Running out of time
Is there enough data to legalize motorcycle taxis?
Regulators have been studying the viability of motorcycle taxis as public transportation for 8 months now. Where are their findings?
BY Loreben Tuquero
Running out of time Is there enough data to legalize motorcycle taxis?
AT A GLANCE
- 8 months into the pilot run, its objective has yet to be met – data on the viability of motorcycle taxis as a mode of public transportation remains insufficient.
- As the designated regulators, the motorcycle taxi technical working group has a habit of making decisions without consulting stakeholders, leading to potentially harmful effects on motorcycle bikers and the riding public.
- Data collection on motorcycle taxi accidents has barely started, even as its legalization nears deliberation at the Senate plenary.
MANILA, Philippines – The motorcycle taxi pilot run has only about a month left, but there are almost no results to show for it.
With the pilot study set to end on March 23, the overseeing technical working group (TWG) had just started collecting data on the safety and viability of motorcycle taxis as a mode of public transportation, which had been its mandate since June 2019.
The pilot run almost didn’t reach its conclusion. Less than a month after the motorcycle taxi pilot run was extended, the overseeing technical working group (TWG) terminated it prematurely, shocking everyone with a stake in the future of the motorcycle taxi industry. It was announced right before the Senate committee on public services hearing on bills that would legalize motorcycle taxis.
Just outside the Senate session hall on Monday, January 20, TWG head Antonio Gardiola Jr faced only a handful of reporters, away from the pressure of the Senate panel. There he revealed that the inter-agency body had just submitted its recommendation to terminate the pilot run, which would take effect in a week's time. Motorcycle taxis would be "colorum" or illegal once more, subject to apprehension.
When the Senate hearing started, committee chair Senator Grace Poe wasted no time in getting to the bottom of the TWG's decision.
The pilot run was meant to study the safety of motorcycle vehicles, she said. Did canceling it mean that the TWG deemed motorcycles unsafe?
But the TWG was unable to present any data that proved this, or any data at all.
Resource persons began sharing their responses to the termination, and it was clear: no one saw it coming. Those who were meant to be “observers” of the TWG – lawmakers, biker groups, commuter safety advocates – were all left in the dark. The public was not consulted.
In the face of scrutiny, Gardiola seemed to be aware of what he had done.
“Instead of trying to figure out and offering solutions how we’re able to work together to get the data, they’re just unilaterally making a decision to cancel it,” Poe said of the TWG’s decision.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Gardiola responded.
Nevertheless, this served as a wake-up call to the TWG. They reversed the termination the day after, and stepped up coordination with the providers for a more productive study. This included raising the biker cap, which prompted Angkas to drop its cases against the TWG.
But over a week later, the House committee on Metro Manila development brought up similar problems and revealed even more lapses in how the TWG conducted the pilot study.
Members of the committee inquired about the decision-making process behind the contested biker cap, data collection methods, and even the time period needed for a study of this scale, all of which lacked substantial basis.
Abrupt, baseless decisions such as these occurred often in the motorcycle taxi pilot study, which included the initial 6-month pilot run conducted from June to December 2019.
The TWG then was headed by Department of Transportation (DOTr) undersecretary for roads Mark de Leon.
In the initial pilot run, the technical working group was comprised of transport officials as well as advocacy groups who took part in inspecting motorcycle taxi facilities and in shaping the guidelines of the pilot run.
However, when the pilot run extension was announced, it took them by surprise. There had been no consultations, no meetings to discuss the findings of the first 6 months of the pilot run, and no invitations to inspect the would-be players.
Thus, when the extension of the pilot run coincided with the debut of new players JoyRide and Move It, some stakeholders took it with a grain of salt. These two providers were chosen from a total of 12 applicants that only the TWG officials took part in evaluating.
Dr Grace Gorospe-Jamon, lead convenor of commuter safety group Move Metro Manila and political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, was among the stakeholders who approved Angkas as the sole participant of the initial 6-month pilot run.
Jamon told Rappler that if a study was to be conducted, Angkas would be a good provider since they were already established and already had safety protocols in place.
Prior to the announcement of the new players, the Lawyers for Commuters Safety and Protection group found that 5 motorcycle taxi providers were already operating outside of the pilot run, including JoyRide. The lawyers filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against them due to the safety risks posed by their unregulated operations.
The petition was denied. JoyRide was allowed to continue, along with Move It and Angkas, because the TWG wanted to prevent Angkas from “monopolizing the data.” It had been the sole provider for the first leg of the pilot study.
In its recommendation to terminate the pilot run, the TWG said that competition was not considered in the study, as the pilot run is only meant to gather data and not determine the motorcycle taxis' viability for profit or income.
However, in a press release dated January 4, the TWG defined its mandate: “[to] determine to the fullest extent the viability and safety of the motorcycle taxi service, and to foster competition to promote and uphold public interest.”
It was also later revealed that JoyRide's application had the backing of Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel. He said he endorsed JoyRide’s application to prevent Angkas from monopolizing the motorcycle taxi industry – a sentiment that the TWG also used in a statement dated December 23.
