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Habal-habal and skylab in Surigao Del Sur

Following are more examples of motorcycle taxis from our recent study. The photos were taken at a terminal in a town in Surigao Del Sur. Both habal-habal and Skylab were there waiting for passengers to transport to the barrios.

surigao-4Skylab with roof integrated with the extensions

surigao-3Habal-habal with makeshift roof

surigao-2Haba-habal and skylab at terminal in Tandag, Surigao De Sur

surigao-1More motorcycle taxis at the terminal

Note that many have roofs and these appear to be especially fabricated for either type of vehicle. In the case of the Skylab, the roof is connected to the extensions on either side of the motorcycle similar to how sidecars of motorized tricycles are fabricated to integrate a roof for the driver. While there are similar set-ups for habal-habal, many are more makeshift where the canvass roof’s columns are made of wood or even bamboo and are tied to the motorcycle.

Habal-habal in Agusan

The initial part of our research on motorcycle taxis has been completed last December 2016. We are currently drafting a paper for submission to an international conference to be held later this year. The paper contains the outcomes of the surveys undertaken in Surigao Del Sur, Agusan Del Norte and Metro Manila. These include a profile of motorcycle taxi drivers and vehicles that gives us a good idea of how much these people earn and the typical range and loads (passengers and goods) they carry.

Following are photos of motorcycle taxis in Agusan. I won’t post too much detail on the net income of drivers/operators but I guess they earn enough (some even more) given the typical cost of living in these areas where they operate. Motorcycle taxi drivers/operators actually are part of the so-called underground economy where, despite the work and income, people don’t pay their taxes like regular employees or professionals at various workplaces.

[All photos courtesy of Mr. Sherman Avendano of the National Center for Transportation Studies]

13Typical habal-habal with 3 passengers

17“Skylab” with roof – the planks or extensions on either side of the motorcycle are the main features of this motorcycle taxi.

05Typical rural roads in areas served by habal-habal are unpaved. These are muddy during the wet season and dusty during the dry season. As such, it can be a rough ride for those using motorcycles and perhaps even rougher by car.

06Habal-habal passing by a puddle on the road – the passengers are obviously children likely on their way to school based on their uniforms

More on motorcycle taxis soon!

Habal-habal in Metro Manila

I posted about our ongoing research on motorcycle taxis. One of our subject areas are Pasig and Taguig in Metro Manila. These would likely represent the urban motorcycle taxi operations that we wanted to document and assess. One terminal I specifically asked our staff to visit as part of the recon/pre-survey activities is located at Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City near where the Pasig River connects with the Laguna de Bay. It is along Circumferential Road 6 and, based on my observation, has transferred locations several times since C-6 was being widened and paved.

14-nov-2016-11-35-00-amThis is the terminal at Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City along C-6 and near the Napindan Ferry Terminal.

14-nov-2016-11-35-12-amThe current terminal stands along what used to be the older C-6 lane. The newer paved section of the widened C-6 is shown in use. It used to be closer to the bridge that crossed the Pasig River and near the Napindan Ferry Terminal.

14-nov-2016-11-35-26-amThe habal-habal riders and operators have an organization and are generally tolerated by the local government. Unlike their provincial “relatives”, they usually only take one passenger seated at the back of the rider. Two passengers are not unusual or irregular especially if one is a child.

I will post about the characteristics of habal-habal operations soon. However, I don’t want to preempt the research we are doing so I would also prefer that we submit our report first and maybe even submit a paper or two for publication before I post them here. Among the things we have obtained so far are video recordings of what its like to ride these motorcycles. We used an action camera mounted on the rider’s helmet for this purpose. Our staff also did a quick interview of the service providers and will be doing a full survey soon to get substantial information for our research.

Skylab – motorcycle taxi

We are currently doing research on motorcycles and a major part of the research is on motorcycle taxis. Motorcycle taxis are popular in many areas in the Philippines despite national and local government agencies have not sanctioned or legalized their operations. There are two popular versions of the motorcycle taxis – the habal-habal and the Skylab. Both are basically motorcycles with some add-ons to increase passenger capacity or to be able to carry more goods or cargo.

The habal-habal is carries all passengers or cargo on the motorcycle with some variants having a plank for extension to the back or a customized seat over the gas tank that is usually for children. The Skylab owes its name from the US satellite that fell to the earth in the 1970s. The shape of the satellite inspired innovative extensions along each side of the motorcycle. This enabled riders to take in triple the number of passengers they could with the habal-habal set-up.  Both have variants with roofs.

The following video shows a Skylab in Surigao Del Sur care of a very good friend, Dr. Alex Ladaga of Surigao Del Sur State University, whom we are collaborating with in this research:

More on these motorcycle taxis soon!

Mainstreaming the motorcycle taxi via current transport tech trends

The motorcycle taxi is common in Southeast Asia and it seems that bringing it to the next level means taking advantage of available technology to facilitate getting a ride. In the forefront is Grab, the company behind GrabTaxi and GrabCar, which is a similar service to the popular Uber. GrabTaxi facilitated getting a taxi and is already popular for being quite effective to many who have availed of the service. I am among those who have used GrabTaxi and so far has been satisfied with the service.

