Uber still barred from imposing surcharges

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 10) — Uber is still prohibited from imposing additional fees on long trips, as regulators criticized the company for failing to disclose the charges imposed nearly two years ago.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) went as far as to accuse Uber as acting like errant taxis that haggle with passengers about their fares.

In a hearing on Tuesday, the LFTRB maintained the stay order on Uber's surcharges, issued on September 28.

"How they came up with these surcharges, how they decided what areas would have surcharges, these are matters that should be raised with the LTFRB. That's the reason why we are discussing the issue today," LTFRB Chair Martin Delgra told reporters at the sidelines of the hearing.

Uber initially submitted a position paper to transport authorities but it was found insufficient. The company will have 10 working days to come up with another paper detailing their surcharge system and computations.

Since December 2015, Uber has been imposing a surcharge on passengers travelling to east and south of Metro Manila.

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Those heading to Cainta, Antipolo, Taytay and San Mateo are charged an additional P60, while those going to Bicutan and Sucat paid P80. Trips to Alabang, Filinvest, Susana Heights and Cavite pay P100 more.

Passengers have to pay the surcharge on top of their base fare, the surge price and the toll fee. Uber clarified, though, that the surcharge is fixed; the surge pricing only affects the base fare.

No disclosure

Though Uber has openly published its surcharges on its website, the LTFRB only found out about them last month, prompting the hold order.

The LTFRB accused the company of failing to disclose the surcharges, even though it has long been part of the fare structure.

"There were several incidents when we met with the management of Uber regarding the computation of the fare where we got your running time, where we got your distance, where we got your rate. How come the surcharge was never brought out?" LTFRB Board Member Aileen Lizada said during the hearing.

Uber said the surcharges were its way of compensating drivers for serving areas that were further and less busy.

Jomar Castillo, Uber legal counsel, cited that drivers usually waited half an hour to get another booking in the Antipolo area. In comparison, it only takes 10 minutes to get another passenger in the central business district.

"Coming out with those factors, there is a surcharge that is computed into the fare so we can again fairly compensate the driver for serving a low-demand area," he said.

Regulators, however, questioned the need for a surcharge since Uber's fares already take into account the distance and time of a trip.

Delgra said the surcharges were akin to "kontratahan," an illegal practice where taxi drivers collect additional fees on top of the meter fare.

"Pareho lang dun sa… nagrereklamong mga taxi driver na ma-traffic, malayo, kaya humihingi ng dagdag. Eh hindi naman namin pinapayagan 'yan under the terms and conditions of a franchise," he pointed out.

[Translation: It's the same as taxi drivers who complain the destination has heavy traffic or is far away, so they ask for more money. That isn't allowed under the terms and conditions of a franchise.]

Delgra warned this could be yet another violation on Uber's record, which the LTFRB would have to consider in assessing the company's reaccreditation.

Uber's papers expired in July, and the regulator has yet to decide whether to renew it.

In previous months, Uber has been slapped with nearly P200 million in fines for various violations, including operating thousands of vehicles without a franchise, and continuing to accept driver applications despite an LTFRB moratorium.