constrain a driver’s agency, including financial pressures, weather conditions, conflicts with local taxi organizations, and a false perception that drivers need to work around the ride assignment algorithm to avoid being blacklisted. We find that when leveraging app-based rideshare opportunities, drivers simultaneously perceive increased flexibility in their work hours and a lack of agency to prioritize their health and safety. We conclude with a discussion on potential interventions aimed at mitigating the forces preventing drivers from exercising their autonomy.