Greed control
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - January 5, 2020 - 12:00am

Grab has us grabbed by device.

Given that it has no competitor, Grab is extracting what it can while it can. No wonder customers are disappointed with the so-called “refund” for the overcharging Grab has been found guilty of. A disappointed customer received only P27 from the P19.2-million penalty imposed on Grab. I should count myself lucky I got P53!

I can easily trace how much moolah I forked over looking through my credit card records, but who has the time? Perhaps, if I had a vendetta against Grab, I would do so. Not yet though. Even if Grab Thailand messed up my availment of a promo that supposedly gave me a discount of 150 baht but then, the app crashed, and I had to pay full price for a Grab ride to Suvarnabhumi airport.

(I complained, and Grab offered to let them know when I returned to Thailand so they could let me reuse the promo. A month later, I returned and emailed them about their offer.

I received a totally clueless response saying “thank you for your feedback.” I scrolled through the email, trying to find a reference to the promo. Nada. I checked my rewards section of the app. Nada. My expectations for a delighted customer experience. Nada.

Ah, well. Not worth ruining a vacation for a measly promo. But perhaps when I’m writing about measly refunds, I will revisit this snafu.)

Going back to my P53, I conclude that this means the penalty P19.2-million imposed was too low. Because I feel that, especially during the Christmas season, all the rides I took had me shelling out ridiculously-priced fares. And me being the perfect customer for Grab (impatient, a worry-wart, and easily scared that I will never snag a ride), it’s so easy to get me to buckle and accept any price quoted.

Who said anything about a free market allowing a buyer and a seller to meet at market-determined prices? Grab interferes in the price-setting. They dictate prices based on some computer-derived algorithm that takes into account traffic, rush hour, and stressed consumers desperate enough to accept overpriced fares.

I agree with calls by consumer advocates for more stringent regulation and oversight by authorities. There has to be a way of validating whether the refunds received by consumers were actually correct. Grab has to be a more responsible go-between. If all it wants is to make money, then it shouldn’t be in the public service business.

Our authorities really have to encourage competition. That might mean extending some carrots to other companies to invest. By all means, we should do that. A lot of former Uber drivers wax poetic about the time when it entered and offered so many benefits to would-be entrepreneurs. Back then the business model was untested, and consumers had to be enticed into trusting a new way of commuting.

Now we treat apps and cars as a necessity. But now the government should protect a powerless public, unable to deal with a monolith. The presence of competition is a powerful restraint on greed, and the government should actively pursue this at the moment.

Greed control. That should be a new department under the Philippine Competition Commission. Aside from ruling on anti-competitive practices, it should have pro-competition powers. Like bestowing benefits and concessions and incentives to new companies. How’s that for an amendment of the existing law? There’s talk about amending the law this early in its existence. Why not consider magic competitive wands?

Voila, your incentive is granted. Now go forth and compete.

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