Not to frighten him, but if Sen. JV Ejercito had been nearby when he announced the détente between the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and ridesharing services Uber and Grab, I would have hugged him.
I am one of those people whose lives have been changed by the rise of such services. I have been liberated from constant enslavement by a public transportation system that makes you feel like you’re heading off to war every time you use it. I went into debt to buy my then new car (now 12 years old)—something I would have gladly eschewed if I could take a bus or train in peace, because driving is stressful in Manila.
There are few things left in life I am terrified of, and Manila taxis remain high on the list, along with nuclear war and Isis.
I have not been robbed, raped or murdered, but I know the trepidation. My friends have had better luck, so maybe I’m cursed or something, but I always get the biggest, slimiest jerk of a driver.
I’ve been blackmailed into paying more because it was raining hard; I’ve had to get out on deserted highways, when I didn’t bite. I’ve heard them all—no change, life is hard, it’s not worth the trip, and more than my share of profanity when we’re stuck in traffic (“P—–ina naman talaga, o!”).
In my younger days, I’d be on high alert when the driver started to freak me out. (“Maputi rin siguro nanay mo, ano?”) And yes, I’ve also pleaded with a taxi driver, in my kindest voice, to please take me, manong—only to have him zoom away, my hands still on the window.
People I know have been held at gunpoint inside a cab, or at the very least, cursed at by drivers; they’ve left bags that ended up opened, valuables never returned.
Once, riding with a friend, when the meter was running way too fast, my companion yelled, “Mama, sobra metro niyo, ha!” We jumped out and did the only thing passengers can do in revenge: leave the doors open. (What were we supposed to do, tell the LTFRB? Besides, the hotlines printed on the taxi didn’t work.)
My all-time favorite was a douchebag cab driver who let me in outside the domestic airport, then continued to look around for another ride—you know, school-bus style.
“Mama, di ba may sakay ka na?”
“Eh traffic, eh, sakay tayo ng iba.”
“Teka, bakit naman ganoon?”
“Eh di p—ina ka, bumaba ka!” (Charming, no?)
I did get off, but not before whipping out my press card (this was before cell phone cameras, so I couldn’t snap a picture) and waving it in his face. “Oo, bababa ako—pero isusumbong kita, gago ka,” I screamed.
He jumped out of the taxi, and the screaming continued, in full view of departing and arriving passengers. (Even then, it was already more fun in the Philippines.) “Hoy, p—ina, sumakay ka na nga, ihahatid na kita, walang bayad!”
“P—-ina mo rin, ano ako, tanga? Eh kung holdapin mo ako?”
As he held up traffic, still cursing, I escaped into a bus, got off on Edsa, and walked over an hour home, still feeling violated and miserable.
Even when I would be waiting for my Grab or Uber at Philcoa, when a taxi would pass by and beep, I’d wave it away with a smile—and the driver would actually yell out the window, something like, “Naghihintay kayo ng Uber, ano? P—ina nila!”
I ignored this twice; the third time, I leaned in and yelled, “Oo, kasi bastos ka!”
So you see why I adore taxis.
In recent years, I clearly recall only one blessed ride: an elderly man in a rundown cab who lamented how other drivers were really abusive. He was polite, pleasant and almost refused my P50 tip, I was so grateful he was nice. I still pray for him sometimes, and I feel sorry that he has to be lumped with his Cro-Magnon colleagues.
And then, Uber. My first ride was like an out-of-body experience, it was that unbelievable. The car was all clean seat covers, lemon air freshener and soothing radio music.
Not only did I know exactly how much to pay, but also, the driver didn’t even flinch when he saw that he had to take me from Marikina to Makati. All he asked was, “Okay na ba aircon natin, Ma’am?”
Another time, a young fellow had to drive me all the way from my mom’s house in Marikina to Pasong Tamo Extension for a visa appointment at rush hour. Two and a half hours later, he let me off, still smiling, and said, “Sorry ma’am, natagalan tayo.” I almost wept.
I have friends who book Grab cars for their kids to and from school because they can monitor their youngsters’ locations.
I’ve had wonderful conversations with drivers, many of them OFWs who saw less need to stay away from their families any longer because the kids had finished school, and they had put their money into a new Uber or Grab car.
There was the young fellow who used to drive oil trucks in Qatar, and whose wife was set to give birth, he told me on the way to the airport. There was the former emergency nurse from Riyadh who said, “Ma’am, if you have a headache, I have medicine here, ha.”
There was the insomniac lady, Lanie, who drives during the wee hours, and whose former OFW husband takes over at around noon while she runs to check on their food stall business. When I’m particularly tired, I tell the driver straight—“Bosing, tulog muna ako ha, pagod.” The answer is always reassuring, and I am gently awakened near my destination.
I am not on Uber’s payroll.
Yes, I’ve had hiccups—drivers who never showed, and another young fellow who was new to Waze, so we almost hit a traffic island. And for the female Uber driver who made John Lesaca’s cancer-stricken wife and daughter walk to the hospital instead of depositing them there, I have reserved the most terrible insult: para kang taxi driver.
The recent LTFRB brouhaha, I am ashamed to say, turned me into a troll. I left angry posts on their Citizen’s Watch Facebook page; the next day, I would have over 200 likes, so I’m assuming the sentiment is shared.
Yes, I think they were taken aback by the sheer amount and intensity of vitriol sent their way—mainly citizens asking, in all caps, “HOW MUCH?” It was a pretty impressive leap, from moderately irritating to most reviled government agency in the country.
By contrast, an “assault” by taxi drivers on the same office to complain about Uber and Grab a few months ago was met with no public sympathy. Zero. Zilch.
Can you blame us? Filipinos have become so desperate for public services that work, we grab every juicy morsel that lands our way. Try to take that away, and we growl like wolves.
I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics; maybe due diligence concerning Uber and Grab was indeed forthcoming. All I know is, ridesharing services have been a godsend to many Filipinos who must go places in this blighted metropolis. If they broke any law, it was not a law that served my interests, or made a difference in my life.
LTFRB’s recent pronouncement that franchises are necessary to make Uber and Grab as safe as taxis, buses and jeepneys has become the absolute joke of the century.
If Uber and Grab are unsafe, why do we trust them? How come nobody has ever been robbed by an Uber driver? If holding a franchise means a transport system is safe, why are people still petrified of taxis? Why do they remain substandard, scary—dangerous?
The same mom who puts her kids in Grab cars said she would die before putting them in a taxi. What does that tell taxi drivers, taxi franchise owners, and the agency that polices them about what we think of them, really?
And then, the latest news: While unable to grant new franchises to Uber and Grab, LTFRB is reportedly promoting new taxi services, with “free legal assistance with franchising” as incentive.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade has also declared that Uber and Grab must give the government a share of their income.
That’s like buying a hamburger, and leaving more money on the counter for the government, for the privilege of enjoying your meal—above and beyond VAT, service charge, and whatever income tax the burger joint pays.
The agenda is so brazenly obvious, it’s funny. (And, uhm, sir? My car sticker still reads “2014.”)
There you go. All we Filipinos can say is, “Alam na!”