The insistence of Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) Chairman Winston Ginez to place the widely popular ridesharing service Uber under its regulatory claws isn’t really about public safety or convenience. If it were, Ginez would have welcomed Uber and other similar technologies with open arms.
Truth is, LTFRB’s battle against Uber is about a government agency protecting its turf through its franchising and regulating authority over the billion-peso public transport sector (which includes taxis, jeepneys, UV express, school buses, car rental services, etc.).
LTFRB’s high-handed approach to clamp down on the popular ridesharing service, as shown by the recent apprehension of partner car of Uber in the Metrowalk area of Pasig City, is a classic example of how some government agencies and officials like Ginez (who, incidentally, is also a lawyer) choose to enforce the letter rather than the spirit of the law to the detriment of the riding public.
Ginez seems to have forgotten that his agency’s primary task is to promote the convenience, comfort, safety and protection of Filipino commuters. This is precisely why the permit issued by the LTFRB is called a “certificate of public convenience.” Duh!
Indeed, it is ironic that the government agency that should be providing the means for the riding public to travel around the metropolis in a convenient, safe and affordable way is itself blocking the entry of a safer and more convenient type of transportation.
From our perspective, giving the riding public a safer and more convenient option via Uber is an urgent imperative, especially with the recent spate of crimes involving LTFRB-franchised taxicabs and taxi drivers hitting the headlines.
Early last week, a 19-year old female student from De La Salle University was robbed and raped by a cab driver and his accomplice after she boarded the assailant’s taxicab outside a bar in Fort Bonifacio. In another incident last Saturday, a call center agent was robbed and shot in the face by a taxi driver in Pasig City yesterday.
Perhaps this is why Uber has become popular among many Filipinos—from ordinary workers to highly paid executives (and even socialites)—that it’s almost impossible to book a car during rush hours.
Uber allows customers to book a taxi using an app on their smartphones. Simply download the app and enter your credit card information. When you need a ride, open the app on your smartphone and press a button. That’s it. No need to walk to a busy intersection to try and flag down a taxi.
Drivers in Uber’s network are circling your neighborhood, and by the magic of GPS, the closest one will arrive at your door in minutes. The fare is pre-calculated by some mathematical algorithm of distance and time. No cash is ever exchanged. You simply gather your things and leave at the end of the ride.
Moreover, Uber cars are usually brand new. Uber doesn’t accept old or run down vehicles. And they’re more likely to remain in good working condition because an Uber partner car is always driver-owned.
To guarantee quality service, Uber drivers are rated by their passengers. The drivers need to keep up their ratings (4.7 in a scale of 1 to 5) in order to stay with Uber.
But what many commuters find reassuring is that Uber drivers undergo a background check before they are accepted into Uber. The Uber app also flashes the photo and name of the driver —as well as the vehicle’s plate number—before you even ride the car. So if you leave anything in the Uber car, you (and Uber) know exactly which car you were in. While this is no assurance that Uber drivers won’t do anything stupid, it makes it easier to identify and track the culprit in case anything bad happens.
Uber is the epitome of what’s known as a “disruptive technology”—cheaper, sometimes lower-quality technologies that disrupt or destroy the business models of established industries. In the case of Uber, it is going against an entrenched taxi industry that’s trying to protect its monopoly and profit margins as well as a government bureaucracy also trying to maintain its clout (and some critics say, its very profitable “raket”).
True, there are some concerns that the deregulation of taxi industry may make it less safe. But Uber offers customers more safety, more choice, more convenience, and lower prices.
The LTFRB should not allow the taxi industry to stand in the way of technological advances. That would be anti-consumer.
What the LTFRB ought to do instead is to push the taxi industry to adopt new technologies similar to Uber. In fact, under the LTFRB law, the franchising agency can order taxi companies and similar public transport groups “to equip, install and provide in their utilities . . . such devices . . . operating procedures and techniques as may promote…the safety of persons…within their areas of operations.”
But will Ginez do such a thing at the expense of diminishing his influence over a very lucrative industry? Not very likely.