The inclusion of two new players also brought about the imposition of an initial new cap of 13,000 per firm – 10,000 for Metro Manila and 3,000 for Metro Cebu.
The day after the announcement of the extension, Angkas released a statement that ignited an online movement to “save Angkas.” The reason? For Angkas, which has been building its fleet for all of 3 years, the new cap meant slashing up to 17,000 of its bikers.
But the TWG did not budge. Displaced Angkas bikers could be absorbed by the other providers, it said. And besides, the TWG reasoned, providing a means of livelihood was not the focus of the pilot run.
And what about the thousands of passengers who rely on the motorcycle taxi? The TWG said the number of bikers allowed in the pilot run was not meant to serve all passengers, but was only meant to serve as a sample size.
So, Angkas fought back.
The firm filed a petition for a TRO against the implementation of guidelines of the pilot run, particularly against the cap. The TRO was granted by a Quezon City court for 20 days.
At the height of Angkas' opposition, the TWG published an open letter to Angkas, accusing it of "emotional blackmail."
The Senate panel believed that the TWG terminated the pilot run as an act of retaliation against Angkas.
Rationalizing its termination of the pilot run, the TWG enumerated a series of events that transpired since the implementation of the extension. These included the TROs sought by Angkas, which the TWG labeled as “obstacles” to the study.
The TWG interpreted these actions as being “anchored in the context of economics.”
In a tweet, Muntinlupa City Representative Ruffy Biazon pointed out that the actions that the TWG deemed as “questioning and challenging the government” were constitutional rights.
In the TWG report, these were Angkas’ actions it deemed “questioning & challenging govt”. I think the 5 are Constitutional rights under Article III, Sec 4 (freedom of speech & expression,right of peaceful assembly & right to petition the government for redress of grievances). pic.twitter.com/lFNlFhtRbB— Ruffy Biazon (@ruffybiazon) January 22, 2020
Due to these actions, the TWG argued, a number of activities were never executed. The removal of the biker cap would have allowed any number of motorcycle taxis to enter the pilot run and would prevent the collection of accurate data, the TWG said.
These data-gathering activities would have advanced the assessment of the safety of motorcycle taxis.
Foreseeing an inability to implement its mandate, the TWG recommended terminating the pilot study. Further, the TWG recommended blacklisting Angkas in the event that motorcycle taxis are legalized.
But the TWG did not provide a basis for the biker cap it imposed, never mind that there were already around 27,000 bikers registered under Angkas, each of whom earned around P1,000-1,500 every day.
After the Senate hearing that tackled the termination, Poe encouraged the public to file cases against the TWG if it refused to continue the pilot run.
Safety still in question
Amid all this, Angkas continued to claim a 99.997% safety rate, one which could not be corroborated by the TWG.
The TWG said that the only data they had was the data gathered by the initial TWG during the first 6 months of the pilot run, which consisted only of Angkas’ self-reported figures. Poe then asked the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) if they had data pertaining to motorcycle taxis.
It became evident that the concerned government units were incapable of distinguishing whether motorcycles that figure in accidents are private vehicles or for hire. Thus, the data on accidents that the MMDA provided was a collective record of all motorcycle accidents, and did not show if motorcycle taxis, in particular, were prone to accidents.
The collective numbers themselves suggest a record not far from what Angkas reported. According to MMDA general manager Jojo Garcia, there were 1.2 million motorcycles registered in the National Capital Region in 2018, and in 2019, there were 27,000 recorded accidents. According to Garcia, this meant a 2.2% accident rate for motorcycles in Metro Manila.
Garcia also recognized Angkas' efforts, and said the agency backs the firm when safety is considered. This is because Angkas has been training its bikers and biker-applicants for free since the start of its operations in early 2017.
Better late than never
In the wake of the revelations about the pilot run, stakeholders have now been promised a say in the decisions of the TWG, even if they don't get a vote.
Lawyer Tony La Viña, one of the TWG observers, told Rappler that before any decision is made, they will have to be consulted and allowed to issue their own report if they disagree.
As for data collection, the TWG just started to get the ball rolling. After the final list of registered bikers for Metro Manila was compiled and turned over to the MMDA, apprehension began on the second week of February.
MMDA officers now conduct regular operations to flag down bikers and check if they are on the list. Motorcycle taxi accidents may now also be tracked using the “master list.”
Angkas still dominates the industry with over 23,000 bikers registered in Metro Manila after the cap was raised and after the agreed-upon slot redistribution. Angkas and JoyRide also registered bikers for Cebu and Cagayan de Oro, while MoveIt registered a total of 6,836 bikers in Metro Manila only.
Will the TWG be able to provide sufficient data on the safety and viability of motorcycle taxis with an expanded coverage and within such a limited amount of time? Gardiola seems unfazed. He is assured by the fact that Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade is willing to extend the pilot run yet again if needed.
16 senators recently signed a committee report that will legalize motorcycle taxis. This committee report will soon be tackled in plenary, and deliberations will need the data gathered by the TWG.
Question is, will the TWG be able to deliver? – Rappler.com
TOP PHOTO: NEARING THE END. Motorcycle taxis are given only until March 23 to operate under the pilot run. Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler