The long road to legalizing motorcycle taxis in the Philippines

AT A GLANCE

MANILA, Philippines – Every day after work, Jenlain Impat, 26, finds herself rushing to go home to take care of her one-year-old baby.

The fare is cheap. It would only take a total of P25 for her to travel from her office in Urdaneta Village in Makati City to her home in San Juan City – but that's the case only if she's willing to spend more than an hour stuck in EDSA and another 30-minute jeepney ride to their house. She's not.

"Alam mo [ang] traffic sa Makati, hindi uubra ang normal commute. Sayang oras mo," Impat told Rappler. (You how the traffic is in Makati. Your normal commute won't do. Your time is wasted.)

As a new mom, Impat started using the pioneer motorcycle taxi app Angkas to book trips, even if that meant a higher fare. By booking a motorcycle taxi, her commute time is now down to 30 minutes.

"Before kasi umuuwi ako ng San Juan or Antipolo, super traffic 'pag rush hour. And being a mom, gusto ko mabilis makauwi sa baby ko for quality time, kahit 'yung pamasahe is P25, if naka-Angkas ako, P150 to P170 depende sa surge," Impat said.

(Before, whenever I go home to San Juan or Antipolo, traffic is heavy during rush hour. And being a mom, I want to get home immediately to spend quality time with my baby, even if that increases fare from just P25 to, if I would choose Angkas, around P150 to P170, depending on the surge rate.)

Ana Lubiano, 25, is another regular user of motorcycle taxis. She found it as a cheaper option than other ride-hailing services such as Grab.

"Kaya talaga ako gumagamit ng Angkas is to beat traffic, lalo na 'pag nakikita ko na malala na 'yung traffic. Mase-save ka talaga 'nya para hindi ka ma-late, kasi nga motor. So p'wedeng sumingit-singit, hindi katulad if naka-4 wheels, ka stuck ka na – stress ka pa talaga – sa traffic," Lubiano said.

(The reason why I'm using apps like Angkas is to beat traffic, especially when I see that traffic congestion is bad. It will really save you so that you won't be late because you're using a motorcycle. Motorcycles can cut in between vehicles, unlike 4-wheeled cars that can get you stuck – and stressed – in traffic.)

Whenever she finds it hard to book a ride on Angkas, which is usually the case now since the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) imposed a 10,000-rider cap per firm, Lubiano would "book" habal-habal on Facebook.

"'Pag mahirap mag-book and walang available na Angkas within the area, no choice na kundi 'yung sa FB group or mga Habal sa daan," Lubiano said. (When it's hard to book and there's no available Angkas within the area, I don't have a choice but book on Facebook or hail one on the streets.)

Mobility as service

The prospects of a "dignified commute" in Metro Manila seem bleak in the short term, as the population growth rate continues to accelerate to a point that is beyond the current public transportation's capacity.

According to a report by Bloomberg, driving a kilometer in Metro Manila has worsened in 2019.

In September 2019, data from navigation app Waze showed that it took an average of 5 minutes per kilometer to travel around Metro Manila, longer than the April record of 3.8 minutes per kilometer.

The population outlook for Metro Manila is not seen to decrease in the coming years either, as a United Nation report in 2018 showed that the metropolis is projected to have an annual increase of 1.9% in the next decade.

Because of heavier traffic in cities, "mobility as a service" has been on the rise to provide an alternative mode of transportation that is faster than current options, according to a 2017 report by United Kingdom-based financial consultancy firm Deloitte.

"Mobility as a service" is a model taken on by ride-hailing apps Grab and Uber, and the new motorcycle taxi firms JoyRide and MoveIt, along with Angkas.

While more Filipino commuters shift to motorcycle taxis as their preferred mode of transportation because of its ability to "beat traffic," the motorcycle-hailing industry may hit a dead-end, pending the passage of a law that would allow its permanent operations.

The long and winding road to legalization

As early as 2017, the government led the crackdown on motorcycle-hailing services of Angkas because it is illegal. (READ: Angkas-like: Motorcycle taxis in Southeast Asia hit bumpy road toward gov’t recognition)  

But even then, underground habal-habal operations were already widespread, it's just that Angkas was able to train the bikers to drive more safely. Romeo Maglunsod, who used to be a habal-habal driver before joining Angkas, said this in one of the public consultation hearings at the LTFRB in 2017.

The point is to regulate instead of turning a blind eye, Maglunsod said.

Under Republic Act 4136 or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code, which was enacted 55 years ago, motorcycles can only be registered as private or government vehicles. Therefore, it can't be used by its owners to carry passengers and be paid for it.

In the 17th Congress, bills amending the Land Transportation and Traffic Code was tackled by the House of Representatives and the Senate. House lawmakers passed their version of the bill in February 2019, but it remained pending under the Senate committee on public services, which Senator Grace Poe headed.

