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On motorcycle taxis again – in support of the habal-habal

I was writing this article when I read the news about the Supreme Court upholding the LTFRB’s decision against motorcycle taxis, particularly that vs. Angkas. Prior to that, I’ve been spotting more of the “formal” motorcycle taxis around Metro Manila. And more recently, there have been news reports about some of them, particularly Angkas, being involved in road crashes. While I support having motorcycle taxis in part to address transport and traffic issues, I still have reservations concerning the safety of these services. The recent crashes and how they were or are handled will provide us with better insights on what regulations should apply to them. I know people tend to be allergic about ‘regulations’ especially when associated with the LTFRB or DOTr. But we have to understand that regulations are important to ensure safety of users of the service. That is, of course, if we assume the regulations are properly implemented or enforced. This is still a big question mark with a host of other regulations that are already in place and spelled out and yet are not enforced.

Angkas rider along Katipunan Avenue

More recently, I’ve spotted Angkas riders in Antipolo and Cainta along my usual commuting routes. And then I noticed quite a few of them in Cagayan De Oro, which means a more formalised “habal-habal” given the identification of Angkas riders with their helmets and shirts. Other “habal-habal” do not have anything to distinguish them from general motorcycle traffic. Former students with the DPWH who have access to data on road crashes state that there is still an increasing occurrence of motorcycle-related crashes and many involve those with passengers. However, it is unclear whether these are the typical free “riding in tandem” cases, which are likely the most common, or the “for hire” case as with motorcycle taxis like Angkas. I guess the key here is to keep the discussions ongoing and come up with solutions to address issues rather than simply ban the habal-habal.

A friend tagged me in a social media post where he explained his position on the motorcycle as a mode of public transport. He also shared some articles he wrote for his newspaper column. I replied that I also support inclusion of this mode of transport and think that authorities should engage positively and progressively. Again, there are opportunities here to help alleviate transport problems. Government should busy themselves in ensuring safety and security rather than just go for a ban. That’s a lazy approach to this matter.

On motorcycle ambulances and first responders

I’ve seen some articles about app-based motorcycle taxi TNC Angkas establishing what they claim as the first motorcycle ambulance service. To be accurate, they are marketing this as a first responder service rather than an ambulance so there’s something wanting about news articles highlighting the “ambulance” instead of “first responder” angle.

Here’s the post from February 2014 (4 years ago) that I wrote based on a documentary by GMA 7:

“Habal-habal ambulance,” https://d0ctrine.com/2014/02/01/habal-habal-ambulance/ [Last accessed: 12/2/2018]

Motorcycles have been used as ambulances particularly in rural parts of the country for quite sometime now. They are able to access areas that are difficult to access via 4- or even 3-wheeled vehicles. As a first responder type of service for medical purposes though, I have not seen any formal documentation or article about such application – yet. The service though is promising as you can observe emergency service vehicles like ambulances having trouble reaching their destinations due mainly to traffic congestion. First responders on motorcycles can have better chances and at the least perhaps provide the much needed first aid before the ambulances arrive. However, I think the jury is still out there in terms of how this will be a paid service. Do you pay (book?) first before someone comes to your aid or is payment made afterwards. This can be a sensitive issue and one that needs further assessment soon.

The case for motorcycle taxis in Metro Manila and other Philippine cities

The proliferation of motorcycle taxis (habal-habal) in Metro Manila and other cities is an “open secret”. They have become popular in urban areas mainly due to their being able to go through heavy traffic thereby reducing travel times between origins and destinations. While there are generally other modes of transport to choose from, most of these are likely to be bogged down in traffic particularly along most major roads in our cities. Conventional public transportation, after all, are usually confined to their fixed routes and not having the flexibility to take other roads that are perceived to be less congested. Being “out of line” is a violation of their franchise provision spelling out which road they can take. Taxis and TNVS are more flexible but also would eventually have to contend with traffic. Cost is also a consideration for what are actually car traffic. Motorcycle taxis offer faster and cheaper transport despite the safety concerns.

Motorcycle taxis in Cebu City – Angkas is very visible in Metro Cebu

Non-Angkas motorcycle taxis are not so obvious and easily blend in with motorcycles with one (or more) passengers. The Angkas in the photo actually violates its own rules regarding number of passengers with the child also not wearing a helmet.

An Angkas rider checking his smartphone for the next fare.

I’ve written before about the informal and formal terminals for these motorcycle taxis. They are still very much around and perhaps have multiplied since Angkas got the nod from the courts to continue operations despite being prohibited by the DOTr and the LTFRB, which still do not consider motorcycles as a safe form of public transport. Perhaps it is time to reconsider this policy and give people/commuters another option while we play catch-up with mass transportation? Perhaps the right way to go about this is to require motorcycle taxi service providers to have proper attire including easy to see/easy to identify vests and helmets (helmets should be required for both rider and passenger)? Perhaps their record should speak for the motorcycle taxi services, and people should be made aware of the risks and costs involved should they choose to take habal-habal to travel? And perhaps motorcycle taxis can help alleviate transport problems in our cities?

