FOR today’s column I had intended to discuss the latest monetary policy decision (or non-decision, as the case may be) of the BSP, but late Thursday afternoon I learned about a new program being proposed by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) that left me so aghast at its sheer stupidity that more sober topics must be temporarily set aside.
The LTFRB, as its name suggests, is supposed to be the regulating agency of land-based public transportation in the Philippines: Buses, taxis, jeepneys, tricycles, and commuter vans, and even—although no one really knows why—commercial vehicles like delivery trucks. Supposedly, the LTFRB is mandated to ensure that public conveyances are operated safely by competent drivers, are properly registered and insured, and are mechanically sound so that they do not pose undue safety or pollution risks.
The results of the work of the LTFRB, especially in the past two years under Atty. Winston Ginez, are evident in the appalling traffic congestion plaguing the Philippines’ population centers and the frighteningly decrepit condition of the vast majority of public vehicles causing it.
Ginez, who according to the bizarre personnel standards applied by President BS Aquino 3rd, was qualified for the post because he was one of the private prosecutors in the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, has been the LTFRB head since April 2013.
Under Ginez’ watch, the LTFRB has clumsily transformed itself into a revenue-generating agency, with actual regulation being reduced to a “show blood” standard: When a bus flies off the Skyway or smashes into a utility pole, or when someone gets robbed in a taxi, the LTFRB will regulate the living daylights out of the situation, but otherwise conserves its energy for devising new ways to milk franchise and licensing fees out of transport operators.
A perfect example is the LTFRB’s proposed answer to the rapidly growing Uber and GrabCar services, a completely unnecessary and thoroughly inappropriate for the local market idea called “Premium Taxi,” the guidelines for which were introduced earlier this week.
The objective of the Premium Taxi service, according to the LTFRB, is “to provide alternative taxi transport to more discerning and higher-end taxi passengers who are willing and ready to pay a higher fare for a better service.”
The guidelines for would-be operators are strict, and probably guarantee that no one in his right mind would want to go anywhere near this business: Premium Taxi providers must have a fleet of no fewer than 20 new vehicles, which must be cars (no SUVs, AUVs, or vans allowed) of no less than 2.0 liters engine displacement—the agency suggested cars like the 2.0 liter Toyota Altis, Camry, or any Mercedes Benz model would be suitable—and the age of any Premium Taxi vehicle (assuming the program would even last that long) would be limited to seven years.
It is not unreasonable for the government, since it is one of its responsibilities, to take steps to ensure that public transportation services like Uber and GrabCar, are properly registered and operated in a safe manner. What the LTFRB has failed to recognize, however, is that the existence, as well as growing popularity of these services, is almost entirely due to the board’s utter failure to regulate the existing public transportation sector in any meaningful way.
Rather than take steps to improve existing transportation—obvious steps such as actually conducting safety and emissions inspections before multiple lives are lost in a horrific traffic accident, making sure drivers actually know how to drive their vehicles in a safe manner, enforcing meter use by taxi drivers, and doing away with the “boundary system” that encourages overloading and general recklessness by reducing drivers and bus crewmen to little better than indentured servants—the LTFRB instead presents an idiotic idea that no one asked for, needs, or wants, and that will only serve to put even more vehicles on the nation’s already overcrowded roads. Provided, of course, any would-be entrepreneurs actually think investing upwards of P40 million on 20 new Camrys and having them painted black is in any way a good idea.
By not doing its job, the LTFRB is committing economic sabotage; billions are lost daily due to lost productivity, not only from the hours wasted in appalling traffic congestion, but also from the physical stress the average commuter suffers from being treated like stackable cargo. Employers rather like their workers to arrive fresh, rested, and motivated instead of feeling like they survived some kind of panicked evacuation on a daily basis, because service and performance is a reflection of people’s well-being.
If the new “Premium Taxi” service actually attracts any operators, which is doubtful, I will refuse to use it, and I invite everyone to join me. Not because we’re not “discerning” commuters, but because what we discern is that the LTFRB ought to actually do its job for change. No one is asking for “premium” anything—all we want is something that feels at least a little better than taking the train to Auschwitz. We could have that, if Winston Ginez and his agency spent more time on the “regulatory” aspect of their mandate, rather than dreaming up new ways to collect fees.