Wisdom > Spoiler

Uber and its recalcitrant culture

Disregard the law now and just deal with it later

Dark clouds hover above Uber. A drastic overhaul of its culture is imperative. For real. ILLUSTRATION BY MARCO RIVERA

When our Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board suspended ride-hailing company Uber for a month back in August, Filipino commuters (or at least those who followed and believed paid influencers) cursed to high heavens. To them, Uber was the good guy and the LTFRB was the villain.

Can’t blame them. Uber had spent its early years mastering the art of pushing the limits of the law—if not outright breaching them—and then employing questionable tactics to avoid prosecution. In the Philippines, the strategy was simple: Get “influencers” to weave soap operas around the issue and make the adversary look like the Antichrist. With the LTFRB’s horrible track record when it came to managing public transportation in the country, this was a job even Mocha Uson could have pulled off in her sleep. Add to this the average Filipino’s gullibility—how else do scumbags keep winning elections?—and Uber was surely off the hook.

But nah. Not so fast.

LTFRB chief Martin Delgra stood pat and threw the book at Uber for defying his office’s order to stop activating more cars and drivers. Hats off to the guy for not succumbing to the Facebook drama of one for-hire brand ambassador, who should be ashamed of himself for defending a contumacious foreign company and inciting people to despise a government agency that was only doing its job (how much, dude?).

Is this government agency perfect? Far from it. Is it without blame in the matter? Certainly not. But it is the authority, period. To aid Uber in its stubborn and arrogant noncompliance is to give your stamp of approval to thieves who claim to steal from the rich in order to distribute the loot to the poor. There is definitely nothing Robin Hood-esque here. This is one extremely ambitious moneymaking organization whose mantra is to “win at all costs” to please its bosses and shareholders.

Yes, this is one organization that has a long list of willful wrongdoings around the world. Look up “Uber protests and legal actions” on Wikipedia. Based on reports and inquests, Uber has been scoffing at ordinances in practically every city it operates in. It has used illegal software to track people and sabotage the competition. It has utilized dubious pricing methods. And, as already mentioned, it has enlisted social-media warriors to do the fighting for them.

This is one extremely ambitious moneymaking organization whose mantra is to win at all costs

It is clear now: Uber has a dark culture of recalcitrance. Find a way around regulations and just fix it later. One fix is through bribery, an offense Uber is being investigated for by the US government. And since the Philippines is notorious for its venal politicians, Uber executives likely assumed that our market was just the place to foster its blueprint for success.

I don’t know what happened there—why our government officials didn’t dance to Uber’s tune. Perhaps they were furious at the company’s brazen disobedience. Perhaps they were pissed with the telenovela influencer. Or perhaps they were really out to implement reform. Who knows?

What I do know is that the LTFRB—whether by design or not—sent the right message to everyone: Mock the law and you’re in trouble. You can’t go around disregarding the rules and not expect to be indicted.

As soon as Uber higher-ups realized this, a regional executive immediately flew in and participated in a dialogue with our authorities. Where Uber had behaved haughtily before his arrival, the regional boss was surprisingly meek and cooperative. “If there has been a misunderstanding in the past, that’s all on us,” he told Delgra. “I apologize for the misunderstanding.”

Make no mistake: I like Uber’s service and the convenience that it provides. I’m a fan. But damn, you come to our country, you fall in line just like everyone else. That goes for Grab as well. Just because you offer a service that everybody loves doesn’t mean you have an excuse for ignoring government rules and regulations.

Can Uber be saved? I hope so. I really do. Mending its corporate ways will be an enormous and arduous task, for sure. But it has to start now—and start somewhere. It can kick things off by dropping the drama. And cutting ties with fake-news influencers.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist since July 1995. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.