Transport Troubles: Uber Drivers Publish Open Letter While LTFRB Denies “Premium Taxi” Shenanigans

News of Uber cars being apprehended by the LTFRB again, while the agency itself seemed to be on the brink of launching a rival “Premium Taxi” service that favored existing taxi operators, set the internet alight yesterday. Since then, Uber drivers and partners have published an open letter, while the LTFRB engaged in a frantic backpedaling exercise when challenged by the public and media. Here’s the latest on the continued farce that is Manila public transport.

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While Uber itself has so far remained quiet on the latest developments, a website by the name of UberManilaTips has published what it claims is an open letter by Uber Manila drivers and partners to the LTFRB. In it, they claim that Uber is more than willing to comply with the requirements laid down by the government, but that it has apparently proven almost impossible to do so in practice. Read for yourself, as we have reproduced it in full below:

OPEN LETTER From Partners and Drivers About LTFRB Accreditation and Ridesharing Regulation

With the recent news about the ridesharing regulations, there has not been a single article that shares from the vantage point of us partners and drivers when in fact we are the ones directly involved.

Here’s an Open Letter from Partners and Drivers about LTFRB Accreditation and Ridesharing Regulation. It’s about time Partners and Drivers speak about the issue. We hope something positive comes out of this.

To Whom It May Concern:

First, we want to THANK YOU

Thank you for legalizing ridesharing in the Philippines. Thank you for allowing partners and drivers like us to bring better and safer transportation services to the commuting public. Thank you for your forward thinking and embracing technological changes. Thank you for making our livelihood legitimate; we are ordinary people who’ve had the opportunity to make a better living for ourselves and our families through these ridesharing companies.

Secondly, we are very willing to COMPLY

We understand that there are memoranda passed and signed. We understand there are requirements and documents we need to submit. We appreciate the intention and we are more than willing to cooperate.

However, most of us don’t understand the implications of this regulation and these memoranda. We don’t know what will happen to us if individual Partner Operators and Drivers become “independent contractors” of the TNCs.

And even after we seek information and advice from the LTFRB Head Office, no one knows the guidelines to implement these memoranda. No one can explain to us and give us definitive answers about the requirements we need to submit and what these all means for us. Isn’t there supposedly an Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) to outline the process? Even the Transport Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Grab have no idea how everyone should go about implementing and rolling out these memoranda, and how to implement this transition. Are we to accredit individually with LTFRB? Will the Transport Network Companies (i.e. Uber and Grab) facilitate the accreditation of all the partners for easier compliance? We are all at a loss. We hope you are not.

Thirdly, please HELP US and INFORM US..

Help us understand and guide us through this transition and we’ll help you implement this regulation the best and fastest way possible. It doesn’t help, and we don’t appreciate, hearing (negative) news on TV and social media about threats, deadlines and rules we don’t have any idea about. Instead make good use of media, publish news, issue statements and advisories to give us guidance re implementation and help us comply. We heard there was a publication on the newspaper about the deadline. Nobody has seen it, because seriously, how many people read the newspaper daily anymore? You could have published that online or made a proper public announcement on TV.

Let us know who should help us. Would it be LTFRB? Would it be the TNCs (Uber, Grab,etc.)? Because we are more than willing to cooperate and help. We just need guidance and information.

It is us who are braving the harsh streets of Metro Manila, we think we ought to know. We are already serving the public by providing safe and efficient transportation. Please spare us the bureaucracy. We do not need more red tape. Inform and guide us quickly, so we can comply faster. Maybe then, you will have more time in your hands to fix the ever pressing problems of other existing transport systems (i.e. taxis, buses, MRT, FX, jeepneys, etc).

Lastly, we want to thank the Riders for the unwavering support.

You know more than anyone else the value we provide to the commuting public. You experience it firsthand, day in and day out. We hope you’ll continue to support us and stand by our side through this transition. Rest assured we will continue to provide you convenience, excellent service and safe rides.

Putting Riders first,

Your On-demand Driver

P.S. We hope you consider extending the deadline for LTFRB accreditation and use the time to guide and inform us properly.

So, there you have it. Apparently they are willing to comply but the agency itself is making it hard to do so, or at least that’s the claim. We leave you to decide who you believe in this one.

Following the news about the proposed “Premium Taxi” service by the LTFRB yesterday, local motoring writers quickly started their engines and raced to challenge the agency about what appeared to be shenanigans of the really bad type. Leading the pack was James Deakin, who published the initial image of a message about Premium Taxi that set the whole online snowball rolling.