In one of the Senate hearings in 2019, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto urged the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to just issue a department order to allow motorcycle taxis to operate, just like what it did with Grab and Uber (when the latter was still here).

Arguing that legislation is the way to go, the DOTr started the 6-month pilot run, which was extended by 3 months to March 23, 2020. The point of this pilot implementation is to "collect" data that may be used by lawmakers when crafting the bill.

However, on Monday, January 20, the inter-agency technical working group overseeing the test run terminated it – more than two months earlier than end of the extension period. The announcement was made just as Senate committee on public services was about to start its hearing on the matter.

Proposals

In the 18th Congress, there are at least 4 bills in the Senate and 14 bills in the House of Representatives seeking to amend the Land Transportation and Traffic Code. All of these carry more or less the same language:

#FFD700; "> Section 7. Registration Classification. Every motor vehicle shall be registered under one of the following prescribed classifications: (a) XXX (b) XXX (c) XXX … (j) XXX and (k) motorcycles-for-hire.

At the Senate, Poe, Recto, and senators Juan Edgardo Angara and Imee Marcos have filed separate proposals to legalize motorcycle taxis.

Poe and Recto propose that motorcycles-for-hire must be less than 1,000 kilograms in weight, can travel more than 50 kilometers per hour, and has an engine capacity of 125 cubic centimeters.

In the proposals of Poe, Angara, and Marcos, government regulators would be mandated to ensure the roadworthiness of motorcycle taxis before registration. No modification shall be made apart from the luggage carrier at the back, a saddlebag, a foot peg, and appropriate speed limiter and monitoring devices.

In Poe's bill, there is a section on fare setting, specifically saying that LTFRB should "determine, prescribe, approve, and periodically review and adjust" reasonable fares for the operation of motorcycle taxi services.

Meanwhile, Marcos, in her proposal, "urges" local government units (LGUs) to issue guidelines for the operations of motorcycle taxis in their jurisdictions. She also proposed that the Land Transportation Office require insurance for passengers and cargo.

Similar measures have been filed by Muntilupa Representative Ruffy Biazon, Batangas 6th District Representative Vilma Santos-Recto, Quezon City 2nd District Representative Pecious Castelo, and Quezon City 5th District Representative Alfred Vargas.

Meanwhile, majority of the bills in the House of Representatives include the proposal for motorcycles-for-hire to only be allowed "for a limited period, with limited number of units and in specific routes only," which should be determined by the DOTr and the LTFRB, in coordination with LGUs.

At least 11 congressmen argue that the transportation department should give priority to higher-capacity vehicles or mass transit sytems.

This specific measures have been separately filed by Makati City Representative Romulo Peña Jr, Ilocos Norte 2nd District Representative Angelo Barba, Kabayan Representative Ron Salo, South Cotabato 2nd District Representative Ferdinand Hernandez, Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez, Bohol 1st District Representative Edgar Chatto, Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Luis Villafuerte, Cebu City 1st District Representative Raul del Mar, the late LPGMA Representative Rodolfo Albano III, and Isabela 1st District Representative Antonio Albano, and Quezon City 6th District Representative Tyrone Agabas.

Instead of adding another classification specific to motorcycles-for-hire, Makati City 2nd District Representative Luis Campos' bill proposes to amend Section 7 (c) of the Land Transportation and Traffic Code to allow the registration of motorcycles "either as private or public utility vehicle."

'It's needed'

As traffic congestion worsens, Impat and Lubiano said it's even more important for lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow commuters like them to have options to beat traffic, save their time, and use it somewhere else.

"[Motorcycle taxis like] Angkas helps commuters to beat the traffic, especially in Metro Manila. I can say, they can be considered as part of the solution," Lubiano told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino.

"Regulations lang din [kailangan] kasi sa super traffic ngayon. Heaven-sent 'yung may option ka na mas mapabilis 'yung travel time mo, given na 'pag rush hour talagang almost two hours ang b'yahe na 'pag sa Angkas 30 minutes mo lang makukuha," Impat said.

(Authorities only need to regulate them. Because of the heavy traffic nowadays, it's heaven-sent to have an option that would make your travel faster, especially during rush hour when you would have to spent almost two hours, but which an Angkas ride can shorten to 30 minutes.)

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar says some road projects will be done by 2020, removing private car volume along main roads.

But in terms of public commute, majority of big-ticket railway projects are set to be in partial operations only by the end of the Duterte administration or in 2022.

However, if commuters are to escape horrors of current state of public transportation between now and 2022, lawmakers will need to make motorcyle taxis stay on the streets – legally. – Rappler.com