Business Features - Motoring ( Leaderboard Top ), pagematch: , sectionmatch: 1

On the off chance...

On the off chance that this column comes out on Wednesday the 24th of October and the LTFRB Chairman Jaime Jacob coincidentally reads it, there is a chance that the same subject matter: ‘What is the LTFRB doing to keep taxis safe?” will be asked and tackled at the 2nd Usapan AAP forum. That in itself might be a good thing or the whole thing could turn out to be a rumble with the media.

For those who are not yet in the know, the Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP), formerly known as the old Philippine Motoring Association or PMA, has consistently been expanding its role along with its services to better serve the nation’s motoring sector. In the early days of the PMA, they were generally known for one important role and that was issuing “international” drivers’ licenses. Of course the PMA did more than that in terms of governance in motor racing as well as helping government formulate policies related to motoring.

Ever since its transition and change of corporate identity and calling themselves the AAP, the pillars of the association has shown wisdom by giving priority to addressing the “needs” and concerns expressed by member motorists. In particular the AAP has upgraded, expanded and professionalized the motorist assistance programs and has made their presence seen and felt not only in Metro Manila streets but also in the two major toll expressways; namely the North Luzon Expressway and the South Luzon expressway.

The AAP continues to service the licensing requirements of motorists who need an international drivers license, but the AAP has for the large part been very involved in promoting road safety programs and events. Very recently the AAP launched its own media engagement event entitled “Usapan AAP” where they invite key opinion leaders, stakeholders, as well as government officials and industry leaders in order to facilitate and exchange information as well as views and opinions on the varied concerns in the motoring sector. Given the proper support by industry players and the associates in media, “Usapan AAP” has the potential of rising above the typical coffee shop forums because the AAP would uniquely be devoted to motoring concerns with the added perspective of representatives from the auto industry, consumers and members of the AAP.

This project once again shows how the AAP is evolving in the right direction and they truly deserve a tap on the back for being on track.

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As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, one major concern in the minds of commuters, particularly women, is how safe and regulated are taxicabs in Metro Manila. Two weeks ago, mainstream media as well as the netizens of social media expressed serious fear and concerns about taxicabs after two women were separately mugged and molested inside taxicabs. Those incidents solicited individual testimonies and blogs about other people being waylaid or robbed by cab drivers.

Whatever the true state of affairs may be, there is no longer any denying that the LTFRB has to take a very serious study and review of how taxicabs are given franchises, how cabs are operated, how drivers are processed and given licenses and ultimately, what levels of protection do patrons and commuters have when riding a cab. While the blame game may occur and solicit some self-serving explanations from the LTFRB, the publicly is clearly more concerned about what chairman Jacob and his associates intend to do to address the situation. Considering the fact that commuters have to pay a premium to ride taxicabs, they are entitled to a guaranteed minimum of expectations and quality of service, where safety is presumed and should be the least of their worries.

For the longest time, the government through the LTFRB has primarily been concerned with franchises, flag down rates, and drivers doing a “pick and choose” of passengers during holidays and rush hours. Sadly the LTFRB has consistently disappointed the public in terms of what directly affects the riding public, which is actually getting a ride, not being cheated, not being waylaid, having a comfortable ride as in a working air-condition free of toxic fumes, and (now we add to that), not being mugged and not being molested. At the moment everything is mostly lip service. For instance I recently tried to call the “operator’s number” to report a reckless cab driver and discovered that the number was no longer in service. If you complain to the LTFRB, they ask you to come and file a written complaint.

How about allowing the public to text or email their complaints and the LTFRB posting their response and action on a functioning website or Twitter account? The simple act of requiring an operator to show up at the LTFRB will drive home their responsibility and make them more proactive about their driver’s conduct. Perhaps the LTFRB can enlist the service of the AAP and penalize owner and drivers with mandatory one-hour seminars. The current system of placing the burden and further inconvenience on paying and complaining commuters is totally wrong and unfair. The burden should first be on those who profit from the franchise—not those who patronize them.

Apparently the LTFRB, through many administrations, has been remiss or unqualified to deliver their responsibility as far as the “R” in the LTFRB is concerned. That stands for “Regulatory.” Regulatory is not limited to checking taxi meters and documentation which is generally all that they do. Regulatory is about consistently reviewing the developments and demands on public transport but particularly regarding taxicabs. What if any, does the codebook say about how drivers are screened, trained, monitored or regulated by the LTFRB?

From what I’ve observed abroad, cabbies have two sets of licenses. One is the typical drivers license and a second more important one is almost the equivalent of a “franchise” or a  “Medallion” specially issued to taxi drivers—but only after skills training, written exams and actual test. In some countries that card or Medallion is prominently displayed with the photo and name in large print laminated or encased in hard plastic with a seal of the local government or motor vehicle authority. Taxi drivers presumably need to put up a surety bond for the special permit and this in itself already creates a high degree of screening for quality and accountability because the right to drive a taxicab comes at a price and responsibility.

By having such a system, the LTFRB can at least introduce a measure of screening and safety that taxi operators are ignorant with or can’t be bothered to do so. But in order to further extend the safety net, operators should not merely “qualify and buy” taxi franchises, they should also put up a bond to cover any legal or criminal liability resulting from the criminal use or involvement of their cabs. For the longest time we have heard big-time cab operators lobby for their interests; now it is time that commuters be given a voice in terms of the service they get and the safety provided to them by the LTFRB and the operators themselves.

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