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The curious case of Uber in the Philippines

October 2014


Before anything else, I must first state that I have not used Uber in the Philippines nor have I used it elsewhere. Its probably because I have not found a use for it…yet. In cities in other countries that I have traveled to, I often use public transport and cities with good mass transit systems have very high marks for me. There are taxi services in these cities and I have had mixed experiences with taxis in Bangkok and even Singapore. I think Japan’s taxis are excellent and locally, Iloilo’s taxis particularly that of one company should be the model for city taxi services in the country.

The services offered by Uber reminds me of the evolution of UV Express or FX services. Back in the 1990s, private vehicle owners/drivers saw an opportunity to “earn a few pesos” by offering a ride to people waiting along the road. An AUV driver, for example, bound for Makati from Quezon City would take in a few passengers for an agreed fee and the collection would help him defray costs of fuel as well as of maintenance for a trip that he would likely make alone if he didn’t offer rides to others. He had no coverage for his passengers should they be involved in a crash and they even conspired to claim they were carpooling or were friends if accosted by authorities (i.e., when suspected to be running a colorum vehicle). This is practically the same service offered through Uber. The only difference being that Uber employs an app to facilitate “service contract” between driver and passenger. The app basically makes the agreement discrete and unknown to regulators of transport services.

Like the predecessors of UV Express services, Uber service providers serve a segment of commuters who have difficulties getting a public transport ride and are likely also to be frustrated or disgruntled about the poor quality of public transport services. This is not limited to taxi services but encompass bus, jeepney, UV Express, tricycle and rail transport that a majority of commuters regularly take to go to their offices, schools or other destinations. I purposely omitted walking and cycling here as everybody essentially walks and cycling is not really a transport service along the lines of public utility vehicles.

Very recently, the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) ruled that Uber is illegal, basically classifying it as colorum – terminology for vehicles illegally operating as public transport. Is the agency totally wrong about their ruling against Uber? While I haven’t seen the decision or read any memos regarding this, I would assume that the board had its reasons and some of these are reasonable, sound bases for such a memo. For one, regular public transport services require insurance for carrying passengers. Regular insurance taken by private car owners covers the driver and the passengers who ride for free but public transport carry passengers for a fee (fares) and thus drivers and the operators have a bigger responsibility particularly with regard to safety. This question on liability is perhaps the biggest question for Uber and the people behind it. I think this will be a good topic for law schools to take up and perhaps a good subject for debates for and against the service.

However, the bigger question perhaps, and especially to netizens who vented their anger at the LTFRB for the decision against Uber, is: Are you really angry because of the LTFRB decision against Uber or because you are unhappy about transport services in Metro Manila (and elsewhere in the country general)? Online articles have become a feast for trolls as they typed in their scorchers for the agency but I am willing to bet most of these haven’t even taken an Uber vehicle prior to their posting their opinions online. Most know about Uber as a concept or as an app but haven’t read or learned about experiences elsewhere and why it has become popular or notorious depending on the conditions where it is operating. While people I know have used it and benefited from the service, there should still be safeguards for users who essentially do not know who will drive up to pick them up for their trip. Definitely, there are security and safety concerns that need to be clarified here. Also, would this lead to people who would take this up as a full-time job rather than as something more like a “for-hire” car or van-pool? And lastly, we should not be distracted and lose sight of the ultimate goal. That is, we should push for better transport systems and services so that Uber and other similar services would not be essential for our commutes. –

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