‘UBER DA BAKOD'

IT WAS a classic case of a solution turning into a hell of a problem itself. 

To a certain extent, it can be likened to a cure that turned-out to be a poison that might kill the patient. 

We refer here to ride- sharing services Uber and Grab which instead of reducing the number of vehicles plying Metro Manila’s already crowded streets resulting to daily heavy traffic jams, have now become one of the major contributors in this predicament.

 

Great Idea

That was in complete contrast to the original vision when the concept of transport network vehicle services (TNVS) was first presented before government authorities.

The idea then was that it would help reduce the traffic because private car owners will be persuaded to leave their cars in their garages and instead take Uber and Grab.

When efficiently implemented, there will be lesser number of vehicles in the streets thus the problem of traffic will be addressed.   

For a very short period of time, the plan appeared to have worked.  

Trouble however started when noble intentions are muddled by not so very noble ambitions especially when profits are the primary motivations. 

 

Enterprising Traders 

Transport network companies Uber and Grab were embraced by the public especially among the young urban professionals who own phones that have smart applications.

Troubles started when the popularity of TNVS reached the wider public that now include even the adult sector, majority are regular taxi riders, who were always at the receiving of their shabby and boorish behaviors.

We know all too well the frustration you'll feel when waiting at a street corner trying to hail a cab, and when one does stop, he will then open the window first to ask you where you need to go. 

If he doesn't like your destination, he'll just speed away.

In short, you are completely helpless against these taxi drivers even if they are required by law not to refuse and overcharge any passenger.

And it only gets worse if it's raining, rush hour or, heaven forbid and it's 5:00PM on a raining payday. 

 

Satisfying Alternative

Out those frustrating experiences Uber and Grab came at a perfect time and provided a very satisfying alternative which explains why their popularities suddenly soared.

As the demand for ride-hailing services grow, comes now the enterprising traders who saw an opportunity to make fast bucks on the growing trend.   

What was supposed to be ride sharing services, these enterprising traders decided to buy thousands of brand new vehicles and had them registered with Uber and Grab.

As a result, tens of thousands of new vehicles flooded the streets thus making the traffic situation worse than before Grab and Uber came into being.

Conversations with Grab and Uber drivers would show how thankful they were of the chances given to them by the TNVS and rightly so because they earn better now with plenty to spare.

 

Some Good Things Never Last

However, as in the lyrics in a song, some good things never last, drivers and operators were sent crashing back to reality when the government particularly the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) cracked the whip on them for operating as colorums.

Each TNC was slapped with a P5 million fine for allowing drivers to pick passengers even without certificates of public conveyance (CPC). 

LTFRB noted that between the two TNCs, they accredited around 56,000 drivers without the required CPC which was a clear violation of their license to operate. 

It was glaring disparity between those numbers and the approved TNVS drivers with a legitimate CPC or Provisional Authority (PA): the LTFRB says the total is about 3,700. That’s a huge difference! 

 

Opportunistic 

Through all these, what is becoming clear is that Uber and Grab have strayed from their original purpose of “ridesharing” as a measure to alleviate Metro Manila’s traffic crisis.

It was actually one of the questions posed by Sen. Grace Poe during one of the recently conducted Senate committee hearings on the Uber/Grab controversy: are TNVS providers really providing “ridesharing” or “ride-hailing” services?

“Based on the current set-up where more people are buying cars to operate a fleet or work as full-time drivers, can we really still call this ride-sharing?” the senator asked representatives of Uber and Grab during the hearing.

Sen. Poe may have hit on one often unspoken fact about TNVS in the Philippines: far from the “carpooling” or “ridesharing” that the founders of these services had envisioned, it now appears that enterprising Uber and Grab members simply buy new cars to use for their services –a “ride-hailing” service, so to speak, equivalent to taxicabs.

This might explain why between 2015 and 2017, membership applications for Uber, Grab and other TNVS providers suddenly shot up, exceeding even the LTFRB’s wildest imaginations.

