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I took this photo this morning as I was coming home from the market. Ever since Metro Manila, Antipolo and other areas around the NCR transitioned into General Community Quarantine (GCQ) and Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ), a lot of people have been going out and taking group rides on motorcycles and bicycles as if there was no pandemic hanging around. I understand that a lot of people have been holed in their homes for quite some time now but these trips seem excessive considering many are cross-town or even inter-provincial trips that are long in terms of distance and times traveled.
Motorcycle group traveling along Daang Bakal in Antipolo City
I posted the same photo on social media to solicit reactions or comments. I asked the question of whether these trips are necessary. So far, I only got a couple of sad face reactions and a couple of comments. The sad face reactions included one from a cycling advocate. I know the person to be very passionate about bicycle commuting but also advised vs. group rides during MECQ and GCQ. I guess the point here is that we seem to be lowering our guard against Covid-19 and to me these trips (i.e., long rides, group rides) are unnecessary trips. While there seems to be no spikes in infections due to these rides, we don’t know really as data is poorly collected and analyzed. For those who don’t give a damn, I give the analogy of road safety, many situations of reckless driving or riding do not necessarily lead to a crash but the high potential for one means it is something waiting to happen. The same applies to these rides where there might be one, just one, asymptomatic rider who can potentially spread Covid-19. Maybe those infected will be asymptomatic, too. However, others they are in contact with may not be and become seriously ill. So until we do have a vaccine vs. Covid-19 and many are vaccinated already, I would advise against these unnecessary trips.
The infection risk table I posted a few days ago was improved into the following infographics:
I posted about the work we have been doing to assess the infection risk (i.e., spread of COVID-19) for various modes of transport considering the transition of many areas including the National Capital Region (NCR) to the General Community Quarantine (GCQ). The work was undertaken through the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is under the umbrella of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS). Here is the outcome in the form of an “Infection Risk Classification of Transport Modes or Vehicle Types” developed by a core group of public transportation and road safety specialists among its members:
Note again that this is the product of a rapid assessment using the mentioned criteria and factors. It is a qualitative assessment and a quantitative one, given the data, would obviously been preferred. Moreover, this is an assessment for risk of infection rather than for road safety. In the “old normal”, for example, cycling and motorcycle use may have a higher risk in traffic given traffic mix, human behavior and lack of facilities to make these modes safe.
My colleagues and I have been developing a risk assessment table for land transport modes to be submitted to the UP COVID-19 Response Team. We did a rapid assessment using mainly concepts from road safety.
The concepts are fairly simple. Risk assessment can be based on the likelihood of contracting the virus gauged from certain exposure factors. Exposure estimation may be quantitative where metrics are applied and data collected for the analysis. Estimation may alternatively qualitative based on experiences, perceptions, expert opinions, etc. but subject to logic (e.g., careful deduction). In road safety, for example, these factors may be defined as three: time, distance and volume.
Time exposure can be determined using travel time as a metric. Longer the travel times mean higher exposures for a commuter. Higher exposure translate to a higher likelihood that a person may become involved in a road crash. Thus, a commuter traveling for 1 hour, one way, will have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash compared to another traveling only 10 minutes even assuming that both use the same mode of transport. Applied to the risk of viral infection, longer commutes may mean people can have higher exposure to potential carriers of the virus.
Distance exposure can be determined using travel distance as a metric. Longer travel distances mean higher exposures for a commuter. Higher exposure again translate to a higher likelihood that a person may become involved in a road crash. Thus, a commuter with a travel distance of 10 kilometers will have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash compared to someone traveling only 1 kilometer. Applying this to the risk of viral infection is similar to the previous case for time exposure even when assuming the same mode of transport.
Volume exposure can be determined using both the volume of vehicles as well as the number of passengers inside the vehicles. The more vehicles or people you have on the roads interacting, the higher the likelihood of one becoming involved in a crash. It can also be argued that riding public transport in high volume, mixed traffic makes a passenger have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash. Again, applying this to the risk of viral infection, it should be easy to understand why physical distancing is necessary in vehicles as well as outdoors when walking or cycling. It should also extend to having less vehicles on the road to further reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.
In the real world, we cannot isolate each factor from one another. Instead, we have to contend with all three combining to create various scenarios. Along expressways, for example, the volume of vehicles might be high and so are distances. Time exposure can be lower due to high speeds. Yet high speeds can contribute to increased likelihood of crashes. Meanwhile, traffic congestion has all the ingredients for maximizing the likelihood for crashes and, by extension, viral infection. Long commutes (by time and distance) plus high volumes of people and vehicles combine to create the worst case scenario from the perspectives of both road safety and infection, which are both public health issues.
