The Court of Appeal recently declared unconstitutional an order from Mandaluyong City banning male motorcyclists. In doing so, the Court of Appeal ruled that there had been an illegal exercise of police power because there was no data showing that the motorcycle criminals were men. He also ruled the order unconstitutional for violating the equal protection clause because it discriminates on the basis of sex, as well as against motorcyclists in general.
This case highlights a real problem of mobility of people at the moment, that is to say the problem of the last mile. The reality is that some areas are only accessible by private vehicles with no public transport available. This forces the general population to walk to their destination or to use other available means of transport, such as motorcycle taxis. The roadblock, however, is that the old Land Transport and Traffic Code (RA 4136), which was promulgated in 1964, does not contemplate the use of motorcycles as public utility automobiles. A change in the law is therefore necessary.
It is indeed a welcome development when the Ministry of Transport formed a Technical Working Group (TWG) and issued general guidelines for the pilot implementation of motorcycle taxis on May 8, 2019. As clearly specified in the guidelines , the aim of the pilot study was to provide actual usage data which will then help the TWG to formulate its final report to be submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate for legislative action. Although the pilot study was delayed due to lockdowns from COVID-19, it was ultimately successful after receiving clearance from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
One point to consider, however, is the requirement under the Guidelines that all motorcycle taxi reservations “must only be made in and through the app platform.” It is not clear whether motorcycle taxi operations should be performed through a separate mobile app for this purpose, or whether the motorcycle taxi can be operated through an already existing mobile app platform. If the aim of the pilot study is to collect as much data on the use of motorcycle taxis by the traveling public, then it is suggested that the Department of Transport (DoTr) should allow access to motorcycle taxi operations. via a stand-alone app or as an additional feature of an already existing mobile app platform.
Digital infrastructures, such as application platforms, are similar to physical infrastructures, such as shopping malls, in that both require a lot of resources to be created. Potential motorcycle taxi operators should thus have a choice as to which mode they will adopt since it is they who have full knowledge of the resources at their disposal. In addition, having different ways of using motorcycle taxi services has the potential to generate more useful data as well, especially with regard to the preferences of real users. By analogy, a stand-alone app is similar to a stand-alone taxi stop, while additional functionality of an already existing app platform is similar to a taxi rank installed as part of a shopping mall. Both are equally useful and are aimed at the equestrian audience.
Perhaps a sticking point in this proposed setup is that Philippine law has yet to pass specific guidelines on what an online application platform can and cannot do. A positive development in this regard is the inclusion of a definition of an “electronic commerce platform operator” in the Internet Transactions Bill which is pending before the Senate as Bill No. ° 7805. In the proposed law, an electronic commerce platform operator is defined as “a natural or legal person who solicits the purchase of goods and services through digital platforms and markets whose activity is to market in relation to consumers and online traders, by facilitating the sale of products, goods or services via the Internet with the presence and use of monetary transactions. These include social media websites and any other similar platform as far as they are used for commercial purposes.
This definition of an e-commerce platform operator recognizes the current reality that application platforms are essentially marketplaces that connect consumers to providers of goods and services. Thus, application platforms should be treated the same as physical marketplaces in that they should be allowed to host service providers as long as the services offered are not illegal. In particular, motorcycle taxi operators should be given the flexibility to choose whether they will develop their own independent application platform or whether they will use an already existing application platform. Likewise, the cycling public should also be allowed to use the application platform they prefer to use in order to benefit from motorcycle taxi services.
The popularity of motorcycle taxis is a relatively new development brought about by the need for mobility of people associated with the development of online application platforms where the cycling public can benefit from these services. It will surely benefit all Filipinos, especially the general public who have no other means of transportation, if the DoTr and Congress are able to come up with the necessary legal framework to regulate the use of motorcycle taxis. Certainly, motorcycle taxis are here to stay.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered and does not constitute legal advice or legal advice.
Enrique F. Nitura is a senior partner in the Litigation and Dispute Resolution (LDRD) department of Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz or ACCRALAW law firms.