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Philippine Transport Authorities Impound, Fine Uber Car in Sting Op

Being an innovator, Uber has faced various legal hurdles, especially in relation to franchise and license regulations in certain jurisdictions. In Manila, an Uber car was apprehended through a sting operation run by the Philippines’ Land Transportation, Franchise and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). The owner was fined PhP 200,000 (US$4,461), with the possibility of the car being impounded for up to three months.

It’s the same story in Germany and certain cities in the US like Las Vegas, Portland and Little Rock. More often than not, the move to ban Uber is initiated by taxi operators, who understandably wish to protect their industry. Uber has established its presence in 128 cities globally, thereby disrupting the traditional franchise-oriented transport business models in these locations. While users have appreciated the convenience that a black car or inexpensive UberX ride can provide, resistance from the old guard is somewhat expected.

The Manila incident was initially reported by TV5’s James Beltran, who said the black SUV was impounded with an LTFRB agent posing as a passenger leading the bust.

“We are just being fair with legitimate franchise owners,” says LTFRB Executive Director Roberto Cabrera, who says the agency understands the advantages of the new technology for users, but expresses concern for the safety of passengers. He says companies like Uber and Tripid (a ride-sharing app that facilitates carpools) operate a “public service” and are therefore required to have a franchise.

The agency had earlier received complaints from the Philippine National Taxi Operators Association about Uber running a “colorum” (illegal or without franchise) for-hire vehicle operation in Metro Manila. This is similar to how taxi operators in Berlin complained against the e-hailing service, citing that it does not provide adequate insurance to its passengers, whereas licensed operators do.

In stark contrast however, riding the public transport system in the Philippines — taxis included — is oft considered unsafe due to incidences of theft and reckless driving resulting in accidents. Independent taxi operators rarely — if ever — have insurance coverage for their passengers. Meanwhile, Uber supposedly works with established car rental services in the country to provide its unmarked cars.

LTFRB Chairman Winston Ginez has clarified that Uber in itself does not violate the law, but the practical application of its service does. “[Uber] doesn’t need to secure a franchise because it’s not a transport company, they don’t carry passengers. But through its application, private unlicensed vehicles are able to engage in public land transportation without securing a franchise from LTFRB,” he said.

In an interesting twist of events, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), an inter-city governmental body tasked to enforce traffic rules and discipline in the metro, has sided with Uber, citing its benefits in easing traffic congestion. MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino gave advice to the LTFRB in a statement saying government’s role is to reasonably assist new transport services in complying with the law (or perhaps making amendments to the law), rather than summarily impounding vehicles based on archaic regulations.

“The muscle of the law and the procedural and technical arms of government agencies alone cannot resolve the lack of alternate means of transportation problem, they can only increase apprehension records, Uber or hybrid carpooling is a well-meaning technology-driven effort intended for public safety and convenience that’s why people are patronizing it,” said Tolentino. “We cannot curtail their mobility rights. This is similar to private bridal cars and private ambulances for rent which is a private transaction between the rider and the owner of the vehicle.”

Uber Philippines has issued a statement, saying it will continue to support partners and users, and will “seek swift resolution to this incident.”

Featured image credit: Uber