MANILA, Philippines – Philippine lawmakers on Monday, November 17, insisted that the popular and now controversial Uber cease its operations while government tries to figure out whether to regulate the car-sharing service and how.
In a meeting called by both the House of Representatives’ committee on transportation and committee on Metro Manila development, lawmakers also chastised the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for allowing Uber to continue its operations despite its partner vehicles being unregulated and therefore “colorum” or operating illegally.
Uber grabbed headlines in the Philippines after one of its partner cars was apprehended in a sting operation led by the LTFRB. The operation was met with outrage on social media.
LTFRB Chairman Winston Ginez told lawmakers the operation was a result of a complaint lodged by taxi operators. He said they have since been exercising “tolerance” toward Uber following the sting operation.
Since the operation, Uber has met with transportation department officials and agreed to placing partner vehicles under a franchising scheme.
Who, what can be regulated?
What the government has yet to sort out, however, is how the LTFRB would regulate private vehicles partnered with Uber and if the LTFRB has the jurisdiction to regulate the service itself.
Ginez said this will be the subject of a public hearing on November 24.
Quoting Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Ginez said the government “will always push for anything that modernizes transportation systems,” but added that government regulation must happen when “public services” are concerned.
Lawmakers raised alarm over the precedent that Uber supposedly sets: if its private cars are allowed to operate similar to vehicles with franchises, what’s to stop taxi companies and other public transport companies from doing the same?
“There is no hard and fast rule if they fall under the public service rule,” conceded Ginez, since Uber itself does not own the vehicles and instead only serves as a conduit for the cars and its potential passengers to book rides.
“You’re tackling a purely legal question,” said Pasig Representative Roman Romulo, who questioned whether Congress needs to pass a new law that would govern services like Uber.
Representatives from transportation services that already regulated by the LTFRB – such as taxis and airport taxis – said it was “unfair” that Uber could get away with offeirng the same services even without regulation.
“Clearly, the only thing we’re asking for is [for government] to level the playing field. If they regulate us, they should also regulate Uber,” said Philippine National Taxi Operators Association president and Quezon City Councilor Bong Suntay.
The situation Uber is facing in the Philippines in not unique. In most countries where the service has expanded, the company has faced opposition from regulated forms of public transportation.
European taxi drivers, for instance, staged a protest against Uber and similar apps in June. In Jakarta, Indonesia, government officials threatened to shut down the service over similar qualms.
Protecting the public
While some lawmakers present during the meeting wanted Uber to stop operations right away, all of the committee members made it clear that they weren’t against the service itself.
“We’re not here to make it difficult for [services like Uber]. We’re just here to protect the people who will patronize it,” said Manila Representative Amado Bagatsing.
Bagatsing noted that Uber users he has spoken to said they prefer the service over taxis because “they feel safe.” In the Philippines, it is not unusual to hear horror stories of cab rides gone wrong.
Taxis, public utility vehicles, and other forms of public transport in the Philippines are heavily regulated, at least on paper.
Recently, the transportation department and its affiliate agencies issued a new joint administrative order, which imposes higher fines for violations, such as over-charging, refusing to take passengers in, and the use of unregistered vehicles.
“With Uber, who will be liable should driver overcharge?” asked Suntay.
Uber passengers do not pay in cash when they avail of the service. Instead, fares are charged directly to their registered credit cars.
Uber did not send representatives to the meeting despite an invitation, a move which Metro Manila development committee chairman Quezon City Representative Winston Castelo said was “very suspicious.”
Representatives from the company will be subpoenaed to the next meeting, alongside officials from the trade department and the Security and Exchange Commission.
The House of Representatives transportation committee, meanwhile, has scheduled for November 19 a separate hearing on the Uber issue. – Rappler.com