Motoring


Uber doesn’t need your sympathy




Don’t Drink And Write
Vernon B. Sarne

Posted on August 09, 2017


Two years ago -- before the term “fake news” became common -- countless people fell for a false narrative that vilified the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and canonized the app-based ride-sharing company Uber. The disinformation arose after the universally hated government agency had announced the need to register transport network companies (TNC) like Uber so that they could be taxed and regulated. It erroneously claimed that LTFRB was doing so because it was starting its own business offering a similar service.

Worse, public sympathy was hijacked as commuters were fed the incendiary rhetoric of how Uber was so much better than other modes of public transportation (true), and how government was out to kill it (not true). The person mainly responsible for that fake news was famously called out by a lawyer in a memorable Facebook exchange that was both entertaining and sad.

Twenty-four months later, we’re still witnessing the same legal standoff between Uber and LTFRB. In a nutshell, the agency is threatening to cancel Uber’s accreditation and right to operate in the country if the latter doesn’t comply with the requirements the former has laid down for TNCs. The bone of contention is that the tech company continues “to accept additional accreditation of TNVS (transport network vehicle services) and/or activation of accounts” in spite of LTFRB’s unequivocal order to halt driver activation.

Most recently, Uber was levied a P5-million fine for deploying colorum (illegal) drivers and cars. To be fair, main rival Grab had been guilty of the same and was penalized the same amount. The LTFRB peeps must be so frustrated already that they are now spewing fancy words. For instance, they describe the violation as “contumacious,” which means “stubbornly or willfully disobedient to authority.” Which, come to think of it, is in keeping with Uber’s global reputation as an organization that regularly and deliberately flouts the law. I actually won’t be surprised if there’s a page in the company’s handbook that states: “Disregard the law now and just deal with it later.”

But how the company deals with the issue is incredibly amusing. It’s a classic lesson in PR crisis management -- if you’re a fan of Donald Trump and his twisted enablers, who frequently resort to alternative facts and dodge the real problem in question. The aforementioned fake-news source from 2015 is now being hailed as a “hero” for supposedly taking up the cudgels for poor commuters who will be deprived of an excellent transport service should LTFRB shut down Uber. Make no mistake: This so-called influencer is an advocate for Uber, not for the common good. Working with him now is the same guy (also mentioned above) who rebuked him online, because said guy is now Uber’s policy head. Together, they’re putting on a show in front of the Senate, on TV, on social media and for everyone willing to surrender critical thinking in favor of a misleading trope designed to demonize government and rile the public.

We should find it alarming that Uber has prominently figured in numerous legal conflicts around the world, not just here. It has been banned in many countries for its refusal to play by the rules. That there’s a whole Wikipedia page dedicated solely to “Uber protests and legal actions” should enlighten the company’s most fanatical defenders.

Let me be clear: The LTFRB has sucked in nearly the entirety of its existence. Just look at all the dilapidated and smoke-belching public-utility vehicles on the road. Whatever loathing the agency is experiencing now is largely its own fault. It doesn’t take much to fan the flames of animosity toward something that is already widely reviled. A philandering, thieving city mayor would probably beat LTFRB in approval ratings.

But all of this doesn’t mean the agency isn’t right in its efforts to regulate TNCs. Please stop with the dismissive “regulate reckless jeepney drivers and criminal taxi drivers first” argument. That is its own separate issue. This is the same ploy a corrupt politician uses when caught red-handed: “Why me? Why not this congressman and that senator who are far more crooked?” All of a sudden, dude’s a victim.

Guys, Uber isn’t the victim here. Don’t fall for it. Uber is a business. Anyone who thinks it cares about fixing our public-transport mess is delusional. In fact, the unabated addition of Uber (and Grab) cars on the road only exacerbates it. And if its drivers are allowed to operate unchecked, they will soon start behaving like the very cab drivers Uber customers detest.

Does Uber provide superior transport service? Yes. Is it the best thing to happen to our daily commute? Sure. Should it be allowed to continue doing business here? By all means.

But Uber ought to start respecting the law, and stop turning public opinion against government. It needs to be regulated and taxed, plain and simple. Just because “people love it” doesn’t excuse it from abiding by legit business regulations. LTFRB won’t always get it right. It is still catching its breath trying to keep up with a new transportation business model. But it has to do its job of regulating everyone who wants to engage in public conveyance. Drop the telenovela script and fall in line just like everyone else.

You may e-mail the author at vbsarne@visor.ph.