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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.

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?

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!