PUBLIC interest must be upheld at all times, even if it means sacrificing the convenience of daily commuters.

As Congress steps into the controversial issue of transport network vehicle services (TNVS), lawmakers are reminding the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) that public safety and efficiency should be the paramount considerations in granting franchises.

The same admonition was also given to the ride-sharing services, Uber and Grab, whose runaway growth has caused more hardship than convenience for Metro Manila commuters.

Too Many Cars?

During a hearing conducted by the House committee on Metro Manila development chaired by Rep. Winston “Winnie” Castelo last July 27, House members took turns in interpellating LTFRB officials and Uber and Grab executives on their policies, pointing out that the services being offered by the TNVS involve public interest.

The hearing had been called by Castelo’s committee to discuss the guidelines of the LTFRB on TNVS such as Uber and Grab, particularly those operating in Metro Manila, and eventually come up with legislation on the operation of the TNVS.

The controversy stemmed from the LTFRB memorandum stating that Uber and Grab cars without franchise would only be allowed to ply their routes until July 26, 2017, after which there would be a non-stop, unrelenting confiscation of vehicles.

This came on the heels of revelations that more Uber and Grab-accredited vehicles had been plying the streets of Metro Manila without appropriate approval from the LTFRB.


Traffic Mess

The LTFRB argues that the number of Uber and Grab vehicles has ballooned to nearly 100,000 units, thereby compounding Metro Manila’s current traffic woes.

Uber and Grab however maintained that the government has been too slow to keep up with technology.

“The interest thing is our regulations are admittedly built from a traditional perspective. It requires 16 documents and three months to process,”Uber Philippines General Manager Laurence Cua claimed.

In short, according to Rep. Harry Roque, government transport agencies must have a clear framework and a rational perspective on the issuance of licenses, especially TNVS.

“Help us understand from what perspective LTFRB is approaching the issue of Uber and Grab and similar technologies,” Roque, a veteran lawyer, told the LTFRB.


Safety Concerns

Meanwhile, Rep. Gus Tambunting raised concerns on the safety of passengers who ride Uber and Grab vehicles which ply the roads without permit.

Tambunting said the public impression is that the LTFRB is siding with the taxi companies when it issued its memorandum governing Uber and Grab.

Rep. Rodel Batocabe also cited the issues of accountability and liability of Uber and Grab vehicles in case of accident or untoward incident since Uber or Grab is not a carrier but only a technology platform.

Batocabe likewise urged the LTFRB to strengthen its regulatory function so it can better enforce its policies and guidelines, especially for Uber and Grab which are technology/digital platforms.

“They (Uber and Grab) cannot just operate without regulation, especially since their operation involves the protection and welfare of our people,” Batocabe said

“They must come to Congress to operate this kind of technology,” Batocabe added.

Rep. Federico Sandoval II urged Uber and Grab to be more transparent in promoting their business and not to mislead the Filipino people.

Sandoval said many Filipinos, especially the OFWs, are encouraged to spend their hard-earned savings in purchasing a vehicle for Uber and Grab because of a promised huge income, only to end up having difficulty paying their car amortization.

Sandoval also emphasized that the utmost consideration must be the safety of the riding public.


Need for improvement

The controversy, according to lawmakers, has hit hard on what has been clamored by experts as the urgent need to not only modernize Metro Manila’s public transport but also to bring government regulation in line with the times.

Sarmiento himself had said just as the need of the public is changing, there is also a need for all public utility vehicles to improve.

“People want transparency in pricing, accountability of both the passengers and drivers, reliability of service, driver courtesy, the convenience technology and the smell of a new car,” said Sarmiento.


Netizens’ Backlash

Following the directive, netizens have vented their ire against the LTFRB over what they perceived as “strangling” regulations set by the agency for the accreditation of vehicles under TNVS.

There was even an online petition against the LTFRB directive, which has gathered about 90,000 signatures.

“The LTFRB order would affect Metro Manila residents and the transport situation in Metro Manila. The ultimate objective of the deliberation is to come up with efficient, reliable and effective mass transport system that would address the needs of the Metro Manila residents,” Castelo said.


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