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To regulate or not to regulate: Uber vs taxis

November 2014
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To regulate or not to regulate. That seems to be the issue here in the case of Uber. One respected former top government official, offered his opinion on the matter through his newspaper column where he mentions a “regulatory overreach” by the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Perhaps the agency did not exert all efforts or go the extra mile to assess the situation regarding Uber? Perhaps the agency acted in favor of taxi operators who have complained about Uber services? The information available states the affirmative. The LTFRB itself confirmed that it acted on the complaint filed by a group of taxi operators but they memo alone is unclear of how the board ended up with their decision. Maybe they did not really have a more exhaustive deliberation, looking at the Uber case from other (more progressive) perspectives.

One lawyer friend of ours gave an opinion that Uber should not be treated as a regular taxi whose services are available to everyone and therefore requires a franchise being a public utility. Rather, Uber can be seen instead as an exclusive club with members providing and/or availing of services. Membership in the club is not automatic but has to go through an application process with certain criteria to be satisfied by applicants just like any other exclusive organizations. In Uber’s case, the application process as well as the means to avail of services are facilitated by an app, a software available now through smartphones or tablets. Being an exclusive club, it can also charge for services rendered and fees can be agreed upon by members just like what is done in other clubs. This is an acceptable interpretation of how Uber can be seen though it still does not address liability issues in case a vehicle and its occupants are involved in a crash. However, this last concern is precisely what the LTFRB should be discussing with Uber and perhaps insisting for the service to address immediately. This would be the more progressive and proactive approach in handling this case.

I agree that there is a need to review many of our laws, not just on transport, in order to address the many changes that has happened over the years and especially in light of the rapid developments enabled by technological advances and innovations. Many years ago, we have worked with the DOTC to come up with an initiative to review road transport laws and regulations in order to determine, for example, which are outdated and which are conflicting with others. Unfortunately, this initiative seems to have evaporated with the change in the administrations of involved transport agencies back in 2010. So far, what we have read and heard are calls for reviewing laws and regulations specifically related to public utility vehicles in relation to taxis and consequently, Uber.

Meanwhile, taxi services in the country and especially in Metro Manila continue to be found wanting in terms of quality of service. Many continue to be shunned or turned down by taxi cab drivers who tend to be selective of their passengers’ destinations. The most common reason for this is perceived (or imagined) traffic congestion along streets leading to the destination. Then there are the more serious cases of swindling, holdups, abductions, and even murder. Modus operandi include taxi drivers collaborating with criminals to rob or kidnap passengers. News and social media are full of these horror stories that make one think twice about riding a cab, especially at night. Of course, not all taxi services are like this and  there are examples of good taxi services in Metro Manila and other cities. On top of my very short list is a certain taxi company that’s popular in Iloilo City, Light of Glory. However, these examples are not enough to convince many that they should not have a more comfortable, more secure and perhaps safer option for transport, which is what Uber is claiming it provides. Ultimately, though, public transport services in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country need to be improved and fast in the interest of most people who take public transportation everyday. That way, many people won’t really need to avail of other, more exclusive services, for their transport needs.

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