Incomplete rationalisation of public transport?

The current initiative to rationalise road public transport services is not as comprehensive as necessary or as some people want us to believe. The drive appears to be mainly on (some say against) jeepneys while little has been done on buses and UV Express vehicles. Most notable among the modes not covered by rationalisation are the tricycles.

A smoke-belching tricycle along Daang Bakal in Antipolo City

What really should be the role and place of tricycles in the scheme of themes in public transportation? Are they supposed to provide “last mile” services along with walking and pedicabs (non-motorised 3-wheelers)? Or are they supposed to be another mode competing with jeepneys, buses and vans over distances longer than what they are supposed to be covering? It seems that the convenient excuse for not dealing with them is that tricycles are supposed to be under local governments. That should not be the case and I believe national agencies such as the DOTr and LTFRB should assert their authority but (of course) in close cooperation with LGUs to include tricycles in the rationalisation activities. Only then can we have a more complete rationalisation of transport services for the benefit of everyone.

In memoriam of road crash victims

I wrote earlier this year about a beloved aunt who was involved in a road crash. She was hit by a jeepney driven recklessly as she was walking; on her way to church one early morning. She was in the hospital for weeks before she finally passed away. It was painful to see her in her hospital bed, unconscious but fighting for her life.

No, I don’t feel anger anymore whenever I recall the incident and note that if the driver were just careful then she would still have been alive today. I feel sad. I feel sad and frustrated that despite all the efforts a lot of people have put into road safety programs and projects, there seems to be little in terms of the reduction of recklessness on the roads. The recent weeks, for example, are full of reports of crashes that claimed the lives of many and injured more. These often involved trucks that mowed down everyone in their paths. Then, you see a lot of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, many ride like stuntmen and without regard for life, limb or property as long as they can get away with it.

Additional laws in the form of local ordinances or Republic Acts will not be effective in reducing road crashes and the death toll it has brought upon us. It is the enforcement, the implementation of these rules and regulations. Rules and regulations are just words that, if not acted upon, do not have any effectiveness. And so we get to the root of the problem and that is enforcement; the lacking if not missing ingredient in the road safety broth that is necessary to save lives and create a safer environment for all. Does it deserve more attention and resources from our national government and local authorities who are in-charge of most of the enforce aspects of road safety? I do think so. Statistics on traffic-related deaths, injuries and damage to property compare strongly with if not exceed those attributed to drug abuse. When you purposely drive recklessly and crash into another vehicle or person, one is practically murderous. You also destroy the lives of people related to the person you kill or injure (e.g., that person could be the sole breadwinner of a family). The comparisons and examples are plenty and I am sure a lot of people have their own personal experiences about this as well as their opinions. For now though, let us reflect on those who perished from road crashes and perhaps think not about “what could have been” but instead of “what can be done.”

Some recommended references for sustainable transportation design

We conclude the month of October with the following recommended readings:

While these are guidelines and manuals developed and published in the United States, the principles and much of the content and context are very much applicable here.

As an additional reference, here is the latest version of functional classifications for streets that is supposed to be context-sensitive:

On motorcycle taxis in Saigon and legalizing these in Metro Manila

Among the things I wanted to observe in Ho Chi Minh City were their motorcycle taxis. These are a popular mode of transport in Vietnam. They are so popular that ride sharing companies Uber and Grab have the motorcycle taxi as an option in their apps. They even have their own helmets for promotion and easy identification.

Uber moto is among the most popular options for the ride sharing app

Grab is also popular and the photo shows people wearing other helmets that may be about other companies facilitating motorcycle taxis

Uber has a motorcycle taxi option in its app in Vietnam. This is a screenshot I took as I loaded their promo code for our conference (Uber was a major sponsor.).

Grab moto rider browsing for his next passenger

Vietnam has shown that motorcycle taxis can be both popular while being regulated and relative safe (there are tens of thousands of motorcycles moving around their cities including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh). Should the Philippines, particularly Metro Manila, also consider this at least while it is building more mass transit lines? Again, this is not for everyone and perhaps can help alleviate the worsening transport and traffic conditions in the metropolis. Of course, there are the expected implications if motorcycle taxis are legalized including a further surge in motorcycle sales and ownership and, more troubling, the likely increase in the number of crashes involving motorcycles (hopefully not the fatal ones). But then again, the reality is that there are already motorcycle taxis operating around Metro Manila with upstart Angkas operating against the wishes of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). It is more advantageous to recognize these and perhaps allow Grab and Uber to offer them as options. That way, LTFRB can formulate and issue the necessary rules and regulations covering these and be able to monitor as well as make companies providing them answerable to the public for concerns such as safety and fares.