Happy New Year from the Urban Roamer! We can only hope that this 2017 will be a good year ahead for all of us!
Pat yourselves on the back too for having survived a year as “interesting” as 2016. We have gone through a lot and managed to make it even if sometimes, we were on the brink of madness, especially during the recent Christmas season when traffic became too unbearable than the unbearable situation it already is in.
But if there’s something to be somewhat thankful for, it’s the growing patronage of ride-sharing services such as Grab and Uber or, as the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) calls them officially, what are known as transportation network vehicle services (TNVS), that gave more commuting choices to the public. Of course, the operative word here is “somewhat”.
While the Urban Roamer did touch upon the subject of TNVS in the past, this is an opportunity to finally talk about it in-depth as look at how they evolved and the current issues and frustrations about them.
First things first, what is a TNVS anyway? The LTFRB defines it as a transportation service provided by vehicle which is not covered under a franchise (like jeepneys and taxis are) but operate through the supervision of a Transportation Network Company or TNC. The TNC, in turn, is defined as an “organization whether a corporation, partnership, sole proprietor, or other form, that provides pre-arranged transportation services for compensation using an online-enabled application or platform technology to connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles.” Simply put, TNVS is basically a technology-based ride-sharing transportation service.
THE EVOLUTION OF RIDE-SHARING
Looking back, it is interesting to see how TNCs here have evolved. Grab was the first to arrive in 2013 but if you remember, when Grab started in 2013, what they were offering was just the GrabTaxi service which helped riders easily and conveniently hail taxis in their location. The following year was when ride-sharing truly took form when Uber started operations in February that year and Grab launched GrabCar in May, which the Urban Roamer actually covered back then.
From then on, it was a tight competition between Grab and Uber to win the attention of the commuting public in Metro Manila and eventually in other parts in the country, albeit using different strategies. Grab went on a diversification route with services like GrabBike, GrabExpress (Grab’s delivery service), and even a GrabKalesa for a time. Uber, on the other hand, did not go far in its diversification as it concentrated on services like the commuting service UberHop.
Then, there’s UberPOOL, Uber’s carpooling service that arguably has dramatically changed the ride-sharing landscape in the metropolis. With lower fares in place, UberPOOL made it cool (no pun intended) for people to share a ride with a complete stranger in getting to your destination. Needless to say, UberPOOL helped catapult Uber into becoming the leading TNC in the metropolis.
Along with these successes were the challenges and issues facing these TNCs. One is the issue of price surges that are being imposed during peak times when demand is at its highest and traffic is at its worst. TNCs reason out that the imposition of surges is a way of providing incentives for drivers to go out and take in passengers when normally, they would not dare travel at those times. But some passengers complained that these surges were tantamount to taking advantage of the passengers especially during those hours, having to pay fees higher than the usual. Something the LTFRB addressed by putting a cap on the surges up to 2x the rates covered.
Personally, I really have not much issues with surges. In fact, I pretty much understand the need to have them. What does get on my nerves from time to time is that, in the case of Uber, it makes a habit of switching pricing schemes in the middle of a trip. So sometimes, you end up paying more than what the app tells you are expected to pay for the trip. Which is unfair for the passengers like myself.
Then of course, there is the continued opposition to TNCs by a number of taxi operators and drivers who see them as a threat to their livelihood and are asking government to subject them to the same regulation as they do, despite the fact that they are already somewhat regulated by classifying them with as TNVS. But it seems these people want them to be regulated the same way as they are as taxis or other public vehicles, and that is not going to work because TNCs are a different beast altogether that require a new and modern way of looking at them. Otherwise, they will be bogged down by the same system that has adversely affected public transportation in the first place.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
While I do not often take ride-sharing services, they have been an invaluable help to my trips around the metropolis. The introduction of UberPOOL especially was a great budget saver for me to do more Uber trips than I did before (while I was using Grab less often, especially without promos). However, there is no denying that there have been some not so pleasant experiences at times, which I hope would be noted as a means to improve the services TNCs provide.
First is the policy of switching the pricing scheme in the middle of a trip. While you are provided the expected fare to pay before confirming your trip, sometimes, especially whenever a sudden heavy traffic is encountered, the pricing scheme is changed so at the end of the trip, you may end up paying higher than what you expected. Ostensibly, this mechanism was put in place as a way to “compensate” the driver. However, it is detrimental and unfair to the commuter who should not be subjected to sudden pricing changes like that.
And then there are the drivers who seem to rely too much on technology, especially Waze. Don’t get me wrong, I like Waze and I appreciate how helpful it is, especially here as a way to get around the traffic chokepoints. However, like all technology, it should not be taken as the most reliable tool ever. It is annoying that drivers rely too much on them and when it fails, they seem to be helpless as well. It is imperative that the first thing TNVS drivers should learn is to be street smart. They are not expected to know all the ins and outs but they should at least know the way around the city and be able to make their own sound judgment with regards to the route to take, especially in instances when technology fails.
There is no doubt that ride-sharing and the entities that provide them have made such an impact in our urban lifestyle today. Even though it was not too long ago since they first arrived in the scene, they have now become such an indelible part of our day-to-day life today that it seems hard imagining what it would be without them. Having made such an impact in such a short time, things are looking bright for this sector. The challenge now for these services, as well as the agencies that supervise them, is be able to address the issues presented in one way or another in a manner that benefits all so they would not fall into the same rut our public transportation today is facing.