Jeepneys, Tramps and Thieves

The year was 1999. To a teenager on her own in a a big city, on holiday for the first time, Cebu was a magical place. It was all fun and games up until I needed a ticket home. Times being what they were and Google maps being nonexistent, I inevitably got lost searching for the ticketing office of George and Peter Lines. Directions were needed, nothing that a smile and a few words of thanks wouldn’t fix.

Or so I thought. Long story short, I asked an otap vendor. He  was so eager to help, he roped in a friend who had one of those trikes you see at piers, for ferrying people with heavy luggage around. The good news? I found the ticketing office. The bad? I came home with 500 PhP worth of otap and a lifelong distrust of strangers.  Clearly, the lesson here is that otap is evil. Oh, and get directions from someone who isn’t incentivized to benefit from your ignorance (like a policeman), and learn to say no.

Strangers do not always wish you well.  This is why it took me forever to come around to using Uber. The idea of getting into a car owned by a random person unaffiliated with any known cab company sounded like a recipe for disaster. Who would this driver answer to? A faceless app? It sounded like chaos. It sounded like anarchy. It sounded like I might disappear forever, my face on milk cartons across the land, my remains exhumed twenty years later when what used to be swamp land is excavated to make way for a new gas station.

And then I woke up late for the umpteenth time, took a cab to work because being employed is good and I’d like to remain that way, and realized the cost of the cab ride was almost half of what I earn in a day. The next time it happened, I took the Uber plunge, and the price difference was astounding. Toronto’s cab issue is more about price, than it is about meters being jerry-rigged, or drivers intentionally taking the long way round to run up the tab, the way it gets in cities like Manila or Cebu.

It’s easy to be iffy about newfangled approaches to the sharing economy. Maybe it’s an ingrained distrust of anything that promises to shake up the status quo. Maybe it’s the universal mentality that a registered business is legit and legitimacy equals trustworthiness. Or maybe it’s just the older we get, the less change we embrace. The comfort of the familiar is a rut we all get stuck in, the root of the reason Throwback Thursday exists. It’s flawed reasoning, I admit. But it’s worked for so many years, and you know what they say about fixing what ain’t broke.

What sealed the deal for me wasn’t just the cashless transaction – the cost of the ride is automatically taken out of your credit card at the end of the trip, so no money actually changes hands, unless you want to tip the driver –  it was the ability to send the status of a trip to someone who can track the route you take as you’re taking it. Uber utilizes the GPS in one’s phone, enabling the person to whom you’ve sent a link to track your whereabouts during the trip. It’s helps give peace of mind, banishing all thought of a future that looks a Soul Asylum music video.

Uber, Lyft and Grab exist because someone got sick of paying through the nose for a cab and decided to do something about it. The cost is significantly lower. This newfangled approach to the sharing economy works. While not all taxis and taxi drivers in the Philippines are bad, there are enough bad apples to give the whole system a bad name. If the LTFRB wants to win this, they’ll need to come up with a similar system that combines savings, security and customer feedback as effectively as Uber does.

This LTFRB vs Uber situation is bringing back memories. Back when apps like Uber and Air BnB were new, they didn’t seem like something that would take, or if it took, not something that would last. I just couldn’t see it as something I would ever try. If I’m at all honest, the real reason I was iffy about Uber is I have deeply ingrained trust issues. Issues that began with otap. To this day, the sight of it triggers memories of lost innocence, and I always suppress the urge to hiss at a display of Shamrock’s best.


Image Credit: @matrev via Instagram

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