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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.
Bet­ter life
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.

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