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Do people understand what Uber and Grab really are?

Over the holidays, I’ve read a lot of posts about Uber and Grab. Mostly, these were complaints about the surge pricing scheme of Uber. A lot of people cited the exorbitant rates Uber charged for trips even short ones like Ortigas to Center to Greenhills and Trinoma to Katipunan. Though the complaints are legitimate ones, I also try to see the other side of the coin considering Uber and Grab do tell potential passengers how much it will cost them for such commutes during peak periods (i.e., when roads are congested). Potential riders do have a choice whether they should take the rider (and therefore agree with the fare stated by the app) or take another transport mode instead. The issue here should not be entirely Uber’s or Grab’s fault. Our public transport system, particularly in Metro Manila, sucks. And that includes the conventional taxis that could have provided better services if regulations were strictly implemented or if the operators managed their drivers and maintained their vehicles well. Based on my experience, taxis in Cebu, Iloilo and Davao, for example, are better managed and regulated, and provide better service quality than those in Metro Manila.

Then there were the joint LTFRB and DOTr advisory for Uber and Grab units and the LTFRB order on surge pricing and fare rates.

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From both cases, it is clear that car-sharing or ridesharing services like Uber and Grab are treated as taxis rather than as premium services that likely entail higher fares but are subject to prospective passengers’ willingness to pay for such services.

Such opens the door for more questions than answers: Is this a misunderstanding or perhaps a deliberate action on the part of Philippine regulators (LTFRB and DOTr)? Why can’t they impose the same standards for vehicles, operators and drivers of conventional taxis? Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the general riding public for LTFRB to clamp down on conventional taxis in order to reduce dilapidated vehicles as well as unqualified drivers? Surely, conventional taxis will become more attractive if they provide better services including significant reductions in the incidence of typical complaints against taxis like negotiating fares and refusing passengers because of their destinations.

Here are some more questions that need clear and objective answers for one to have a fair assessment of these services:

  • Do these show how much we (both commuters and regulators) understand how these car-sharing modes are supposed to operate?
  • Do officials at DOTr and LTFRB, who are supposed to be regulators of public transport services know how Uber and Grab are supposed to operate?
  • How do they really fit in considering all the other modes of transport available to commuters?

Mactan Cebu Airport taxi terminal

I wanted to post about the new taxi stands at the Mactan Cebu International Airport as early as September of last year but I didn’t have good photos to show in the article. Last December, however, I was able to get a load of pictures during 2 trips to Cebu. The terminal at the arrival level of the airport is basically divided into 2 stands – the White Taxi Stand and the Yellow Taxi Stand. Here are the photos of the taxi terminal at Cebu’s airport.

2015-12-08 10.25.25Covered facilities allow for all-weather queuing of passengers.

2015-12-08 10.25.52White taxis are regular taxis while the yellow ones are ‘airport taxis’ charging higher fares.

2015-12-08 10.25.56 The lines for the white taxis are definitely longer and this is basically due to the lower fares charged by regular taxis.

2015-12-08 10.26.01Obviously, there are more regular (white) taxis than yellow taxis so the queue proceed well and the waiting times are not so long.

2015-12-08 10.26.35 There are 5 spaces for taxis but everyone seems to be queuing for the first one. The dispatchers could do better to make the lines go faster.

2015-12-08 10.26.51That’s the queue behind us, all going for the regular taxis.

2015-12-08 10.29.03If the queue for the white taxis is proceeding at an acceptable pace, few people take the yellow taxis. Vehicle-wise, yellow taxis are newer and better maintained models. My observation (based on limited experience) is that yellow taxi drivers are also less reckless than drivers of white taxis.

2015-12-08 10.29.15There are two booths for app-enabled taxis like Grab Taxi and Easy Taxi. Passengers for these may proceed to the area near the booths and board their taxis at the bays near them.

Here are a few photos from the second trip last December when we experienced long queues for taxis. I think we arrived during the morning peak at the airport when a couple of international flights using wide-bodied planes arrived.

2015-12-09 13.05.20A very long queue for the white taxis greeted us when we got out of the airport terminal.

2015-12-09 13.06.00There was a constant arrival of taxis but the demand was just too high; resulting in the long queue.

2015-12-09 13.15.27There is a priority lane for senior citizens, expectant mothers and families with children. Dispatchers make sure that these people get their taxis ahead of others.

On Iloilo’s taxis

The talk about Uber vs taxi is a hot topic in many cities around the world and also in Metro Manila where Uber has gained a foothold and a strong following among mostly ‘former’ taxi goers. Many have stated that Uber provides the service that taxis should have been providing. Uber vehicles are supposed to be of newer models and drivers are supposed to be screened carefully. Uber even has a feedback mechanism not just for drivers but for passengers as well. Basically, Uber provides the quality of service everyone wants to have on regular taxis. The irony of course is that regular taxis are supposed to provide a higher quality of service compared to other public transport modes considering it is basically a for hire car short of a limousine service. But then this begs the question: If you had good taxi services in your city, would you still consider Uber? Or perhaps would Uber have a lot of demand in a city with good taxi services? Perhaps there will still be a demand for Uber but the clamor will not be like that in Metro Manila. And there are few cities with ‘good enough’ taxi services that can compare with Uber in terms of quality of service.

