It’s not so bad really
Getting around Manila is a nightmare, doubly so if you don’t have a car. Thanks to poor planning, an over-abundance of vehicles and a laughably terrible mass transit system, commuting is a literal hell that many of our countrymen face every single day. Transport Network Vehicles like Uber and Grab used to be the answer to Manila’s traffic woes, at least for some, but Uber’s pullout and Grab’s terrible service lately means that getting a ride during rush hour traffic in a place like say, Bonifacio Global City is virtually impossible.
That’s exactly what I faced yesterday when I went to BGC for an event, car-less and confident of getting a ride via Grab to a team dinner later on. But after sitting in the lobby of a hotel for around an hour trying to get a ride to Greenhills via Grab with not a single driver picking up the booking, I had to start considering alternatives.
One of those alternatives is Angkas, a ride-hailing service that uses motorcycles, not cars, to ferry commuters from one place to another. Angkas’ existence in the Philippines hasn’t been that smooth, as the company’s operations were swiftly shuttered by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), declaring the riding platform “colorum”, lacking the permits to operate.
But Angkas is back thanks to a preliminary injunction issued by the Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court issued in September, and according to Gilbert, my driver for my thrilling night ride, they’re already 15K strong and growing more each day.
1.) It’s relatively safe, but not as safe as being inside a car
It’s pretty obvious, but being in the backseat of a motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic isn’t the safest thing in the world. Being literally inches away from other cars in EDSA isn’t the best feeling in the world, doubly so when many of those said cars seemingly change lanes without a care in the world, oblivious to the fact that there are other people around them.
The dangers of riding a motorcycle are real: according to a report from the MMDA that looked at vehicle crashes in the metro in 2017, motorcycle accidents were the leading cause of vehicle fatalities during that period. Of the 247 motorcycle fatalities in the report, 178 were drivers, 37 were passengers, while 32 were pedestrians.
Gilbert was fully aware of the dangers of the road, and so was Angkas. That’s why the company holds training sessions for riders three to four times a month, to help remove the “kamote rider” mentality that many, many motorcycle riders have.
2.) Lane filtering is a thing that both car drivers and motorcycle riders need to respect
Lane filtering or the practice of riding between lanes during traffic congestion is supposedly illegal in the Philippines. But like many things that are illegal to do in this country in regard to road rules, the government has pretty much given up on trying to enforce it.
But this is one rule that we’re pretty happy that the government is letting slide. While the practice is controversial, studies done on the safety all show that lane filtering reduces the chance that a motorcycle rider will be struck from behind because of stop-and-go traffic, because of inattentive and distracted drivers.
Whether you like it or not lane filtering is a thing that you have to live with, and car drivers need to be cognizant of this fact on the road. I counted at least 10 instances of drivers not signaling while trying to shift lanes during our short stint on EDSA heading to our destination. I also counted at least 5 instances of drivers deliberately blocking motorcycles trying to filter through lanes, putting us dangerously close to one another (enough that I puckered up, HARD).
That being said, motorcycle riders also need to recognize instances where they are putting themselves at risk trying to squeeze into really sketchy spaces during rush hour traffic. While Gilbert was smart enough not to take unnecessary risks while we were traversing EDSA, so many other kamote riders took ridiculous chances on the road, oftentimes near blindspots of big, lumbering buses. Guys, subtracting a few minutes from your commute isn’t work risking injury or death.
3.) Keep absolutely still and you won’t have a problem
Because this is the first time I ever rode on a motorcycle on the platform, I was pretty much frozen in place the entire time. Apparently, this was the best thing for a passenger to do when riding on a motorcycle so as to not upset the delicate balance of the vehicle that the driver is used to.
“It really sucks when the passenger fidgets or moves a lot while I’m driving since it messes with the balance,” Gilbert told me as we zipped past the cars in EDSA. Also, despite having a bigger melon than usual, my noggin fit in Gilbert’s Angkas-provided helmet just fine.
4.) Angkas takes its responsibilities pretty seriously and punishes any erring drivers
So what happens when you get involved in an accident? Well, Angkas takes its responsibility to its passengers seriously and each passenger is covered by insurance in case something goes wrong.
It’s also not going to hesitate to remove drivers from the platform if they find a pattern of abusive behavior, which includes sexual harrasmnent, going past the mandated 60 kilometer speed limit, general poor behaviour and lending Angkas gear (like Angkas helmets and jerseys) to non-accredited drivers.
5.) The government needs to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution
Ever since Angkas started its operations last year, the government was dead set in stopping the ride hailing service from serving the public, citing safety concerns. And I get it: motorcycles are inherently dangerous vehicles to use, considering the only thing between you and the pavement is the driver’s skill and the state of both drivers and roads in the Philippines.
But because of poor planning, absolutely terrible traffic and almost laughable public transport methods, motorcycles for hire in busy business districts in Manila have proliferated for years, which kind of tells you how desperate our fellow country men are for an affordable means of mass transport that gets them to their destination quickly, bypassing the traffic gridlock that’s usually present in these areas.
Angkas is actually a god send in this regard, professionalizing habal-habals, giving its drivers training and accountability, things that wasn’t present before they establishd their operations.
And the idea of motorcycle taxis aren’t new. There’s some form of app-based, motorcycle taxis in Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, either through Grab or Go-Jek.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand where the LTFRB is coming from wanting to ban Angkas because of safety concerns. But what annoys me to no end is that they’re not doing enough to address the main concern that make people turn to Angkas in the first place: put more for-hire vehicles on the ground to address the needs of Filipinos.
But the LTFRB froze accreditation applications for new TNCs back in August (Go-Jek included), saying that the entry of a new foreign firm would displace local transport network companies.
While I understand the need to protect Filipino companies, the harsh reality is that we absolutely need a giant TNC to challenge Grab’s virtual monopoly in the Philippines. One of the main reasons why it’s so difficult to get a ride nowadays through Grab is because the company has removed many of its incentives that used to keep drivers on the road. No real competition = no reason to put up money. No money = no drivers on the road.
And because of that, more and more people like me are using Angkas. The least that the LTFRB can do is help, not hinder companies trying to make good of a bad situation. And guess what? I arrived 30 minutes after we set off from BGC in the Promenade in Greenhills, a trip that usually took an hour and a half in traffic safe and sound, and with a renewed appreciation of the fledgling motorcycle service.