ON Tuesday, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) slapped fines of P5 million each on popular transport network companies (TNCs) Grab and Uber, mainly for deploying vehicles without certificates of public convenience, or franchises. Grab, for instance, was found to have 28,000 vehicles, but only 4,000 have permits, confirming suspicions that many of its vehicles on the road are, in local slang, “colorum” or illegal.
The decision, however, can still be considered a victory for Grab and Uber, as the LTFRB could have banned their vehicles from the roads entirely, but did not. The LTFRB is thus signaling the need for a careful balance in the regulation of these disruptive new transport market players. The fact is that Grab and Uber have gained wide public acceptance, despite the occasional complaints against deplorable drivers going viral on social media.
The fines are peanuts. What regulators really want to do is for Grab and Uber to put their houses in order. This had been the case in other countries; Uber is particularly no stranger to contentious ties with authorities, as regulations have yet to catch up with these technology-driven modes of public conveyance. “We support this technology but we have to clean this up. We can’t turn a blind eye just because you’re a new player,” said Aileen Lizada, LTFRB board member.
The LTFRB is on the right track trying its darn best to impose the law and at the same time acknowledging the valuable service Grab and Uber have provided to stressed-out Metro Manilans struggling, on a daily basis, to commute from home to work or school and vice versa.
As expected, much of the noise is coming from taxi operators whose primary concern seems to be to protect their daily “boundary” collection. For years, these taxi operators have done little to police abusive cab drivers. Their drivers’ practice of choosing their most convenient destinations and shameless demands for huge tips have been tolerated for too long.
Enter Grab and Uber, who have developed smartphone “ride-hailing” apps, whose drivers are instructed to be courteous and who pick up their passengers from their doorsteps. Pricing is determined prior to the trip, eliminating haggling and tip-giving. Their drivers use Waze and other navigational tools to avoid traffic and reach their destinations as quickly as possible. Passengers can rate their drivers anywhere from one to five stars and can even leave comments, positive or negative, and there are mechanisms for complaints and contested fares. Riders can do car-pooling, saving on money and fuel. Moreover, only new vehicles are accredited.
Can the same thing be said of the regular taxi drivers and operators?
Sure, there are bad eggs, like that Uber driver who let violinist John Lesaca’s cancer-stricken wife and daughter walk to the hospital. But as far as bad eggs go, the taxis are the mother hen. In fact, when taxi drivers become viral, it’s because the driver did a good deed, like return money or a mobile phone. Such cab drivers are apparently so rare they become social media sensations.
In contrast, Grab and Uber are put on the spot mostly for their drivers’ infractions. Yet these issues are ultimately manageable. This is where the LTFRB’s franchising process can come in.
The point here is that Grab and Uber, with the use of technology, have somewhat eased the plight of commuters, something the government has failed to do for decades.
Until the government is able to provide affordable and efficient mass transport systems, it cannot blame passengers for patronizing Grab and Uber to go from point A to point B.