In his usual no nonsense way, he then asked the LTFRB what all that was about and it didn’t take long for motoring giants TopGear to climb into the online ring and join the fracas. As probably some of the only people in the country able to get a reply from a government agency in less time that it takes to grow a ZZ Top style beard, the chairman of the LTFRB replied with record speed and proceeded to vigorously deny the allegations that Premium Taxi was created to compete with Uber and GrabCar, the two most popular services in the country right now, and that instead it was meant to challenge existing taxi operators into upgrading their fleet and that Premium Taxi is not a “racket” as many people claimed in comments on social media. In the interest of balance, below is the complete text of a Facebook post by LTFRB chairman Winston Ginez in response to the initial claims:

LTFRB’S REPLY TO A
FACEBOOK POST WHY DOTC
AND LTFRB ARE ALLEGEDLY UNREASONABLE ON UBER:

On May 8, 2015, Department of Transportation and Communications ((DOTC) Issued Department Order No. 2015-11 creating new modes of transportation vehicles such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Airport Bus, Transport Network Vehicle Service (e.g. Uber and GrabCar) and Premium Taxi. The purpose of said policy issuance is to improve mobility of our people and provide high quality transportation services to our commuting public.

Pursuant to the DO, LTFRB held on July 24, 2015 a consultation among PUV operators, primarily taxi operators, regarding its draft Memorandum Circular to implement the roll out of Premium Taxi. The Notice of Public Consultation and the operating conditions for a Premium Taxi was published in major newspaper of general circulation, posted in LTFRB website and LTFRB Citizen Enforcer account in Facebook.

The allegation that Premium Taxi was created to compete with Uber and GrabCar is without basis in fact and in law. Premium taxis are of higher end since only sedans with engine displacement of 2.0 or higher will be accepted. No SUVs, AUVs and vans will be accepted. Thus, the cars that are acceptable are Toyota Altis 2.0, Toyota Camry, Benz, and the like. Notably, our neighbor Asean cities such as Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have Premium Taxis many years ago. It is high time that we offer the same kind of high quality and modern taxis to our people.

Unlike Uber and GrabCar, premium taxis are marked vehicles with common color (black), will sport YELLOW plates (unlike Uber and GrabCar, etc).
Other operating conditions of Premium Taxi include: (1) a qualified operator is required to have minimum of 25 units each to ensure that only financially capable operators will be granted franchise; (2) they have taxi meters; (3) they have top lights identifying them as Premium Taxis; and (4) they can pick and drop passengers through street hail unlike Uber and GrabCar that can only be booked through online application. The goal of rolling out Premium Taxi is to provide alternative taxi transport to more discerning and higher end taxi passengers who are willing and ready to pay higher fare for better service. The target clientele of Premium Taxi are domestic and international tourists, professionals, millennials, and the like.

The application for Premium Taxi under the draft MC will be open and transparent as it will undergo three stages: pre-qualification (legal, technical and financial), selection and application for franchise.

DOTC and LTFRB, in apprehending UNREGISTERED Uber and GrabCar vehicles, DO NOT and WILL NOT put Uber or GrabCar out of business. We just want them to apply for and be granted with franchise by complying with the Dept Order and MCs that were issued three (3) months ago.

It is worthy to mention that after DOTC and LTFRB issued the governing rules for Uber and GrabCar to operate legally in the Philippines, Uber hailed the Philippines as a tech-forward country.

While in other countries Uber is either fighting government regulators or its drivers being apprehended and fined heavily by police authorities, the Philippines, through DOTC and LTFRB, was the first country in the world to issue comprehensive regulations to make its operations compliant with our public service laws. This was despite the lobbying of taxi operators for DOTC and LTFRB not to allow the operations of Uber and GrabCar in the Philippines.

In fact, Uber urged other countries, such as Thailand, to use the Philippine regulation as basis of their own regulation of TNCs and TNVS. (Philippine regulation on TNCs to be used as a basis in Thailand)

Yet, despite that the Philippine regulations became effective on May 30, 2015 or more than two (2) months ago, Uber has not yet applied for accreditation. Its partner vehicles continue to ply our streets and engage in public land transportation without the requisite franchise. Though DOTC officials reached out to Uber officials urging them to comply with the registration regulations, Uber just kept on promising that it will file its application. Thus, in fulfillment of our sworn duty to implement our public land transportation law, DOTC and LTFRB gave Uber and its partner vehicles and the partner vehicles of GrabCar (which is LTFRB accredited already) until August 20 to apply for and be granted a franchise.

To paraphrase former Mayor Fred Lim, the law should apply to all or to no one at all. Simply put, no one is above the law.

James Deakin has since replied again and you can read his latest thoughts here. We leave you to decide who you believe and which side you take in this whole saga, but we’re pretty certain this wasn’t the last you heard of it….

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