Fail-safes on Uber

By: Stephen D. Capillas November 17,2016 - 09:05 PM

Was thinking about writing a piece on the “Letter to the Readers” made by the New York Times in which it admitted its shortcomings in its coverage of this year’s US elections and how this letter was viewed as an apology by other media outlets like Fox News as well as US President-elect Donald Trump.

I was alerted about the NYT letter to the readers by an old media acquaintance who wrote about it in her blog. A casual read of the online articles on the issue reminded me about the equally divisive election this country had last May that had fanatics of then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte viciously attacking national and media outlets that report news stories unfavorable to him through social media.

But rather than discuss at length how the NYT letter to the readers echo the challenges of navigating the waters of election politics faced by Philippine media, I choose something a little more earthbound which is the ongoing debate on the use of mass transport service apps like Uber and Grabcar.

Besides with the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections scheduled for next year, it’s time to set aside politics and focus on more pressing problems like traffic congestion and the sorry state of our country’s mass transport system.

* * *

Listened to last Tuesday’s radio interviews by broadcaster Leo Lastimosa with a proponent of Uber in Metro Cebu and later with Ryan Yu, leader of the Cebu Integrated Transport Cooperative, and both of their arguments on the issue were valid.

The Uber proponent, whose name I didn’t get since I tuned in late, argued about the viability of the transport service app, saying that the Uber system allows customers to pay the exact fare, which is reflected in their online account.

Uber drivers can also show the receipts as proof that they pay their taxes to the government and once hired, cannot afford to refuse a passenger’s request since they would be blacklisted if they do.

For his part, Yu questioned why Uber and Grabcar drivers don’t apply for a special permit from the Department of Tourism (DOT) that would allow them to service tourists and other passengers.
I get Yu’s argument that Uber and Grabcar drivers should allow some form of government regulation or oversight even if minimal if only to ensure some fail-safes are in place.

For despite making life easier for commuters, Uber and Grabcar still invites some reservations. I’ve read about how one female commuter in India was raped inside the vehicle of an Uber driver as well as cases of sexual harassment, though this also happens in regular taxis as well.

Uber had been questioned in the US regarding its loose security on its customer database which allowed drivers and even applicants unrestricted access to it.

If the applicant was a hacker with insidious motives who knows what damage would happen if such unfettered access were provided by Uber. A website called whosdrivingyou.org helps US commuters who’ve encountered problems with Uber and other ride-sharing/mass transport service apps.

I’ve subscribed to another transport service/ride-hailing app called GrabTaxi and while it’s not 100 percent effective — like Uber and Grabcar your smartphone and mobile device needs a steady WiFi signal to help the driver locate you — it did make it easier for me to get a taxi ride from the comforts of the Cebu Daily News office.

But like any ordinary schmo, GrabTaxi subscribers also get stranded in the rain or during rush hours since GrabTaxi drivers or at least the taxi drivers that the GrabTaxi app tried to contact were usually unavailable at those times — I suspect they don’t want to get their units soaked by the floodwaters or they don’t think the passenger is worth their time.

At any rate, while Uber and these apps may be an idea “whose time has come,” like any innovation in services and goods, they need fail-safes or checks, and like it or not, government’s role and supervision is required to make Uber accountable to their customers.

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TAGS: accident, Cebu Integrated Transport Cooperative, CITC, Department of Tourism, Donald Trump, DOT, Duterte, election, Elections, Grabcar, harassment, media, Metro Cebu, New York Times, president-elect, rape, Rodrigo Duterte, Sangguniang Kabataan, sexual harassment, SK, traffic, Trump, Uber, United States, United States of America, US

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