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Uber made waves (and ran into roadblocks) in countries where it was launched. It was a hit to commuters while it faced staunch opposition from taxi companies and regulatory bodies, and in other countries, banned outright.

It was somewhat tolerated in Singapore but not made legal, unlike what just happened recently in the Philippines.

The Philippine Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) today enacts an order to create the new category of transport known as “Transportation Network Companies (TNCs),” which provide app-based services connecting private vehicle owners or drivers with people looking for a ride.

“We view technological innovation as a driver for progress, especially in transportation where it can provide safer and more convenient commuting options to the public. App-based transport services help address the increasing demand for mobility spurred by rapid urbanization,” says DOTC secretary Jun Abaya in a statement posted on the agency’s website.

The move essentially allows Uber and similar services to “exist within our regulatory framework,” adds Abaya.

Uber praises this “historic” development and says it makes the Philippines the first country to create a national dedicated framework for ridesharing. Uber offers peer-to-peer service UberX and limo-esque UberBlack in the Philippines. “This first-of-its-kind order is a shining example of how collaboration between government and industry can advance urban mobility, create new economic opportunity, and put rider safety first,” notes Uber senior vice president of policy and strategy David Plouffe.

While the Philippines may be the first country in Asia to enforce specific rules for TNCs, it only takes cue from jurisdictions abroad such as California in the US. California was the first US state to classify Uber and similar services as Transportation Network Companies.

The Philippine order follows months-long public consultations to figure out how to regulate Uber’s operations. Uber was under fire from taxi operators who wanted the tech company banned. Initially yielding to pressure, Philippine regulators launched a sting operation against Uber that backfired.

The enforcement did not sit well with commuters, who condemned the move. The sting operation sparked public outrage, prompting regulators to take a second look at technology-based transport services. The taxi’s tarnished reputation of refusing passengers, overcharging, and even criminal attempts didn’t help the taxi operators’ situation. More people wanted to ride in vehicles like Uber than a regular taxi, given a choice.

Abaya says his department collaborated closely with concerned tech companies in crafting regulations for the new public transport category. “[We believe these regulations] will motivate current PUV (public utility vehicle) operators to modernize, upgrade, and innovate as well.”

The DOTC details certain standards for companies falling under the TNC category. For a vehicle to qualify, it must have GPS tracking and navigation devices, and must be seven years old or below. Only sedans, Asian Utility Vehicles, Sports Utility Vehicles, and vans will be considered.

Vehicle owners will be required to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience for every vehicle to ensure accountability. Drivers must be screened and accredited by the TNCs and registered with the DOTC’s attached agency, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

The new regulation saw was opposed by established taxi companies, and DOTC intends to keep them relevant. To allow taxi operators to compete with new transport services, the DOTC created a category for “premium taxis.” Compared to regular taxis, premium ones will be equipped with GPS, may be booked through the web or smartphones, will have a seven-year age limit, and allow payment through credit or debit cards.

Expect to see more companies operating under an identical framework based on taxi booking apps such as GrabTaxi, whose services is more appealing with their animal-themed (our favorite: cat-adorned pink) vehicles.

The pink cat, one of many GrabTaxis prowling the Philippines.

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