Next – Why we should not return to the old normal…
I googled the modified tricycles that I remembered was featured on TV before. Here’s what I’ve found from a news program of ABS CBN.
Credits to Bandila for this image of tricycles in La Union province.
Here’s from another internet source showing a rather sporty sidecar and a motorcycle that comfortably seats 2 people.
There are many tricycle sidecar makers around the country. Many of these are home industries or small shops that make and sell few sidecars. At times, the products are on-demand. As the first photo showed, it is possible to come up with sleek designs from our local shops.
During this quarantine period and sfter we get through this COVID-19 challenge, perhaps we should rethink how transportation system should be to ensure not just road safety but also safety from other health hazards as well. Of course, that is something we should take on together with other issues (e.g., employment, city planning, housing, health care systems, etc.) that are now so obvious we have no excuse of not taking notice of them.
The recent controversies, and issues raised vs. motorcycle taxis (habal-habal) have captured the attention of a lot of people including those who don’t use this mode of transport. I will be writing about this and more of my opinion on motorcycle taxis in another article. For now, I am sharing these photos of habal-habal in Cebu.
Off-street motorcycle taxi terminal at SM City Consolacion
The terminal is located on the sidewalk at the corner of the SM lot. I assume it is tolerated by SM though it blocks the pedestrian way to the mall.
Another herbal-habal terminal near SM Consolacion but serving a different set of barangays from the previous terminal of habal-habal I mentioned.
Fair matrix? Habal-habal minimum fares to specific destinations
Motorcycle taxis are a popular mode of transport in many Philippine cities and are generally tolerated by local government units. I guess the treatment they get from LGUs show the role they play as a mode of public transport. It is unfortunate and disappointing that the TWG that’s supposedly evaluating motorcycle taxis in Metro Manila cannot give a favorable assessment when it is clear that these habal-habal provide people with another choice for their commutes.
Here is the link to the press statement of the Philippine Competition Commission on Motorcycles as Public Transport:
I will just leave this here as it stands on its own with the details and discussions provided by the PCC. I will comment on this in another post but in essence I agree with the statement, which I think is a better document in terms of provisions and clarity compared to what the TWG has released so far.
I continue with my comments on current and persistent transport issues. This time, I focus on one of two hot topics – motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”.
1) On motorcycle taxis:
I am not a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that’s supposed to be evaluating the trial operations. I know one or two of the key members of the TWG and am surprised that they have not referred to the academe for studies that may have already been done about this mode of transport. I know there have been studies about it in UP and DLSU. Perhaps there are more from other universities in the country. Motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”, after all, are practically everywhere and would be hard to ignore. Surely, researchers and particularly students would be at least curious about their operations? Such is the case elsewhere and many studies on motorcycle taxis have been made in the region particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, where these modes also proliferate.
The terms “trial”, “experimental” or “pilot” are actually misleading because motorcycle taxis have been operating across the country for so many years now. They are supposed to be illegal and yet they serve a purpose in the areas where they are popular. What is often referred to as an informal transport mode is ‘formal’ to many people who are not being served by so-called formal modes including the tricycle. Of course, one can argue that these terms (i.e., trial, experimental and pilot) refer to the app that are supposed to enhance the existing habal-habal operations.
I would strongly endorse motorcycle taxis but companies need to be held accountable should there be fatal crashes involving their riders. They are supposed to have trained and accredited them. The companies should also have insurance coverage for riders and passengers. LGUs tolerant of these should be watchful and do their part in enforcing traffic rules and regulations pertaining to motorcycle operations in favor of safe riding. This is to reduce if not minimize the incidence of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis.
I think one of the problems with motorcycle taxis is not really their being a mode of choice but the behavior of their drivers. While companies like Angkas and Joyride conduct training sessions with their riders, many revert to reckless on-road behavior including executing risky maneuvers in order to overtake other vehicles on the road. This is actually a given with many ‘informal’ motorcycle taxis (i.e., those not affiliated with the recognized app companies). But then this is also an enforcement issue because we do have traffic rules and regulations that are poorly enforced by authorities. Thus, there is practically no deterrent to reckless riding except perhaps the prospect of being involved in a crash.
I will refrain to include the politics involved in the issue of motorcycle taxis. I will just write about this in another article.
Coming up soon: hot topic #2 – Obstacles to the PNR operations
I end the year with commentaries on transport issues. I recently responded to a request for an interview. This time, it was not possible to do it in person so we corresponded through email. Here are my responses to the questions sent, which are mainly about the public utility vehicle modernization program of the government.
