An App-ocalypse is coming

COUNTER FLOW - James Deakin (The Philippine Star) - February 19, 2014 - 12:00am

Yesterday, as I drove––for lack of a better term–– to work down the SLEX towards Makati, I witnessed the start of what Nostradamus and the Mayans were trying to tell us all along. It wasn’t the mushroom in the sky or the next antichrist they we’re talking about; it was quite simply the beginning of the construction of phase 3 of the new Skyway project that will link the SLEX to the NLEX. So I began to repent.

But, as I sat there motionless, deep in remorse, I realized that no matter how great a God we have, He only helps those who help themselves. So I finished with a prayer and started formulating this article.

We all know, there’s no gain without pain. Unless you’re Vhong Navarro. And the phase 3 Skyway project promises us a painless 13-minute commute from Makati to Balintawak on any given day; so as toxic as it will be, we need to suck it up for next 36 months. But while there’s no such thing as a free lunch, that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to make it less painful.

Because while there’s no escaping the pain completely, we can definitely try and cheat it. You see, unlike what happened in the late 90’s when the first phase of the Skyway was being constructed, with today’s modern technology, we can actually reduce that pain quite significantly if we all cooperate and follow just a few simple steps. Think of it as a pain management system, much like how they give demerol and morphine in hospitals.

One huge step forward is carpooling. Yeah, I know, I know, it’s nothing new. But this version is. It’s called Tripid. It is an app that is set to dramatically improve the way we commute by using the technology in your phone to connect those needing a ride with those offering one.

Here’s the scenario. Let’s say you live in Alabang and you need to go to Makati. If you are a driver, you just ‘post it’ in the app by saying you have, say, 3 vacant seats in your car that you’re willing to offer to anyone who needs to go the same way. Scary, I know, but bear with me.

Now, a person without a car, or one who doesn’t want to go through the ordeal of traffic but needs to go the same way, punches in his or her desired route and waits to see if anything comes up. If your routes and times match, you can then contact each other through an in-app messaging service––up until this point, only your first name and initial of your family name is revealed.

So, now that the two have been connected, you can begin to arrange a meeting point and time. You can also agree on a price––say, you pay the toll, I’ll cover the gas. Whatever. That’s between you guys.

So what about security? Fair question. But you can ask yourself the same one every time you jump in a cab, bus, jeep, FX or MRT. So what the developers have done here is build in a trip commencement feature, a trip ending feature, and a rating system. You as a driver and/or passenger can click a ‘trip commenced’ and ‘trip finished’ button that gets loaded into the Tripid servers for their records. So in the worst case scenario something happens, there’s a digital trail that is left behind that can be traced to the two parties. It may not be foolproof, but it is a lot more than the fools who are currently ferrying the public are offering you.

Yet just as the sun rises in the east and a politician will get a cut from that, the LTFRB is now threatening legal action and jail time against the developers and anyone who uses this app. And I can understand why.

There’s a regulatory board for a reason. And I respect the chairman for defending that, I really, really do. Let’s face it, this is, in principle or theory, a colorum set up after all––albeit for a good cause––and his office has every right to regulate any franchise that ferries members of the public.

There are, however, several arguments that can be made here––and this is no reflection of the good chairman’s work but rather the years and years of neglect of the agency before his command––and that is that firstly, that the LTFRB has failed us in the way where we do not have access to decent public transportation, which forces us citizens into this kind of sensible vigilantism. And secondly, nobody is reinventing the wheel here; carpooling has been encouraged around the world for decades now, some going as far as building dedicated car pool lanes for those who choose to share a ride.

But the LTFRB’s point is how can they regulate it. Fair enough. But how are they regulating it now? They also said that the illegal operation is against the public service code, which carries a jail term. Okay, but the app developer is not ferrying members of the public. They are merely providing a tool that connects people. If they go to jail, then so should Globe, Sun, Smart, Facebook, Twitter, you see where I’m going with this, right? Hell, he may as well lock the entire Oplan Hatid group up and throw away the key, or have us pick it up in Cedric Lee’s house.

But that tool, the chairman claims, is allowing people to commit a crime. Another good point. But we haven’t locked up the manufacturers of hammers yet, have we? Even though unlike car-pooling, they have been banned already in malls.

But let’s get serious here. There’s merit in both sides. I think the only issue here though is the exchange of money. Obviously the developer needs to make his money back. We cannot begrudge anyone that. So I shall leave you with two questions here: Firstly, to the chairman, if the app developer charges a monthly subscription fee to the users of the app to get an ROI and to also establish identity of the users through a secure method of payment, would your office compromise and encourage the use of this?

Secondly, and I ask the average motorist and commuters out there: How much would you be willing to pay monthly, quarterly or yearly for an app that can potentially allow you to leave your car at home during peak times and catch a ride with someone going the same way?

To answer these questions and join the discussion, or if you would like to contact the author, visit www.jamesdeakin.ph.

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