Are Uber and Tripid violating the Philippines' public service law?
Acc to Govt, public utility vehicles have to secure franchise. But are Uber, Tripid tech or public utility cos? Will this stop the taxi apps?By Terence Ng 13 Feb, 2014
Earlier, you had few choices if you wanted to go about town. You could either squeeze among other commuters in public transport, take expensive and unreliable taxis, or cough up the dough needed for the privilege of sitting in air-conditioned comfort inside a car during a traffic jam. Now, with car sharing and taxi apps, you can enjoy the frequency of public transport, and the comfort of cars and taxis at the same time.
While in the Philippines, taxi apps such as GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi offer an easy way to book a cab straight from your smartphone, Uber and Tripid go the distance by providing a private car at your disposal — professional car-for-hire fleets by Uber or carpooling by individual motorists through Tripid’s mobile app.
However, a recent announcement by the government suggests that Filipino commuters may have to forego this choice. The Philippines’ Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) wants to put the brakes on both, ride-sharing app Tripid and private car service app Uber for allegedly violating the country’s public service law, reports InterAksyon. The announcement follows Uber’s launch in the Philippines, which lets Filipinos to flag the company’s partner vehicles through the Silicon Valley firm’s Android and iOS app.
A representative from the LTFRB explained that the firms have violated the Commonwealth Act No. 146 or the Public Service Law, which states that public utility vehicles like taxis have to secure a franchise from the LTFRB.
According to LTFRB Chair Winston Ginez, both Uber and Tripid are violating this law as they are considered public services. “We will contact both companies to stop them, and they will be called to a public hearing and be issued a show-cause order,” he said. “What they are doing is a criminal violation of the public service law,” added Ginez.
In a previous statement, Uber has stated that they are a technology company and not a public utility company, as they merely provide the platform for riders and drivers. Likewise, as a carpooling app, Tripid users are regular drivers, and their vehicles are private cars. In this case, Tripid’s app is merely used as a platform for scheduling carpool trips — something similar to hitching a ride from an office colleague who happens to live near your place.
Regardless, the LTFRB has countered that services such as Uber and Tripid are systems that allow others to violate the law. “They are reckless and they should have consulted us first,” said Ginez.
Tripid is optimistic about the situation though. “We are not worried about the issue,” a company representative told e27, adding “We are glad it’s created a discourse — it’s only good for everyone involved.”
JJ Disini, a lawyer with expertise in IT-related matters, agrees that this could be an opportunity instead of a roadblock. In a separate statement to InterAksyion, Disini had said that the LTFRB can use this opportunity to make better use of the traffic data generated from the apps, including volume and driver data, rather than take a hard-line stance. “They can view them as partners rather than as entities to regulate, if they see the benefits of the information, because in the first place, they exist because there is an unserved demand,” he said.
Disini offered an opinion on the nuances involved in Uber’s and Tripid’s businesses. In the case of Uber, they are already dealing with rental companies with a franchise. “[I]n a sense, they are just creating efficiency in the system by providing an information platform,” he said, however clarifying that if Uber were found to be dealing with individuals without a franchise, “they may be enabling somebody to violate the public service law,” which turns these vehicles into “colorum” operations.
Tripid, meanwhile, might have a better defense, said Disini. “[W]hat a user can simply say is that ‘I have a car and I’m going from point A to point B, and if somebody wants to pay me for that ride, then good’.”
With inputs from J. Angelo Racoma