Dear Secretary Tugade

July 19, 2017

I’m writing to you today on behalf of a very exasperated riding public who are completely dumbfounded as to why the LTFRB have chosen to spend all their resources trying to fix the one thing under their office that is not broken. We feel that this should be elevated to you because it not only impacts us directly, but it dilutes everything your office stands for. Because while we applaud your build, build, build platform, it makes little sense if there are agencies underneath you that are undoing that.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally get the level playing field argument. But from what I’ve witnessed, this is not about that. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rules or safety, or the welfare of the riding public. This is simply about power, pride and payback.
Remember, Uber and Grab are already light years ahead in terms of screening drivers and regulating numbers, yet still the LTFRB insist on them taking another redundant step. But that’s ok, nobody was asking to be exempt. But the LTFRB stopped allowing applications to be filed. Then they issue statement upon statement saying all they want is for TNCs and TNVS to comply when there's NO WAY to comply.

So fast forward a year, and now you have a service that the public have become reliant on, with a business that is growing at 250% per year, and that is when the LTFRB decide to conduct the entrapment operations. This is no different to when the LTO issued a no plate/no travel order during a time when they could not deliver plates. With a single stroke of a pen, they forced over one million vehicles into being non-compliant with the law and branded their owners as criminals. These are not criminals, Mr Secretary. These are good people who applied and paid and waited in good faith. They were simply failed by their government. Good thing that the LTO caved under the pressure and allowed conduction stickers to serve as temporary plates while they got their act together, but what about the LTFRB?

Sure, they may have a right to place a suspension pending an investigation. But what exactly did they do in that time? Did they investigate or try to regulate? Did they conduct a public hearing? No, they did not. The LTFRB basically sat on it for a whole year and waited till people could no longer make their monthly payments on their cars or just basically got desperate enough to wing it. And after interviewing countless operators over the years, it's become quite obvious to me that that is their MO. They sit on your accreditation documents and make you bleed money till you either risk it or get down on your knees and beg them to ‘find another way’. Ask any LTFRB regulated operator and they will tell you some real horror stories. A common one is waiting for up to two years just to transfer an existing franchise from one vehicle to the next.

Now the taxis naman, as much as they get a bad rap, are also right in saying “hey, why do the TNCs get a free ride while we have to suffer through all the BS that the LTFRB make us eat. Dapat fair” And I agree. But not if it means being regulated back into the same broken model that got us into this mess to begin with.

Because as noisy as I have been about fighting for TNCs, I’ve usually said in the same breath that taxis are given an equally raw deal. The only reason they behave like that is because the LTFRB places such ridiculous restrictions and archaic regulations on them. The fact that they insist on static pricing for something as dynamic as metro manila traffic tells you all you need to know about why you can never get a cab in peak hour. Ask them and they will tell you that they need to spend a peso to earn 80-90 centavos back. It doesn’t work. In a way, they are actually regulated into being dishonest. And now we want to regulate the TNCs into the same thing.

It’s the whole we-know-its-broken-but-its-all-we-got-so-we-all-have-to-suffer syndrome. Except that we don’t. We already know there’s a better way. So incentivize, don’t penalize. Look at any new technology that provides a better way forward. Take the EV and Hybrids program as an example. Every progressive country trying to be compliant with their clean air acts offered tax exemptions/car pool lanes/free parking/lower registration costs and rebates in order to encourage their use. Because it's a better way.

Here, we seem to do the opposite. The LTFRB wants to regulate something they do not understand––or worse, force it into a broken set of rules or suppress it to further a personal or political agenda. Either way, once something has been proven to be for the greater good, the government should be compelled to find ways to legalize it instead of ways to ban it. Because if everything needed to fit into an existing set of rules, we wouldn't have put a man on the moon, or worse, invented the Internet.

Or, you could just cut and paste the medical marijuana argument and replace Pharma with LTFRB and Uber and Grab with cannabis and you will have get another picture of how history will judge us.

And finally, allowing TNCs to operate will not kill taxis. Please take that off the table. While I agree that there's certainly an overlap of customers, Uber and Grab have been luring the private motorist away from his/her vehicle way more than they have from cabs. Put it this way. I stopped taking cabs as soon as I could afford a vehicle. But when Uber and Grab came in, even though my wife and I both have our own cars, I started using them. Now, I spend 25,000 a month on Uber between myself, my kids and my staff. If they close down, I will use that 25k a month to buy another car or hire another driver. I will not fill that void with a cab. It wouldn’t even be an option. And I know I'm not alone.

It’s a sad day for the Philippines if we let this slide. Because this order is not only an attack on the riding public and the drivers that are earning an honest living from it, it is an attack on innovation and sends a clear message to progress: you are not welcome here.
PS: If this is really for our own safety, the LTFRB should at least ask us how we feel. Just to give you a snapshot of how we do, here’s a poll I conducted last week. I think the results speak for themselves.

About the Author

James Deakin
James Deakin is a multi-awarded automotive journalist located in Manila, Philippines. He has a weekly column in the Philippine STAR's motoring section, is a motoring corespondent for CNN Philippines and is the host of the Philippine motoring television show Drive, which airs every Sunday night at 10pm on CNN Philippines.