IT wasn’t clear what to call them. These taxis, not like the regular taxis we know, started appearing on the streets last year.

They became popular to users who saw the benefit of booking a trip online, avoiding long taxi lines and paying with your credit card, but we knew them by their individual company names. Uber, EasyCar, GrabCar and, in Cebu, Easy Taxi and Grab Taxi are what they are called and marketed to the riding public. What are they?

Online taxi. Online-enabled transportation service. Taxi-hailing app. Booking a cab ride through a mobile application available on the Google Play Store and the Apple Store.

House of Representatives members and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board that regulates taxis have joined the name game and called them by the more official “transportation network vehicles services” (TNVS) and “transportation network companies” (TNCs).

The House of Representatives is studying a proposal to have the Department of Transportation and Communications take these services off the streets because online taxis are nothing but “colorum” or unauthorized vehicles because they do not have franchises.

They operate like taxis but do not pay taxes and there’s nothing to make them liable for accidents, according to the House bill. One congressman said these companies are system developers, just technology guys not certified to undertake transport services.

Based on my experience in using the service abroad and on the account of those who have tried it in Manila and Cebu, here is how these online taxi services work.

Download the mobile application from the Google Play Store or the Apple Store, depending on your handset. Anybody with a phone that connects to the Internet may download the free application and install it.

Install the app to your device and create your profile. You may put in your credit or debit card details to transact without using cash. You may now start booking a ride. The app will tell you the location of the nearest cab, the wait time, and how much it would cost to your destination. They are also being marketed as a safer alternative to regular cabs because a record of the car owner and driver name is created immediately upon booking.

Some of these cars do not use yellow plates for taxis. They use plates for private cars or for airport taxis.

The bill now with the House committee on transportation said these TNVS and TNCs have to meet the same requirements imposed on regular taxis. They have to submit legal documents showing they have the correct insurance coverage in case of accidents, and they have to issue electronic receipts to comply with tax rules.

Whether they are taxi-hailing apps or a full taxi service with a fleet of cars, what should be taken into account by legislators is the need that these companies fill. Technology allowed the development of the app, but there was a demand for better taxi services that made it beneficial.

Commuters who pay the extra charge for such a service do so to avoid long taxi lines, bargaining with the drivers, overcharging and risky situations.

Removing these taxi services from the street would work against the commuter.

(ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)