By Joe Zaldarriaga

When ride-hailing giant Grab Philippines merged with its sole competitor Uber Philippines five years ago, there have been several criticisms about how the merger resulted in fewer choices for the commuting public as well as higher fares squeezing their pockets.

Last year, online news outlets reported that Grab Philippines allegedly admitted to imposing fare surcharges “to discourage its customers from booking short trips.” The company, however, argued that the charges were in accordance with the guidelines set by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

In 2019, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) slapped Grab Philippines with a PHP40-million penalty allegedly for its failure to fulfill its price commitments. It was also ordered to reimburse some PHP25 million to its riders.

However, with PHP6 million more yet to be refunded, the PCC last month said that it was looking to impose another round of penalty on Grab due to its alleged failure to fulfill its promise.

“They have not been complying but it is a game of itself,” PCC chairperson Michael Aguinaldo was quoted as saying in a report. “They have changed their behavior a number of times already... It’s something that will continue to go on.”

To prevent monopolistic acts, the PCC has asked the House of Representatives to give the competition watchdog more teeth in enforcing the antitrust provisions of the Philippine Competition Act.

Meanwhile, Grab said in a statement that it remains committed to fulfilling its obligations.

"Grab Philippines remains fully committed to complying with its undertakings and commitments with the PCC, and doing right by its stakeholders—especially its millions of users," it said, adding that it would work with the PCC to fully resolve the issue at the soonest possible time.

"Through its engagements with the PCC, Grab Philippines has provided the Commission a set of disbursement options, and is presently awaiting the PCC’s decision so that the chosen option can be implemented immediately," the ride-hailing firm added.

Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate’s Committee on Public Services, has signaled a looming committee hearing to probe into the alleged overcharging issue. In an interview, she underscored Grab’s monopoly of the transportation network vehicle service (TNVS), giving the commuters with no other choice.

With its recent acquisition of one of the three accredited motorcycle taxi operators, MoveIt, Poe said that Grab has the capability to dominate the transportation sector.

The TNVS industry has been in the country for years now, and no doubt, it has made public transportation easier and more accessible to the commuters with its service already at the doorstep with just one click.

However, customers have been feeling this “no choice” situation where there is no other option left but to give in to the rates being offered. Other TNVS companies must unite to level the playing field, especially as competitions have proven successful in making the market competitive.

The weary and desperate Filipino commuters need a solution and we are banking on the government’s action to encourage more players to provide lower rates and better services for the Filipinos. Equally, we need the participation of the private sector in making such initiative a success.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.

About the Columnist

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Joe Zaldarriaga is a veteran, award-winning communicator immersed in public service within and beyond the energy sector. He has more than 30 years of experience serving the country’s biggest electric distribution utility and is involved in a number of public service functions, as member of various committees on public safety, power supply security and electrification. Concurrently, he is a prominent figure in the Philippine communications industry, as Chairman and Past President of the US-based International Association of Business Communicators Philippines (IABC PH). He is also an awardee of the University of Manila’s Medallion of Honor (Dr. Mariano V. delos Santos Memorial) and a Scroll of Commendation, a testament to his celebrated years in public service exemplified by outstanding communications.

Joe also shares his opinion and outlook on relevant national and consumer issues as a columnist in several prominent publications and is now venturing into new media via hosting a new vlog called Cup of Joe. Previously, Joe was a reporter and desk editor of a Broadcasting Company and the former auditor of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines. A true green Lasalian, he finished with a degree in Asian Studies specializing in the Japan Studies program at De La Salle University, Manila, where he also spent his entire education.