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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.

“Semplang” – motorcycle self accidents

There is a Filipino word used for falling by yourself for whatever reason or factor – semplang. The term¬† applies for those riding a bicycle or motorcycle where a person has basically no one to blame but himself/herself for falling. Of course, there will be factors like weather and road conditions. Wet, slippery roads can be very treacherous. So are roads with potholes and/or open manholes. In most cases, however, the rider’s skill more than the other so-called factors that could have affected his movement and balance.

14639690_10153854362821805_1457890641721461563_nThis is a case of a motorcycle rider losing his balance. I know because this happened as the motorcycle rider made a U-turn right in front of my vehicle at the slot across BF Steel in Cainta.

I am not certain about the condition of the rider in the photo above. While he looked shaken up (surprised?) by the incident, it did not seem to me as if he was moving abnormally (i.e., intoxicated or disabled). Perhaps its his skill that led to this? Such could not have been the case if he had sufficient training and experience and properly licensed to ride a motorcycle. Sadly, a lot of motorcycle riders are not well trained and gain skills only from experience. Yet, there are many who ride like they are stuntmen, often risking their lives and limbs as they maneuver (weave) through traffic.

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.

Emergence of motorcycle taxis in Metro Manila and other cities

Motorcycle taxis operate in many Asian cities. In Southeast Asia, in particular, there are formal and legal motorcycle taxi services in cities like Bangkok and Jakarta. These motorcycle taxis are called “habal-habal” in many parts of the Philippines and are accepted modes of public transport particularly in rural areas where roads are not the same quality as those in urban areas. Motorcycles and motor tricycles are the most preferred modes of transport and their characteristics are usually most suitable for such roads.

In Metro Manila, there are motorcycle taxis operating in many locations including Bonifacio Global City, Eastwood City and White Plains. These are basically discrete operations and providers are low key so as not to attract the attention of authorities. Services though are worst kept secrets considering they have a steady clientele. In Pasig City, and I assume other Metro Manila cities as well, there are ‘formal’ habal-habal terminals. I took a photo of one in a low income residential area that was designated as a relocation site for many informal settlers around the metropolis.

IMG_0668Habal-habal terminal in Pasig City near the Napindan Channel where the Pasig River meets Laguna de Bay

A friend at the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (CCTO or CITOM) told us that there is a growing number of motorcycle riders offering transport services in their city. These are illegal but are being tolerated in many cases due to the growing demand for their services particularly during unholy hours late at night or in the early morning. I also saw many of these operating in Tacloban and even crossing the San Juanico Bridge to Samar Island from Leyte.

There are also many habal-habal in tourism areas including in island resorts where there is a lack of formal public transport services. This mode is a necessity and so far, there are only rare reports of these vehicles and their riders being involved in road crashes. This is the case despite their being perceived as unsafe modes of transport. I guess they will continue to be popular in rural areas and will quickly become popular should they be mainstreamed in urban areas just like their counterparts in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, the demand is already there and just waiting to be tapped given the horrendous traffic jams that will drive people towards modes they think can allow them to escape traffic congestion.