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Two-wheeled commutes come to the fore during a health crisis

Two-wheeled commutes come to the fore during a health crisis

Mikko David

With the shortage of public transport still prevalent due to the ongoing GCQ restrictions, many have resorted to acquiring alternative means of transportation to not only commute from home to work, but also to keep themselves socially distant from the rest of the working public.

With slow-moving traffic, the lack of an efficient mass transport system, and the imposition of social distancing guidelines to slow down the spread of COVID-19, two-wheeled transportation seems to be the easiest mode of getting from point A to point B for a sizeable portion of the workforce. Sales of motorcycles, for example, have already been growing at an astronomical rate even before the Enhanced Community Quarantine was enforced. 2018 data shows about 2.6 million motorcycles were ridden out of dealerships in that year alone. The desire to be mobile, along with the worsening vehicular traffic in major cities, have become the impetus for motorcycle sales even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The resulting boom in motorcycle delivery services during the lockdown has also given rise to motorcycle ownership as a viable business proposition. With the back-riding public transportation disruptor Angkas, and its other permutations, out of the limelight due to social distancing guidelines, courier and food delivery services have now become essential services themselves. Given the threat of COVID-19 is not likely to disappear soon, having a motorcycle-based food and goods delivery service is surely a welcome means of income for motorcycle owners in the meantime.

But for those who cannot afford motorcycles, or just prefer a healthier and more environment-friendly alternative, an emerging mode of transportation is getting a lot of support from private and government sectors. Because of the limited commuting options these past four months of lockdown, the humble bicycle has made a comeback as a serious option for mass transportation. Even the national government has endorsed it as a means of commuting to work. Bike sales have been brisk since ECQ has been lifted and many bike shops have been moving out their inventory faster than expected.

From an urban planning perspective, the shift to cycling as a means of public transportation has been pushed for a long time already with various bicycle sharing programs having come and go over the past two decades.  “I must emphasize that one immediate solution would be to enhance bicycle transport,” says Environmental Planner, Urban Designer and Landscape Architect, Paulo G. Alcazaren. He adds, “Bikes carry more people using less road space than any other mode of transport. I would suggest that government remove taxes or heavily subsidize sales of bicycles to bring down the cost of these for everyone.” While lowering the cost of bicycles will surely give more people access to a safe and sustainable mode of transportation, urban centers across the country have yet to adopt a bike-friendly infrastructure that will ensure the safety of cyclists.

The current demand for dedicated bike lanes has become a seesaw battle between bike activists and government agencies. Without a clear and approved masterplan to interconnect various parts of the metropolis into a cohesive biking network and the absence of a governing law to standardize the usage of, and the support systems for bicycles, cyclists still have to contend with the dangers of sharing the busy and already congested roads with cars and trucks. As we now see however, because of government indifference in the past, people have already taken the matter of fulfilling their transportation needs into their own hands.

A growing number of commuters have also been resorting to the use of Personal Mobility Devices, such as Electric Kick Scooters, to commute. What was once seen as an unregulated and hazardous form of personal mobility, EKSs are now being embraced by various local governments, communities and even commercial establishments. With its pro-environment credentials, electric kick scooters provide a faster, albeit less active, option for workers who need to weave in and out of traffic to get to and from work.

In a recent meeting with the Department of Transportation and the Metro Manila Development Authority, various cycling and EKS advocates were invited to help reach a consensus with government on the immediate construction of dedicated and protected on-road bike lanes to be shared by both bicycle and electric kick scooter users. Because of the pandemic, the strong and passionate push from the two-wheeled commuting public has made government even more aware of the problems and their potential solutions.

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Personal safety has been a perennial concern for the two-wheeled crowd. Advocates of these three forms of two-wheeled transport options have suffered long enough from the lack of understanding and accommodation by motorists. According to Ekong Caruncho, Administrator of Bike To Work Pilipinas, the biggest online community of cyclists who commute to work, having no safe and protected bike lanes has been the bane of everyone biking to work. “Since 2013, we have been clamoring for protected bike lanes, so cyclists don’t have to be defensive with their rides,” shares Caruncho. He adds, “Protected bike lanes mean we don’t have to always let the cars and motorcycles have their way all the time. Protected bike lanes mean we can go to work with less stress.” With 29,000 members online, it is hard to ignore this and many other cycling communities when they say there is a need to provide for a safer riding environment.  Infrastructure, road etiquette and adherence to road rules aside, mutual respect on the road is still needed to protect each other from harm. With the incoming wave of motorbikes, bicycles and electric kick scooters answering the transportation dilemma in the short term, it will be to everyone’s benefit if all road users learn to share space more conscientiously this time around.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the availability of dedicated bike parking and other facilities that make personal commuting a pleasant experience. While various buildings and malls are already adapting to this need, there should be a concerted effort among establishments, businesses and places of work to encourage the use of these alternative means of transportation. By making it easy for commuters to ride to work, and by providing changing rooms and lockers for them to freshen up and start their day, more and more people will find a reason to shift to the new transportation normal. This will be better for traffic, better for the environment, and better for the health of the populace.

With other developed countries already leading the way towards convenient, healthy, and sustainable two-wheeled commuting, the Philippines should now take advantage of the public transportation deficiency to act and take the first step towards the radical change our transport system has been yearning for. As Scott Stoll, a community professor who travelled around the world on his bicycle once said, “A bicycle ride around the world begins with a single pedal stroke.”