COMMUTERS in the Philippines are up in arms over the government’s month-long suspension of ride-hailing app Uber amid the company’s alleged violation of a directive to cease accepting new driver applications.
The suspension by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) on Monday is the latest setback this year to Uber, one of the most valuable startups in the world with a valuation upwards of US$60 billion.
The company is also struggling to recover from a series of scandals and is hiring a new leader.
Uber user Chel Feliciano said the punishment against the company must squarely address the offence and should not unduly burden those who are innocent.
“Looking at the situation, who’s really feeling the pain of suspension here? It’s the partner drivers and the riding public. To Uber, this could very well just be a million-peso speeding ticket, but [what about] to the people who depend on this?” Feliciano asked on Facebook.
Uber appealed the order on Tuesday and restarted its operations after briefly suspending it. But the company later said in a Facebook posting it will comply with the regulator’s suspension order after its appeal was denied.
“Was Uber predatory? Yes. Did it violate the order? Yes. But the question is, was the suspension warranted? I’ve yet to read the decision on the MR (motions for reconsideration) but really, is suspension warranted on a first-time offender?” Feliciano asked.
Feliciano said users simply want a transport system that works. He lamented in cases of such disputes, it was the taxi lobbyists with a track record of “poor services” who win.
“When was the last time LTFRB took down a franchise-holding company with the same swift and public manner with which it disposed of Uber’s MR?”
“There was clear bias here. And the message they’re sending out is not that they care for the riding public at all. They just want to take Uber down.”
Other riders took to Twitter to air their dismay over the suspension.
@Uber_PH get a lawyer and sue their asses.
— Daughter of Mindanao (@tessgarcia) August 14, 2017
Day two of taking cabs since @Uber_PH has been suspended…I feel like I've been robbed 50-100 pesos every trip
— ★Liela★ (@analeeyelah) August 16, 2017
I miss you @Uber_PH
— katarina (@katanamish) August 16, 2017
Uber is already facing regulatory scrutiny in several Asian markets, including in South Korea and Japan. The firm said last month it was suspending services in Chinese-ruled territory of Macau from July 22.
Any Uber-registered cars that defy the suspension order will be fined and impounded, lawyer Aileen Lizada, a member of the transportation board, told Reuters in a text message.
“All these cases involving Uber and for that matter, anyone involved in public transportation system has to understand that we need to be in some level of regulation,” board chairman Martin Delgra told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday.
Uber is hugely popular in the Philippines and is regarded by its users as more reliable and competitive than the country’s outdated public transport services.
The Philippines was the first Southeast Asian nation to regulate app-based car-hailing operations after drawing up rules in 2015.
Last year, the regulator suspended the acceptance and processing of applications for all ride-sharing services, including Uber, to study further how to regulate the industry.
Uber said it continued to accept new applications for drivers amid strong demand for the service, but did not process them.
A five-page suspension order of the regulator made available on Tuesday said it was due to the “irresponsible” behaviour of Uber in “unduly challenging the limit of fair regulation” by continuing to accept driver applications.
The regulator stood by its argument in denying Uber’s appeal in a separate order.
At a congressional hearing this month, Uber told lawmakers there were nearly 67,000 drivers registered with Uber in the Philippines.
Grace Poe, a senator and prominent advocate for improving the Philippines’ notoriously shoddy transport services, said the regulator’s order was “cruel and absurd”.
In a statement, she said stopping Uber “further exacerbates the problem of having an utter lack of safe, reliable and convenient transportation options for our people.”
But President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella said a balance must be struck “between innovation and laws and regulations that the (regulator) has to implement as part of its administrative function”.
Additional reporting by Reuters