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Grab grabs Uber

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Amelia H. C. Ylagan

Corporate Watch

Grab grabs Uber

Uber is over.

Could even the motu propio review by the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) on April 2 of the acquisition by Grab Holdings, Inc. and MyTaxi.PH, Inc. of the assets of Uber BV and Uber Systems, Inc. in Southeast Asia have affected the status of the survivor company, Grab, in the Philippines? No, the merger was already announced on March 26, with Uber receiving a 27.5% stake in the combined business, and Grab the continuing operator. Nor did Uber and Grab feel they had to pre-inform the PCC or any regulatory body: “the transaction is not covered by the compulsory notification requirements under Section 17 of the Philippine Competition Act or RA 10667,” the parties stressed (ABS-CBN News, April 3, 2018).

Yet the PCC reviewed the surprising offshore (regional) Grab-Uber deal in accordance with Section 13 of local Rules on Merger Procedures. The antitrust watchdog noted that its preliminary assessment of the merger would lead to “a virtual monopoly in the ride-sharing market… there are reasonable grounds that the said acquisition may likely substantially lessen, prevent, or restrict competition… (and) will result in a substantial increase in concentration of an already highly concentrated market in an industry that provides a basic public service (Rappler, April 3, 2018).”

Grab will capture 80% of the transport network vehicle service (TNVS) market, PCC Chair Arsenio Balisacan said (ABS-CBN News, April 3, 2018). At a Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) meeting last year to discuss regulation of ride-sharing/hailing platforms, Chair Martin Delgra III was shocked, thinking Grab and Uber had only about 28,000 cars each. (Taxicabs still outnumbered ride-sharing cars 10 to one.) But Grab Philippines country head Brian Cu said then that there were 52,398 Grab cars in the country, with only 3,000 to 4000 having provisional authority from the LTFRB. Uber Philippines spokesperson Yves Gonzalez said there were 66,000 Uber cars, of which 2,500 have provisional authority from the LTFRB, while 1,000 have pending extension of this authority (Inquirer.net, Aug. 2, 2017). Cu said that “if we don’t grow supply by three percent a week, then there would be passengers who would not get a ride…(since) 60% of our drivers do not see themselves as full-time drivers. Many drive for less than 10 hours a week (Ibid.).”

There is still unserved demand.

Does the Grab projected estimate of demand mean the number of TNVS units in the last six months should have now increased from 120,000 to about 200,000? We wouldn’t know, because there was no regulatory mechanism set up to monitor the compounding growth rate of these ride-shares. Anyway, it is all demand-driven, from riders who tolerate the traffic and time-related volatility, but accept the more transparent pricing of app-based Grab and Uber rides. The easy electronic access and dependable service of ride-sharing/hailing wins heads-up versus riding taxis who cherry-pick destinations and the hassling at urgent need with taxi drivers dictating atrocious fares (Read: “The trouble with taxis,” Rappler, May 17, 2015).

We can then say that the competition for car-based transportation has not been between Uber and Grab, but between the TNVS (Uber and Grab together on one hand) and the taxicabs on the other hand. It does not really matter whether Uber and Grab operate separately as the PCC illogically proposed (“Grab, Uber ordered to continue separate ops beyond April 8,” ABS-CBN News, April 7, 2018) or as a single, fused operator, as the PCC fears (“LTFRB says TNVS rides will be more expensive after Grab’s purchase of Uber” ABS-CBN News, April 7, 2018). Market forces will force pricing review and comparative delivery of service for both the TNVS and the taxis. Uber-Grab seems to have won the hearts of the riding public, and will want to keep that. The taxicab companies had better shape up.

But now the government will have to face the regulation of the merged Uber-Grab squarely. The LTFRB issued Memorandum Circular 2018-03, which limited the number of TNVS units at 45,000 in Manila, 500 in Metro Cebu and 200 in Pampanga. There are about 14,789 TNVS units registered as of January. It means around 30,211 slots in Metro Manila are available, based on the LTFRB records (The Philippine Star, Jan. 27, 2018).

What about the rest of the 120,000 cars already plying the routes, as admitted by Uber and Grab to the LTFRB in August 2017? There are loose ends that the LTFRB needs to tidy up, which are more dangerous than the PCC’s fear for the so-called monopolistic control by the combined Uber and Grab networks.

Grab’s acquisition of Uber’s ride-sharing/hailing services in Southeast Asia roused monopolistic fears not only in the Philippines but in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia as well, a region with approximately 620 million passengers using the Internet-based platform via its websites and mobile apps (Cebu Daily News, April 2, 2018). In Malaysia, its Competition Commission announced it would keep tabs on Grab, especially if the company imposed unfair practices or sudden fare increases (Reuters, April 2, 2018). But its major defense long before the sensational Grab-Uber merger has been for the government to work with Grab in converting over 67,000 conventional taxi drivers nationwide to e-hailing platforms which will eventually homogenize with a shared standard e-hailing available to all riders. Nearly 14,000 taxi drivers had now either partially or fully migrated to e-hailing platforms. “This is in the interest of the taxi industry, which has been around for a long time. At the same time, Grab needs our support, and we are there to assist them as well,” the public transport licensing authority said (Ibid.).

It would do well for the LTFRB to insist on local taxi companies having e-hailing platforms to compete with the superior accessibility of Grab car service. Of course the taxi-cab stand-by bays in public places can exist alongside the e-hailing service, to help non-WiFi accessible pick-up places, as it is in Malaysia.

The concept of the TNVS or ride-sharing/hailing has changed much from the original concept in the early 2000s, when individuals started to offer their free time and car for ad hoc taxi services not aligned with the local taxi service (Levofsky and Greenberg, “Organized dynamic ride-sharing: the potential environmental benefits and the opportunity for advancing the concept,” 2001). This generally makes use of three recent technological advances: GPS navigation devices to determine a driver’s route and arrange the shared ride; smartphones for a traveler to request a ride from wherever they happen to be; and social networks to establish trust and accountability between drivers and passengers (Ecosummit TV 2011 on the Sharing Economy and the Transport Business, Germany). Since then, transportation network companies were established worldwide that were advertised as ride-sharing, but in fact dispatched commercial operators similar to a taxi service, but with the technological devices basic to the contracting of the “ride-share.”

“Ride-sharing” has been controversial, variously criticized as lacking adequate regulation, insurance, licensure, and training. One of the main so-called ride-sharing (but actually ride-sourcing) firms, Uber, has been banned in major cities such as Frankfurt, Barcelona, Vancouver, Buffalo and a number of other cities around the world (Fortune, July 22, 2016). Of course, taxi companies always oppose TNVS because these are unregulated alternatives to riders in the limited market pie of individualized car transport service.

The Philippine transport agencies must immediately regulate the TNVS.

 

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.

ahcylagan@yahoo.com