Recently, Grab had been in the news for a service it has been providing elsewhere and which also appeared on their app in the Philippines – GrabBike. I also saw this feature on their app and was curious about how they were able to go mainstream on this in the Philippines because motorcycle taxis (e.g., habal-habal) are basically illegal in most cities and are unregulated except by barangays or a few local governments where their services have been recognized. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) ordered Grab to stop offering this feature of their services. It seems they haven’t done so as GrabBike is still there and the service very much alive.

12376824_10153151074131805_7107429815786377825_nGrabBike feature on the old GrabTaxi App available in the Philippines

In fact, we tried to check if there was a GrabBike near our office and voila! There was one unit that appeared in our screen. I would bet that there would be more appearing on one’s screen if he/she happened to be in an area where there’s demand for motorcycle taxis services (e.g., Eastwood, BGC, Ortigas, Makati CBD, Cubao, etc.).

Grab BikeGrabBike featured on Grab’s new look app

Motorcycle taxis are popular in the provinces and especially in rural areas not just because of the convenience they provide (easily hailed and can maneuver through congested roads) but because they are a necessity, being practically the only public transport mode available to people. The main issues against them in the Philippines are safety-related. Not all providers practice safe riding and most if not all are sure to have no insurance to cover their passengers in case they are involved in a crash. One cannot fully blame motorcycle taxi service providers for offering their services considering the traffic mess in many highly urbanized cities especially in Metro Manila. However, offering such services to the public means that service providers should bear responsibility for ensuring the safety of their passengers. This would basically be in the form of insurance and regulation particularly for fares they charge. I wouldn’t even go to the tax implications of the income they derive from their operations.

These services will no doubt continue to be offered, even clandestinely, as traffic conditions remain bad and continue to worsen. People will gravitate towards such services in order to reduce the travel times in their commutes. This is expected to happen as long as people perceive that nothing is happening to significantly improve transportation in this country.

Habal-habal in Metro Manila

Motorcycle taxis, called habal-habal in the many parts of the Philippines, are usually associated with rural areas where 4- or even 3-wheeled vehicles would have a difficult time traveling. Meanwhile, larger vehicles probably won’t fit in narrow rural roads, which can be more like a trail than a road. I saw this habal-habal station along Circumferential Road 6 in the Pasig City part of the road. The area is part of a large relocation area for informal settlers. The settlement is basically unplanned, with homes/buildings a mix of shanties and other design-your-own structures with narrow streets and alleys. The latter is most suitable to walking, bicycles and yes, motorcycles.

IMG10600-20150418-0755Habal-habal terminal along C-6 in Pasig City near the Napindan Channel

Despite the denial of many local governments including the MMDA, there are motorcycle taxis operating around Metro Manila. Many of these are in areas where there are no public transport services. Tricycles or pedicabs are not allowed or cannot access these areas (streets too narrow or in bad condition). Walking could have been an option but pedestrian facilities are probably even worse or walking distances are long and therefore inconvenient and uncomfortable to most. I don’t know about the fares for their services but I’m sure these are based on what people are willing to pay and established from what providers initially asked for such services. It is likely to that the operators of these services and their passengers know each other as the people in the communities served by habal-habal tend to know each other or another from other people (i.e., everyone knows everyone else).

Habal-habal in Metro Manila?

Habal-habal is the term used for motorcycle taxis that proliferate in many rural areas but are steadily making their presence felt in urbanised areas as well. In Metro Manila, there are already some reports and spottings of habal-habal operations at Bonifacio Global City and in the White Plains area in Quezon City. I’m sure there are other areas where these informal services are being offered and the easiest way to spot these are by way of observing if there are motorcycle riders waiting in an area with extra helmets. The usual excuse if they are accosted is that they are just going to fetch someone (perhaps a relative or a friend) so they bring along that extra helmet for that person. When they do engage a passenger, I would like to think that they just ask the passenger to play along with them should they be apprehended and asked about their business.

Checkpoints around Metro Manila and many other cities and towns routinely stop motorcyclists to check on their registrations (i.e., there are many unregistered motorcycles around the country) and to pre-empt crime involving those “riding in tandem.” Motorcyclists with more than one passenger are risky and have a higher likelihood for severe crashes. The provision of services in exchange for monetary compensation (i.e., payment) puts these informal transport under the category of colorum services. These are not covered by insurance as required for formal public transport and so there are issues of liability should there be a crash involving these vehicles. No insurance means that passengers cannot claim for anything except compensation they can demand from the service provider (assuming he survives the crash) or the other parties involved (if it can be established that the other party is also at fault). You can always sue people but in this case, the pre-condition is that they shouldn’t have been riding a habal-habal in the first place.

IMG08761-20140609-1015Alleged habal-habal waiting in front of an establishment along Katipunan Road. These typically cater to employees of establishments or staffs of households in the exclusive villages along this road, which has no formal public transport service due mainly to its being a private road that happens to tolerate through traffic. You can find other motorcycle riders offering such services at the corner of Katipunan with Boni Serrano Avenue.