TNVS infestation: Uber and Grab services are no different to jeepneys and tricycles

The only relevant point that needs to be highlighted as far as the circus surrounding Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS) like Uber and Grab is this: The only Filipinos who could really afford these services on routine bases are people who, themselves, could afford to own and drive private cars.

A trip in an Uber service costs at least five times that of a conventionally-hailed taxi service. Furthermore, almost full-time access to the Internet using a mid- to high-end mobile device is required to consistently avail of the service point-to-point. In short, the whole “debate” surrounding the fate of Uber and Grab is essentially an elitist debate akin to the chatter surrounding the “outrage” over cell sites put up in exclusive residential enclaves and Starbucks lattes not being served at the “right” temperature.

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TNVS services are fundamentally no different to jeepneys, tricycles, and pedicabs. They just cost more and make use of more expensive means to hail and stop drivers. Neither conventional PUVs nor TNVS can really be considered true public services as both inconvenience sectors of society who are not either’s patrons. PUVs, for their part, turn Philippine roads into monstrous hellholes for private motorists and pedestrians (and are hazards even to their own patrons). TNVS services, on the other hand, further add to the proliferation of private vehicles that provide non-mass-transit “public” transport. Both PUVs and TNVSs contribute virtually the same problem to Philippine public transport in general in that both are competitive private enterprises rather than true public mass transit systems that are coherent at a macro level and truly egalitarian in the level of service made available to the public.

Like jeepneys and tricycles, the TNVS industry in the Philippines will eventually suffer a fate called the “Lechon Manok Syndrome”. As thousands of unimaginative Filipino entrepreneurs jump into what they perceive to be the “easy money” bandwagon of operating TNVS services, the Law of Supply and Demand will eventually rear its ugly head as the easily-foreseen oversupply of TNVS vehicles crushes prices. A downward spiral in prices will likely turn TNVS drivers into the same monster drivers that jeepney and tricycle drivers are today — virtually clambering over one another for increasingly limited passengers.

Like the short-term “win” that jeepneys represented in the 1940s, TNVS are a short-term stopgap “convenience” for the latte-sipping classes. And like the jeepney, the TNVS industry does not provide a promising future for Filipino public transport infrastructure.

Seen under this light, the statement recently issued by Uber on the matter of a suspension of TNVS applications to operate comes across as quite hollow…

We ask the LTFRB to maintain the spirit of Department Order No. 2015-011 that was meant to promote innovation, reliability, and consumer choice in mobility so that we can all help solve the problem of traffic congestion together […]

Design based on flawed thinking results in sub-optimal solutions and wasted investment in useless technology.

There is no actual promoting of “innovation” going on here. Much of what makes TNVS services work is proprietary foreign technology. Filipinos are mere users and consumers of these technologies and will likely not learn anything from these services in much the same way Filipinos failed to build a modern and competitive automotive industry despite the feat of “ingenuity” their jeepneys were hailed to be back in the 1940s.

As usual Filipinos are focusing on all the wrong arguments. If all the loud voices emanating from these social media “influencers” were, instead, directed towards expressing concerted outrage over the banal impunity with which drivers of all road-based public vehicles — whether conventional PUVs or “modern” TNVS services — flout basic road rules, they would be addressing the true root problem of why Metro Manila has become the embarrassing human cesspool that it is today.

These things need to be thought through carefully. Filipinos and their politicians should not be easily seduced by the gleaming cosmetic “trendiness” of TNVS services. They are, in essence, automated versions of flawed operating models. If the same thinking were applied to automating washing clothes or dishes, we’d have designs for million-dollar humanoid robots hunched over washing basins gathering dust on drawing boards rather than the efficient 300-dollar mass-produced machines in our homes today.

11 Replies to “TNVS infestation: Uber and Grab services are no different to jeepneys and tricycles”

  1. Interesting point made. Basically, Uber, Grab and similar are actually services used as alternatives to a messy public transport system. So if public transport were working properly, we wouldn’t need these, right?

    And I just learned the LTFRB is clarifying that they’re only going after “colorum” TNVS, not all TNVS. Those that failed to meet requirements, but are still operating. OK, why didn’t they say that before?

  2. I beg to disagree. Besides price, there are key differences. One is that TNVS vehicles and drivers are being monitored by the app and are being rated based on customer feedback (not perfect monitoring, but definitely much better); they’re not like many of the taxi/jeepney drivers who can refuse passengers because their route has traffic. In addition to that, the prices of Uber and Grab are rather fixed and there is little to no risk of dealing with a threatening driver who unfairly charges more than the regular rate. Also, who said that only the “latte-sipping” class uses Uber/Grab on a regular basis? There are many who are on a tight budget and still use the service, such as fresh college graduates, public school students, and their families.

    You can dismiss the issue as “hypebeast culture,” but you also cannot deny the fact that there are practical reasons why people prefer Uber/Grab. This wouldn’t be a problem if the traditional taxis in the Philippines weren’t problematic. If they want to make things much more challenging for TNVS, then taxi operators should improve their services. They can start by monitoring their drivers and vehicles much better.

    1. I’d like to clarify my previous statement. What I meant by “fixed” is that the price for TNVS is already set before the trip begins, unlike the many (not all, but many) taxi drivers who demand higher payment in the middle of the trip.

  3. Benign0 seems to have got carried away with his crusade against Jeepneys in this article.

    To take his points in order. Although Uber/Grab users may be able to afford a car,the point is that they are not using it,so keeping one parked vehicle out of the way.
    5X a conventional taxi sounds very high other than at possibly peak surge pricing, but I will not challenge it as I have no personal experience of Uber. A poster on another forum I frequent habitually uses Uber (admittedly an ex-Pat) because a)he knows that his ride will take him to his destination – no ‘too much trapic’ b)the fare is fixed – no bargaining or broken meter c)the driver will almost certainly have SatNav if he doesn’t know the exact destination and d)the vehicle will be of a decent standard. Is expecting what is standard in most countries elitist? With the number of selfies posted on Wastebook and other social media sites via mobile devices, I would suggest that mobile internet access is less elitist than Benign0 believes.

