[OPINION] Motorcycle taxis and inclusive mobility (Part 2)
The poor mass transportation system in the Philippines has brought about evident consequences to the traffic and commute situation in the Philippines. This is exacerbated by the car-riding culture that has been inculcated because of the sheer lack (or absence) of proper safe systems for pedestrians and commuters. A safe system does not only include the infrastructure of trains, buses, jeepneys, etc, or the physical infrastructure of roads and engineering systems, but includes the whole spectrum of pedestrian walkways, measured distances of public transport stops, road signs, information mechanisms for traffic flow, and sound policy of implementation and enforcement (see the failure of the PUV modernization policy). This deficiency in a safe system approach to transport has birthed the demand for an alternative form of transportation, that is, motorcycles; and corollarily, as a form of public transport, in the guise of motorcycle taxis.
Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported evidence that motorcyclists are among the most vulnerable road users (VRUs), along with the pedestrians and cyclists. More than half (54%) of all road traffic deaths are among these VRUs. These vehicles are a significant contributor to deaths and injuries by reason of their large number on the roads, their sharing of the roads with bigger vehicles such as cars and buses, and their innate vulnerability for crash impacts because of the absence of a protective shell present in other types of vehicles. This vulnerability is further augmented by the behaviour of riders on the road such as "zigzagging," lane filtering, and other unique capacities of motorcycling on the roads. Thus, in the Philippine context, where motorcycles are voluminous, the question of safety when riding a motorcycle is addressed through the enactment of a Helmet Law which imposes to all motorcycle riders the use of helmets.
If in such a case that motorcycle taxis are legalized, there is a higher degree of diligence to be imposed upon public transportation vehicles or "common carriers," that is, the care required is that of extraordinary diligence. This can prove to bring about implementation problems for it requires an effective and truly working safe system – from the provision of proper exclusive motorcycle lanes, enforcement of traffic laws and regulations, up to par safe specifications for the motorcycles, full compliance of helmet use and safety standards, ready emergency response, and proper training and behaviour of both riders and its passengers. This must go hand-in-hand with educating riders and passengers alike of the recommended behaviour on the roads while aboard a motorcycle and a provision for proper feedback mechanism to improve deficiencies and insufficiencies. Because apart from mobility itself, it is the government’s duty to protect its citizens to be safe at all times.
Motorcycle taxi riders often view motorcycles as a more convenient form of transportation because they are allowed to reach their destination on time beating traffic and are cheaper than taking a cab or Grab (making it more embraceable to the riding masses). Motorcycle taxis also allow riders to be transported to bus, train, or jeepney stops more conveniently and "safely," as pedestrian accommodations are not always friendly. This unfriendliness has been a result of poor urban and transport planning over the years. Mobility then comes in but admittedly works better if safety is its partner. It can also be argued that making motorcycle taxis legal now is just a band-aid solution to the problem of public transportation, where mass transport is, in the long-term, more reliable and efficient for it transports more people to their destination, rather than a one-to-one correspondence which can be considered more costly in the long-run. This does not equate simply in the monetary costs but also in the lives lost (road crashes and vulnerability) and health impacts (pollution) because of unsafe conditions.
Motorcycle taxis are inexpensive for both the riders and the riding public. Motorcycles allow for personal mobility for countries with smaller per capita purchasing power (as in the Philippine case). It is also fuel-efficient, with an average consumption of 60 kilometers per liter of gasoline and leave less carbon footprint. In the current state of the country where income has not caught up with inflation, cheap is a necessary public good. Motorcycles also allow for faster travel time because of their ability to split lanes and go through narrower spaces beating traffic in record time and reduces risks of losses in terms of income and productivity.
These pros must be weighed on the balance with its cons. The second-largest affected vehicle classification of road crash incidents is the motorcycle class second to cars. While Helmets help reduce deaths and injuries, they are merely secondary safety devices which are used to prevent injuries from worsening. Other road practices must still be properly observed by the motorist. There is also the issue of road security. Absent proper identifying marks such as operator helmets, jackets, or vests, colorum motorcycle taxis may be mistaken as "riding-in-tandem" or motorcycling-riding suspects capable of committing crimes on the road.
Inclusive mobility as the solution
This debate cannot end unless citizens see a real solution for transport. For ordinary Filipinos, the motorcycle is a cheap and fast form of transport. For car users, motorcycles can disrupt traffic flow in the roads because of their lane splitting and filtering between other vehicles. In this light, the main issues to consider are (1) road crashes which continue to increase (and will continue to increase as volume increases); and (2) traffic violations which need to be enforced better because motorcycles are subjected to same traffic laws and regulations (e.g., speed, helmet use, distracted driving, drunk-driving, overtaking, lane splitting, lane filtering, etc). Violation of some of these rules has been one of the primary advantages of motorcycles – for its ability to facilitate faster mobility and avoid the traffic congestion. Lane splitting, however, has proved to have other benefits. Motorcycles’ lane splitting has removed commuters from cars, faster travel time through utilisation of road space, and improves fuel efficiency even in extreme weather.
Therefore, in the interim, as we wait for the promise of mass transport and proper infrastructure that can ease our daily commute and make inclusive mobility a reality, the legalization of motorcycle taxis is a pathway forward. We would even argue that for some routes and segments of society, motorcycle taxis will always be a better option.
We are however for strong regulatory framework that ensures that national laws (e.g., Land Transportation and Traffic Code, Motorcycle Helmet Act), LTO and LTFRB regulations, and local ordinances are consistent with each other – taking into account geographical and cultural characteristics of cities and municipalities; an aim for a synergy of laws through the consideration of social circumstances, security risks, and economic impacts (fares, productivity, mobility, etc). There must be better infrastructure in terms of providing proper motorcycle lanes (where motorcycles do not merge with other vehicles, especially bulkier ones) and an effective oversight arrangement for registration, monitoring, control of vehicle fleet, and safety standards for roads and products. Finally, a stronger enforcement of existing laws and regulations (e.g., provision of CCTV cameras, road warnings and signages, etc.); and training programs directed at behavioral change in motorists and enforcers are essentials for such a framework.
It goes without saying that whether it is cars or motorcycles, environmental considerations must be prioritized.
There is a clear pathway so that motorcycle taxis can be mainstreamed into our public transport system. For that to happen, society must have a consensus on inclusive mobility which Congress must legislate and the executive branch implement. – Rappler.com
Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.
Yla Paras is a policy expert on regulation and road safety. She is currently Deputy Director of the Energy Program of Manila Observatory.