The Court of Appeals recently declared unconstitutional a Mandaluyong City ordinance prohibiting male back riders on motorcycles. In so doing, the Court of Appeals held that there was an unlawful exercise of police power because there was no data showing that motorcycle riding criminals are males. It also held the ordinance unconstitutional for violating the equal protection clause since it discriminates based on gender, as well as against motorcycle riders in general.
This case puts into the spotlight a real problem in people’s mobility at this time, that is, the problem of the last mile. The reality is that some areas are accessible only by private vehicles with no available public transport. This forces the general population to either walk to their destination or take other forms of transportation available, such as motorcycle taxis. The roadblock, however, is that the antiquated Land Transportation and Traffic Code (RA 4136), which was enacted in 1964, does not contemplate motorcycles to be used as public utility automobiles. An amendment to the law is therefore in order.
It is indeed a welcome development when the Department of Transportation 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 purpose of the pilot study was to provide actual usage data which will then aid the TWG in formulating its Final Report to be submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate for purposes of legislative action. Though the pilot study was delayed because of the COVID-19 lockdowns, it finally pushed through after it was given clearance by 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 bookings of motorcycle taxis “shall only be made within and via the app platform.” It is unclear whether motorcycle taxi operations should be done through a separate mobile app for such purpose, or whether the motorcycle taxi can be operated through an already existing mobile app platform. If the purpose of the pilot study is to gather as much data on the usage of motorcycle taxis by the riding public, then it is submitted that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) should allow motorcycle taxi operations to be accessed either through a standalone app or as an added feature of an already existing mobile app platform.
Digital infrastructure, such as app platforms, are similar to physical infrastructure, such as malls, in the sense that both require a lot of resources to create. Potential motorcycle taxi operators should thus be given the choice as to which mode they will pursue since it is they who have the full knowledge of the resources available to them. Further, having different modes to avail of motorcycle taxi services has the potential of also generating more useful data especially as regards the preferences of actual users. By analogy, a standalone app is similar to a standalone taxi stop, while an added feature of an already existing app platform is similar to a taxi stand which is put up as part of a shopping mall. Both are equally useful and cater to the riding public.
Perhaps one sticking point in this proposed setup is that Philippine law has yet to adopt specific guidelines on what an online app platform can and cannot do. A positive development in this aspect is the inclusion of a definition of an “eCommerce platform operator” in the proposed Internet Transaction Act which is pending before the Senate as House Bill No. 7805. In the proposed law, an eCommerce platform operator is defined as “a natural or judicial person that solicits the purchase of goods and services through digital platforms and marketplaces whose business is to connect consumers and online merchants, facilitating sales of products, goods, or services through the internet with the presence and use of monetary transactions. These shall include social media websites and any other similar platforms in so far that it is used for business.”
This definition of an eCommerce platform operator recognizes the current reality that app platforms are essentially marketplaces which connect consumers to providers of goods and services. Thus, app platforms should be treated similarly as brick-and-mortar marketplaces in the sense that they should be allowed to host service providers for as long as the services offered are not illegal. More particularly, motorcycle taxi operators should be given the opportunity to choose whether they will develop their own independent app platform or if they will use an already existing app platform. Similarly, the riding public should also be allowed to use whichever app platform they prefer to use in order to avail of motorcycle taxi services.
The popularity of motorcycle taxis is a relatively new development brought about by the need for people mobility coupled with the development of online app platforms where the riding public can avail of these services. It will surely benefit all Filipinos, especially the general public who has no alternative 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. Surely, 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 opinion.
Enrique F. Nitura is a senior associate of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department (LDRD) of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices or ACCRALAW.