    TNVS are fundamentally different from jeepneys. They are radio controlled taxis,and that is the focus of the issues wherever Uber has set up. Uber began life as a ride-sharing clearing-house, so that you could get a lift into work with the guy who drives past the end of your road who works in the next office block and back home with the guy who works three floors down from your office who lives in the next street, thus not using your car and relieving traffic congestion. Uber now maintains this is still their modus operandi. Licensed taxi drivers maintain that it is now the full time occupation of most of the drivers,albeit part of the gig-economy,and should now be regulated as a taxi service,with the same requirements for driver licensing,driver and car insurance.

    Public service depends on your definition, but the generally accepted legal one in this instance is that it may be utilised by any member of the public and not restricted to one specific section, such as company employees or hotel guests. Benign0’s comment on mass transit smacks of Imperial Manilaism, as I doubt mass transit is required in Negros Occidental, and how wide does he want to spread egalitarianism – on my next visit should I be able to fly Emirates first-class(wish I had the money)to Dubai and Cebu Pacific’s cattle class sardine can to satisfy it ?

    Lechon Manok Syndrome probably will surface, but I would expect it to be short lived for several reasons. Uber utilises technology to track customers, vehicles and traffic to enable them to quote waiting times and adjust fares. The set-up costs would be too high for most copycat operations, even if they were restricted to radio control, as I am certain that the radio licence would not be cheap ( I have been told that in the UK it is easily the highest cost of a radio cab operation) and with all the high rises in Manila I wonder what the coverage would be. But the biggest obstacle would be that Uber is cashless – how many people would run a deposit or give their credit card details to Carlos’ Clapped out Cab Co ? Uber and presumably Grab can because they are big multinational operations that are trusted.

    When I travel to Manila, I usually have to leave home between 2 and 4 o’clock in the morning. I can sit at home,phone my local radio cab company,who recognise me from my mobile phone number, receive a text back telling me the colour make and registration of the car on its way, and if I am a bit slow,a text from the driver to tell me he is waiting. How many cab company numbers do readers of this blog have on their mobiles ?

    Promoting innovation may be self-serving puffery, but lets see what the responses to the above paragraph are (if any) before we poke fun at it too much. And do we really need to reinvent the wheel ? Benign0 is quite happy to sit at his computer (foreign technology, much of it proprietory) and post on the Internet (foreign technology, specifically designed to allow different networks to talk to each other). Or would he prefer his computer to run on PhilSys with no ability to interface with Windows, iOS etc. ?

    Finally, I would say that the impunity with which nearly all road users flout road rules is a major cause of the traffic chaos,not just taxis PUV and buses, and could we say that these cockroaches, I think that was the term used in one of the most recent articles,are merely aping the behaviour of their betters ?

    1. @Niall R: To your point, indeed some aspects of TNVSs merit credit. They are more efficient than private vehicles because, like most commercial vehicles, they spend a smaller proportion of their operating lives parked — which means they represent more optimally-employed sunk capital.

      All of what you mentioned in your comment are all valid (1) in the context of the above and (2) relative to jeepneys and other legacy stopgap indigenous transport systems in operation.

      However, you may have missed the overall point of the article — which is that the contribution of an additional public transport service that is not based on fixed routes and schedules only marginally improves the overall public transport position of Metro Manila. In short, the brouhaha surrounding this issue is not proportionate to the actual aggregate value contributed by this service to the overall efficiency of the country’s public transport infrastructure.

      Whether it be allowing Uber and Grab to continue operating or altogether dismantling these services will likely not materially impact overall public transport infrastructure performance as a whole if you consider all stakeholders in public transport regardless of socio-economic status/class.

      1. My belief is that TNVSs are not an additional service – it is a taxi service that threatens the existing taxi industry by utilising technology to provide an improved quality of service. The current system of taxis cruising the streets looking for fares is hardly an efficient use of the public transport infrastructure.

        Forcing Uber and Grab to close may not impact all that many people directly , but what about the message it sends that ‘technology upsets the status quo and we will stop anybody else using it and continue providing a sub-standard product.’

        Uber and Grab may only improve the overall public transport situation in Metro Manila marginally as you say, but it appears that you are arguing that because it does not produce a quantum leap in standards, it is not worth pursuing, even if it is operating already.

        A successful sports coach once said ‘ Success is not doing 1 thing 100 % better, it is doing 100 things 1 % better.’

  4. Our problem in the transport system is : there are too many vehicles on the road. Drivers of these vehicles, do not follow traffic rules. They do not observe road courtesy. Lack of Birth Control, during the Aquino Cojuangco era; with the connivance of the Roman Catholic Church and other religions; allowed Filipinos to procreate like rabbits.

    Now, there are too many people; with too many vehicles on the road, following his/her own traffic rule.

    It is now , driver on his/her own on the road. Traffic rules are not enforced…

  5. The damn vermin are so numerous that I am afraid to sneeze, for fear the damned lice would regard it as gong for dinner, and eat us up.

  6. Solution: Add more trains. Not just any trains, modern ones at that. Take note that almost all functional cities have an extensive railway system.

  7. “The only Filipinos who could really afford these services on routine bases are people who, themselves, could afford to own and drive private cars.”

    That’s the point! Because of the ineffective public transportation in Manila everyone is buying a car which causes horrendous traffic. With uber and grab (ride sharing), privately owned cars are lessened which eases up traffic!

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