It ain’t Uber till it’s Uber

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Romeo L. Bernardo-125


The Uber-LTFRB controversy has highlighted, to our great inconvenience, what happens when modern technology clashes with antiquated laws and regulations. This is further complicated by the business conduct of a highly successful global upstart start-up confronting the dysfunctions of Philippine bureaucracy writ large in the DoTr agencies.

To be better educated on the subject, I turned to our eldest son, Ibba Rasul Bernardo. He is a net entrepreneur/geek with deep experience in tech start-ups and social enterprise.

After listening to him, I thought it best to relay it in his words. He also has written for a number of publications like Adobo Magazine, T3, and GamesMaster and co-hosts Ride PH TV.

“Gustavo Petro once said: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

Most people understand that when Petro said this, he contemplated public transportation so convenient that it was preferable to private car rides and luxury vehicles.

The founder of Uber is not “most people,” however. Upon hearing this quote, Travis Kalanick probably heard the ka-ching of a thousand cash registers and thought “OK, Mercedes Benz S Classes for us and a hundred friends!” And Uber was born.

Let me share with you the following potentially controversial thoughts about our favorite ride-sharing app.

Why It’s Game Uber in the Philippines

1. Boob-er
Many things said about Travis Kalanick are not fit for publication: He is a misogynistic creep who has created a toxic company culture. Uber is rife with stories/allegations of managers groping women, cocaine done in company retreats, to name a few. Kalanick even joked about an app for women on demand, “Yeah, we call that Boob-er.”

Ironically, because of the tracking and safety features inherent to Uber, women feel empowered to drive for Uber. Ask any Pinay Uber driver.

Good news: reports say that a new CEO will be stepping in, Dara Khosrowshahi of Expedia, an immigrant from Iran and poster child of the American Dream.

2. God View
Uber created a backdoor in their app called “God View” where they can track — stalk? — specific users. They’ve been accused of allowing some employees access to this information to follow exes, spouses, celebrities, and politicians. After a 14-month investigation by the New York State Attorney, Uber agreed to pay a fine and to encrypt passenger data.

Another privacy violating function was active until Aug. 29. Uber didn’t only track you while you were in one of their cars. They tracked you even after you’d gotten off.

3. Endo
Uber’s life blood is contractual labor whom they lovingly call “Partner Drivers.” Their business depends on actively finding ways to minimize support for drivers. This has led to a string of lawsuits and settlements in the US (Google “Uber labor law suit”).

In the Philippines, many UBER “Partner Drivers” work 10 to even 15 hours, by choice. An Uber driver I spoke with told me he earns more than twice what he earned when he was driving a taxi. Another driver told me she was getting P1200 pesos a day from Uber as support while they were banned from plying the streets of Manila.

Why do drivers and riders in the Philippines and in many countries all over the world love Uber, despite its many faults? Simple: in many of these countries, the transportation system is broken. Normal people are sick and tired of lousy, inefficient, expensive, and dangerous taxis. Most of these countries’ regulatory agencies are rent seeking, corrupt, and worst of all inept.

In a country like the Philippines, the few options commuters have are bad ones.

Uber gives the driver the perception of becoming their own boss, and the ability to own (finance) a car. Uber also gives the riding public convenient, reliable, and safe transportation. Even with Uber’s many faults, to the average commuter, UBER is heavenly ride compared to the commuting Hell we had to endure before Uber.”

Our laws have understandably not kept up with accelerating advances in technology in our globally wired sharing economy. Allow me to conclude by sharing and echoing the statement of our Foundation for Economic Freedom on this (see

Our Congress needs to move fast on a wide front less we be left further behind. FEF and others are pushing for legislation that can help open up our economy to foreign investments and innovations.

A key one is the amendment of the Public Services Act which will redefine the present ambiguous description of what constitutes a public utility, expanding the sphere for the private sector to meet growing demand of the public and a growing economy, since government alone cannot. (e. g. mass transport, ports, toll roads, info tech/telecommunications, water, etc.)

This most forward looking initiative is sponsored in the Senate by Public Services Committee Chair Sen. Grace Poe and championed in the House of Representatives by lawmakers Arroyo, Salceda, and Yap. We are pleased to learn that this is now in the LEDAC priority list, thanks to Planning Secretary Pernia.

Meanwhile, we plead with the authorities to be open to new private initiatives, regulate with a light touch, and take a broad view when interpreting our laws, with improved and expanded provision of public services as the primary concern. Don’t be like old generals fighting the last war.

Romeo L. Bernardo is a Board Director in the Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis and Vice Chair of the Foundation for Economic Freedom.