· Will old-school jeepneys finally disappear on Philippine roads before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends, barely three years from now? What is a more realistic timeline of jeepney modernization?
Old school jeepneys won’t disappear from Philippine roads. For one, the modernization program has slowed down a bit and even the DOTr and LTFRB have stated and admitted that it is not possible to have 100% modernization before the end of term of the current administration. It’s really difficult to put a timeline on this because of so many factors that are in play including social, political, institutional and economic ones. The technical aspects are not issues here as there are many models to choose from and suitable for replacing jeepneys in terms of capacity.
· What are the bumps on road to jeepney modernization?
As mentioned earlier, there are many factors in play here. Economic/financial-related bumps pertain mainly to vehicle prices. The new models are quite pricey but it should be understood that this is also because the new ones are compliant with certain standards including technical and environmental ones that most ‘formally’ manufactured vehicles must pass unlike so-called customized local road vehicles (CLRV) like the conventional jeepneys. The financial package is not affordable to typical jeepney operators/drivers. The cost of a modern jitney (the technical term for these vehicle types) is close to an SUV and revenues may not be able to cover the combination of down payment, monthly payments, and operations & maintenance costs of the vehicle.
· Should local government units dictate the pace of jeepney modernization, not national agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board? Why?
I think the word “dictate” may be too strong a term to use. Instead, I prefer the word “manage”. After all, LGUs are supposed to capacitate themselves to be able to rationalize and manage public transport operations. That is why the DOTr and the LTFRB are requiring them to formulate and submit for evaluation and approval Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP). Though the deadline was supposed to be 2020, the agencies have relaxed this deadline after few submissions from LGUs. Few because there were only a few who were capable or could afford consultants to prepare the plans for the LGUs. These plans should be comprehensive covering all modes of public transport including tricycles and pedicabs that are already under the LGUs. Buses, jeepneys, vans and taxis are still under the LTFRB. Plans may also contain future transport systems that are being aspired for by LGUs such as rail-based mass transit systems and other such as monorail or AGT.
· Transport groups like PISTON are against drivers and operators merging into cooperatives. Is consolidation into cooperatives unworkable? Why?
I think consolidation into cooperatives is workable and should be given a chance. Unfortunately, there are still few examples of successful transport cooperatives. And the success also depends on the routes served by their vehicles. And that is why there is also a need to rationalize transport routes in order to ensure that these are indeed viable (i.e., profitable) for drivers and operators.
Another angle here is more political in nature. Note that while PISTON and other like-minded transport groups oppose cooperativism, there are others that have embraced it and even went corporate to some extent. Perhaps there is a fear of a loss in power that the leaders of these opposition transport groups have wielded for a long time? Perhaps there’s a fear that success of cooperatives means the drivers and operators will turn to cooperativism and leave those transport groups? Surely there are pros and cons to this and groups should not stop being critical of initiatives, government-led or not, that will affect them. This should be constructive rather than the rant variety but government should also learn to accept these rather than dismiss them or be offended by them as is often the case.
More comments in the next year!
Traveling along Commonwealth Avenue and Marcos Highway the past week, I both hopeful and worried about what happens after the Line 7 and Line 2 Extension finally becomes operational. Much has been said or reported about the potential of these two lines to change the way people commute; at least from the areas served by these two mass transit lines. However, how big an impact these would have in terms of actual reduction of private car use remains to be seen.
Will there be significant decreases in the volume of motor vehicles along Commonwealth Avenue, Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard? Or will there be just the same traffic along these roads? The worry is based on the likelihood that those who would be taking Lines 2 and 7 would be people who are already taking public transportation and not those who have chosen to leave their cars (or motorcycles) at home.
Our students have been studying ridesharing and P2P bus operations the past few years and the conclusion has so far been a shift from one mode of public transport to what’s perceived as a better one. It’s somewhat a difficult thing to accept for advocates of public transport especially those behind TNVS, P2P buses and railways but it is what it is, and its important to accept such findings in order for us to understand what’s going on and come up with better ways to promote public transport and convince car users to use PT.
Traffic flows at the Masinag junction with the Line 2 Masinag Station and elevated tracks in the background
What is more intriguing is the proposed subway line for Metro Manila. The alignment is different from the ones identified in previous studies for the metropolis and from what I’ve gathered should have stations that serve a North-South corridor that should make for a more straightforward commute (i.e., less transfers) for those taking the subway.
Probable MM Subway alignment (from the internet)
It is another line that has a big potential as a game-changer for commuters but we won’t be able to know for sure until perhaps 5 or 6 years from now. What we know really is that there was a lost opportunity back in the 1970s when government should have pushed for its first subway line instead of opting for the LRT Line 1.