No wonder LTFRB head Martin Delgra was “shocked” when he learned, during a Congressional hearing on the issue last August 3, that there are 66,000 transport network vehicles (TNVs) registered under Uber, and 52,398 TNVs registered under Grab.

 

Astounding Statistics

And the statistics provided by the TNVS providers was astounding in itself: Yves Gonzalez, head of policy at Uber Philippines, disclosed out of the 66,000 Uber TNVs, only 2,500 have certificates of public convenience (CPCs) or provisional authorities (PAs), while 1,000 have pending extension of the necessary documents.

On the other hand, Brian Cu, Grab Philippines country head, said out of the 52,398 Grab TNVs, only around 3,000 to 4,000 have CPCs or PAs.

Such statistics would have confirmed what the transport group 1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-UTAK) had claimed in an omnibus opposition filed earlier this year against Uber and Grab: that some TNVS applicants just want to take advantage of the booming TNVS industry and get around the current moratorium on the issuance of franchises for other public utility vehicles.

 

Coincidence

It might not be an innocent “coincidence”, therefore, that between the time TNVS was formally launched as a land transport category by the Transportation department (2015) and the time the Uber/Grab controversy erupted (2017), the Philippines’ automotive industry suddenly experienced a boom in car sales.

Consolidated reports from the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. (CAMPI) and other industry players showed that auto sales in 2016 jumped by up to 24.88 percent, with a total of 404,051 units sold.

Out of those sales, passenger vehicles such as cars and SUVs, often used by TNVS providers, totaled 39.3 percent, with 158,619 units sold.

During the fourth quarter of 2016, passenger cars, AUVs and SUVs took the lion’s share of vehicle sales with a total of 105,416 units sold from a total of 109,330 vehicles.

 

Taming the Industry

It’s time now, therefore, to tame the “Wild West” spirit that had engulfed the country’s TNVS industry, thoughtful government officials and stakeholders have suggested.

In a dissenting opinion on an LTFRB ruling quashing 1-UTAK’s omnibus opposition last February, board member Ariel Intonhas suggested limiting the number of vehicles allowed to operate under the TNVS.

“If we accredit other TNCs, are we simply going to grant unlimited provisional authorities to its TNVS (transport network vehicle service)? Are we not going to consider that an unlimited number of TNVS will aggravate the worsening traffic?” Inton pointed out in his opinion.

This was also the sentiment of Bobby Coronel, president of TeamSpeed, a group of 4,200 drivers partnered with Grab and Uber. In a recent interview with Rappler.com, Coronel insisted that Uber should have abided by the law.

"Wrong move po talaga si Uber regarding this one, lumalabas talagang wala sila pakialam sa peer and driver partners nila, importante lang sa kanila ang kumita," Coronel told the online media outfit, adding that LTFRB is right to impose a one-month suspension on Uber.

"Ipinapakita lamang po ng government natin na may talim ang batas. I'm sure matututo na si Uber niyan... Of course, mas okay kung fine only lang but paano matututo si Uber if magbabayad lang lagi siya ng danyos sa pagiging pasaway?" he stressed.

In short, Uber and Grab should slow down, abide by the law, and consider the overall welfare of the public over what they had touted as “overwhelming public support.”

Or as the LTFRB had pointed out in its order suspending Uber, “technological innovation is but a tool to enhance human convenience but may not dictate what may be morally acceptable social human behavior.”

 

Overused and Abused

It was clear that the two TNCs overused and abused the license given to them by the LTFRB to operate ride-sharing services purportedly ‘to meet the huge demand by the riding public’.

The TNCs shouldn't have violated the memo that allowed them to operate because by doing so, they effectively added to the thousands of colorum vehicles now plying our streets.

It was purely a case of greed for profit by these TNCs and before we vilify LTFRB it would be better to if we consider where it come from.

LTFRB is a regulatory body and it is its job to implement the tasks assigned to them otherwise it will be accused of dereliction of duty.

We are a nation of laws and we can’t ignore existing laws just to satisfy the public demand.

That's just the way it works. It's a bitter pill, but it has to be swallowed, regardless of insistent public demand.  (With James Veloso) 

 

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