The airport taxi policy just isn’t working

No Safe Harbor
Vincent Lazatin

Posted on September 15, 2015

According to a CNN report last year, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) has been acclaimed as the world’s worst airport for three years in a row, and “improved” to the fourth worst in 2014. I haven’t met anyone that has contested NAIA’s rank as among the world’s worst. One would think that NAIA management would take the opportunity to improve its services by listening to passenger feedback. Their response to this column last Sept. 10 left me disappointed, and typifies the “defend and justify” philosophy of many government agencies. I was hoping that NAIA management would take the column constructively and use it as a reason to review its taxi accreditation policy. What follows is my response to their Letter to the Editor published in yesterday’s issue.

Dear David de Castro,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my column in the Sept. 10 issue of BusinessWorld. I’m glad that it caught the attention of your office, as my e-mails of Aug. 25 and Sept. 7 to Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) on the same issues seem to have fallen through the cracks.

I hope you don’t mind my candor, but your reply left me unimpressed and underwhelmed, with no feeling that any of the issues I raised have been satisfactorily answered or addressed.

I find it curious how you make it clear that the policy definitely benefits the Airport Authority (fifth paragraph of your letter), and only as an afterthought, do you mention the benefits to the passengers. This is exactly what is problematic with your framework -- you put the MIAA the center of your policies (and presumably operations) and treat the passengers as mere footnotes.

If your accreditation policy is that wonderful, great, and beneficial to passengers, please consider the following questions:

• Why is it still so difficult for me to catch a regular white taxi out of the airport?

• Why do I still not have more transport options?

• Why am I still compensating for your policy by going to the departure area to catch a regular white taxi? (I am not alone in this “workaround” solution. Please refer to a notorious incident involving members of Dakila [and others] when they were prevented from doing precisely this in 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CkncPW-dg8)

• Why must popular services like Uber and GrabTaxi go through a second accreditation process with MIAA when they have just gone through a very similar process with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB)? Are you not duplicating LTFRB’s mandate?

• If you’ve put “safety measures” in place to allow unaccredited white taxis to service arriving passengers during window hours, what’s stopping you from allowing white taxis 24/7? (By the way, your window hours is a new phenomenon, having been put in place in only April of this year, meaning for most of the last 13 years, the white taxis have not been seen at the airport, thus the need for the departure area workaround.)

As an important and nontrivial aside to the Dakila incident of 2013, doesn’t this embarrass you, that your policy had reached a level where your customers were physically prevented from finding cheaper alternatives to your yellow taxis? How does this ever serve the public interest? Please explain it to me. Do you know better than we do what’s good for us? This incident alone should have set off the alarm bells and caused you to review your policy.

Mr. de Castro, for all of the last 13 years and up to this day, when I arrive at NAIA, I must go to the departure area to catch a white taxi.

From my point of view (and for many others who do the same), the airport taxi policy only serves makes things more difficult for people like me. Is that the way your policy is supposed to work? If not, then you really need to revisit it.

Shouldn’t your policies be designed to make things easy, convenient and safe for all your passengers, including the budget-conscious among us? Do the concerns of the thousands of passengers who do the departure area workaround not matter to you? Do you not hear our voices?

In the end, what matters, Mr. de Castro, is the net effect of your policy in the real world -- how it works on the ground.

On paper, you may think it’s a great policy -- open to all, discriminatory to none, as you claim.

But may I respectfully suggest that you step out of your office and talk with the passengers who wait for hours just to catch an affordable white taxi and see what they say about the benefits of your policy. You must listen to all sides of the story.

I hope you receive this with an open mind with the goal of being more responsive to your customers. Listen to what people are saying and not to the sound of your own voice defending and justifying the policy.

Your policy simply isn’t working.

Respectfully yours,

Vincent Lazatin

P.S. I’ve seen your accreditation requirements (at https://www.facebook.com/MIAAGovPh/posts/528004364032012). It’s so complex and difficult. It discourages accreditation rather than encourages it. It’s no wonder very few regular taxis have applied for accreditation.

Vincent Lazatin is the Executive Director of the Transparency and Accountability Network and can be followed on Twitter at @vtlazatin