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Comments on current transport issues – Part 1
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!
Some concerns about future rail ridership
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.
Innovations for motorcycles
We spotted a number of motorcycles in Cagayan De Oro with what looked like modified umbrellas to shield the rider and passenger(s) from the elements. I approached one who just unloaded a passenger near one of our field survey stations and saw how a bit complicated the umbrellas were. It turned out that these were customised for motorcycles and were being sold as some stores including some malls in the downtown area. Here is the umbrella as installed on a motorcycle taxi (habal-habal) being shown by the habal-habal rider.
About the habal-habal again
There’s a nice article written by the current City Administrator of Cebu City, Nigel Paul Villarete. Paul has a regular column in a major daily and one that is always a good read. The article is a consolidation of previous articles he has written about the habal-habal or motorcycle taxi.
Villarete, N.P. (2018) “Habal-habal: the Two-Wheeler “Public” Transport in the Philippines,” http://www.streetlife.com, http://streetlife.villarete.com/habal-habal-the-two-wheeler-public-transport-in-the-philippines/?fbclid=IwAR06y9lrH-j6YtXRLf6rDL_JssnewNhR0b49dJ4Muc2PKyCzxeK50X6Ul6Y [Last accessed: 12/21/2018].
The article is relevant and current in its take on the motorcycle taxi and why it is important to consider this mode of transport as a form of public transportation. For one, it obviously gives people another choice for travel that is supposed to be able to cut down travel times compared to when they use conventional public transport or private vehicles. The question and perhaps the challenge to those operating such services is to prove that they are a safe mode of transport. Also, not to forget, is the question of fares and how to set the proper structure in order to protect people against abusive or excessive fares charged by the service providers.
There is news recently that the DOTr is convening a technical working group (TWG) to look into what they perceive as an issue on habal-habal. I wish the TWG well and hope that this will lead to something constructive including regulations that everyone can agree to. That said, I also believe that service providers, especially transport network company (TNC) Angkas, should exert more effort to prove they are a safe mode of transport rather than resorting to what appears to be more a fallacy of appealing to the emotions of people while trying to evade the legal constraints imposed on them. There is definitely a difference in motorcycle taxi operations in rural areas compared to those in the urban setting including the fact that they would have to deal with more vehicular traffic along urban roads. This means more interactions with other vehicles that may lead to an increased likelihood of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis if the latter don’t exercise safe driving practices.
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:
- Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach, An ITE Recommended Practice, 2010
- Model Design Manual for Living Streets, 2011
- Smart Transportation Guidebook, Planning and Designing Highways and Streets that Support Sustainable and Livable Communities, 2008
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:
- Stamatiadis, N., A. Kirk, D. Hartman, J. Jasper, S. Wright, M. King, and R. Chellman. 2017. An Expanded Functional Classification System for Highways and Streets. Pre- publication draft of NCHRP Research Report 855. Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C.