A good example of where there are ‘good enough’ taxis and there is a healthy competition not between Uber and conventional taxis but among taxi operators themselves is in Iloilo City. We have discovered many years ago that Iloilo City had one Light of Glory taxi company that is very popular among Ilonggos and visitors as the drivers were generally more honest than others and they had an efficient dispatching system including desks at the airport and a major shopping mall.

 IMG_1180Light of Glory Taxi at the airport parking lot

2015-12-09 07.26.50Light of Glory has its own app, which you can get for free and install on your smartphone. It is not as sophisticated as Uber’s or Grab’s apps in terms of features but it gets the job done (i.e., getting you a taxi).

IMG_1181Dispatch sheet – note the attributes the company is trying to promote among its taxis: “Clean, Safe, Reliable, Comfortable, Drug Free” These are attributes we all want of our public utility vehicles whether these are taxis, jeepneys, buses or tricycles.

2015-12-09 07.28.52Light of Glory taxi that dropped us off at the venue of our meeting straight from the airport

The Light of Glory taxis is a well run company. Their drivers seem to be treated very well by the operator (drivers claim they have a better compensation system) and generally drive better than other taxis. Their vehicles are also seem to be better maintained compared to others except a few of the larger companies like GDR. Everyone knows about the best taxi company in Iloilo and would most likely prefer their taxis over others if the choice is given to the taxi-going commuter. To compare, I remember the Comfort taxis of Singapore and how many Singaporeans and foreigners living in SG prefer these taxis over others. Comfort taxis have a good dispatching system and you can make reservations for trips in advance. Of course, there are additional fees for on-demand services including arrangements for pick-ups and drop-offs (e.g., your residence to the airport).

Some thoughts on Uber in Metro Manila

I had wanted to write something on Uber the past weeks but couldn’t because I wanted to have some visuals to go with the text. And so one time we decided to use Uber, I consciously took some screenshots for the photos that are shown in this post.

After opening your Uber app, you can indicate your pick-up point and you destination. You can see how many Uber drivers are nearby based on the map and the quick reference on screen. You can also check for a fare estimate as well as select the service you want. There are currently only two types of services available in Metro Manila – UberX and Uber Black. UberX is the default service and involves a regular car. Uber Black is a bigger and more ‘luxurious’ vehicle. Of course, you pay more for a better vehicle. Once you have inputted the necessary information for your itinerary, you can put in the request. Success in getting a ride is immediately shown on your phone.

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The screen shows that the driver is en route to your pick-up point. Details on your ride are provided including the name of the driver, the vehicle make, model and plate number. The vehicles I have rode on so far are recent models and most have no license plates yet – an indication of how new these vehicles are. Uber is supposed to be screening both the drivers and vehicles being registered to provide their services. One criteria for vehicles is that these are supposed to be recent models and well maintained, what’s perceived to be the opposite of vehicles used as conventional taxis.

During the trip, you can get updates on your progress through the map onscreen. This includes the estimated time of travel until you reach your destination. Information on the driver is also shown including his average rating. Our driver in this example had a 4.6 star average rating. I guess this is good given the star rating scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest rating.

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At the end of the trip, you can receive a receipt on your email. The receipt includes details on your fare, the start and end times of your trip, the travel distance and the route taken in map form. Information on the driver and a note for rating your driver is at the bottom of the receipt. Of course, you can save this for future reference and perhaps print it out in case you will be reimbursing the cost of your trip.

Receipt

After rating your driver, you will receive another message thanking you for rating your driver. Our driver that afternoon was good and drove safely. He wasn’t talkative but was polite and could strike up a conversation (My companion asked a few questions about his driving for Uber in an interview-like manner.).

Rating

What you don’t see is how your driver rated you. Uber also asks drivers to rate users and I would guess that this will have repercussions on passengers with bad attitudes. The ratings work both ways as Uber customers should be wary of their potential drivers as well as their own behavior. I suppose that drivers get information on whether a potential passengers is a rude one and may opt to avoid such passengers.

My take so far on Uber is that it is what conventional taxis are supposed to be. I find Uber drivers to be better in terms of politeness and safety in their driving habits. Fare-wise, Uber has been less expensive than Grab Taxi or conventional taxis as you don’t have to bid to get an Uber ride. The Grab Taxi app basically formalizes the bidding process as it asks you how much gratuity (tips) you are willing to give for a ride. I feel that this gratuity feature is a major determinant for taxi drivers choosing their fares and leads to more expensive fares. Of course, I haven’t experienced Uber’s surge pricing yet but friends who use Uber have informed me that this can be quite steep and can hurt your pocket or wallet. Still, I think Uber provides good service but it is not for everyone especially those on a budget or going to a place where roads are generally congested.