TOYM awardee sees the day when motorcycles will be legitimized as public transport option
By Tina Arceo-Dumlao
It was supposed to be just an app-based business to help commuters navigate through heavy traffic in Metro Manila.
But the pioneering idea has taken a life of its own and has made Angkas cofounder George Royeca a passionate advocate of not just making motorcycles a legitimate means of public transportation in the city streets, but also providing an adequate source of livelihood to thousands of motorcycle owners.
For the 39-year-old Royeca, the Philippines is already a motorcycle country as the two-wheeler is the established means of transport in the rural areas that lack public transport, where the roads are rough and the terrain uneven and where most people do not earn enough to buy their own car.
“The motorbike was already part of the Filipino traffic and transport DNA, especially among the middle to lower class who would buy one, paying it through loans or installment, to earn a living, especially in the provinces,” Royeca told the Inquirer.
By his estimate, there are 18 million motorcycles in the country compared to just three million cars, and about half of these are concentrated in Metro Manila.
“When I literally visited a lot of our cities and regions, it dawned on me that the Philippines is a motorcycle country. We just haven’t realized it yet,” Royeca said.
Indeed, the difficulty of some key decision makers in grasping this concept has proven to be a major roadblock to his business’ ambitions.
Royeca, however, acknowledges the validity of grave concerns over safety thus Angkas innovated on the design of the motorcycle to make it safer and more passenger-friendly. Then it turned its focus on inculcating the proper driving habits among Angkas members.
“We addressed all these issues through training: hands-on, practical programs that taught road safety; the right use of the motorbike and its equipment; compliance with traffic rules and regulations; and a passenger-centric form of customer service. We opened up this course for free, giving those who pass the opportunity to become Angkas bikers,” Royeca said.
About 100,000 bikers have taken the safety and customer service course but only the 30 percent who met the stringent standards had been accepted and deployed to ensure the quality of service.
“We do have to maintain a high standard when it comes to service. We look not just at skill, but at character. Our bikers have to become role models for commuters and motorists,” Royeca said.
Indeed, Angkas has become the go-to transportation option for those who wanted to get to their destination fast and at just a fraction of the cost of a taxi.
But getting to where Angkas is today has been far from easy. The regulatory hoops that Royeca had to go through would have forced other entrepreneurs to just pack up and go.
“I didn’t know the extent of the issue when I started Angkas. When I went around the Philippines, I realized why the government was hesitant in legitimizing motorcycle taxis. It is the lack of awareness and training. We are all coming from the same place: ensuring safety of commuters. We had a meeting of minds and as a result, Angkas right now has the highest safety record in Asia. I wouldn’t replace it for any shortcuts because that number is a badge of honor,” Royeca shared.
Royeca hopes that with the stellar safety record of Angkas under the pilot phase, the government will eventually pass laws that will legalize the operation of motorcycles as public utility vehicles.
“Angkas has been successful because we stood our ground against the stigma that the motorcycle bikers faced. We proved that when you train the Filipino riders, they become very productive citizens of the country. This is backed by the numbers: we have a 99.997 percent safety rate and 0.03 percent accident rate. This is really not my achievement, but those of thousands of riders on the road,” Royeca says.
The struggle continues and Royeca admits that there were times when he and his wife, Angeline Tham, who cofounded Angkas with him, were close to just giving up. To think that they are old hands at business, with Royeca having earlier founded G5, an award-winning content company that has won local and international awards for its productions.
But the thought of being an instrument to help thousands of riders and their families have a better life gave them the strength they needed to carry on the journey.
“When I see the dedication of the bikers, through thick and thin, it makes all the struggles worth it. Part of our birth pains were several cessation orders. Those moments were part of a long and painful journey, but they strengthened us. There had been many times when I wanted to quit—but you can’t, not when there are 30,000 families relying on you,” Royeca said.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown protocols put in place to contain it presented yet another roadblock and again, Royeca had to find ways around it.
“I decided to roll up my sleeves and worked with the government to push mobility forward and get the economy moving,” said Royeca.
Angkas joined the Department of Health’s BIDA Solusyon campaign that encourages Filipinos to practice social distancing and other safety protocols and Royeca also coled the Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat campaign, which had a similar message, spearheaded by the largest alliance of brands and conglomerates, with the thrust to restore consumer confidence.
“The message in both campaigns was easy to understand yet carrying a needed urgency: Practice safety protocols, protect yourself and your family, and help reopen the economy,” he said.
This year, the 2020 Ten Outstanding Young Man (TOYM) awardee hopes that the proper laws to nurture the fledgling industry where Angkas belongs will be finally in place.
“It’s not just about solving the traffic situation anymore. Millions of Filipinos, especially the low-income ones, own motorcycles. The motorbike has become a symbol of the new entrepreneur—especially during the pandemic,” he said, “Developing this industry through legislation can further empower our growing entrepreneur of bikers. I want this TOYM award to make this a megaphone to make the law pass this year.”
“Personally, I will continue to push dignifying millions of Filipinos who want to have a decent income and help their families get out of poverty— one motorcycle at a time. I will use whatever platform I have to shed a light on the plight of millions of people who do not have access to jobs. I’ll continue to provide a level playing field for them. That is my duty, my dream, and my vision,” Royeca added.