Road traffic bureaucrats in the Philippines have performed a dramatic backflip on a decision announced earlier today (Jan 20) to abruptly cancel a pilot motorcycle taxi (habal-habal) programme more than two months ahead of its scheduled end.
The embarrassing backflip followed a torrid Senate public hearing examining the possibility of legalising motorcycle taxi services as public utility vehicles (PUVs) to ease some of Manila’s notoriously constipated roads.
Prior to entering the hearing earlier today Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) board member, Antonio Gardiola Jr., told journalists the pilot programme was ending. “They are all illegal“, he said, adding that Transportation Secretary, Arthur Tugade, had approved the cancellation. Enforcement would commence next week, he said.
Mr Gardiola then told the Senate inquiry that the Department of Transportation (DOTr) inter-agency Technical Working Group (TWG), of which he is the head, had decided to end the study because “we cannot move because of legal impediments”.
Despite the habal-habal pilot programme having already run for six months, Mr Gardiola said that the TWG had not reached any conclusion on whether motorcycle taxis are safe. The TWG, he said, had not collected any meaningful data over the period.
Dismissing any concerns over the tens of of thousands of motorcycle taxi drivers who have been quick to sign-up for the habal-habal trial with one of three ride-sharing app operators -— Angkas, Joyride and Move It — Mr Gardiola said, that the riders who will potentially lose their incomes are not part of the considerations of the study.
The decision to terminate the habal-habal pilot programme brought an angry response from senator Grace Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, who accused Mr Gardiola and the TWG of “not wanting to do its job. Congress was pressured to pass the law but we lack data. We depended on you, but you canceled it (the study) instead.
“What kind of law or bill will we pass sans support from a through study on the matter?”, a clearly exasperated Ms Poe asked.
At least four bills designed to facilitate the introduction of motorcycle taxis and ensure the provision of a safe and alternative form of public transport have been prepared ahead of the Senate hearing. One bill seeks to amend a five-decade-old law which specifies that only four-wheeled vehicles can be used to transport passengers and goods.
Wasting no time before lambasting the decision of the TWG, Senate President Pro Tempore, Ralph Recto, drew a connection between the cancellation of the pilot programme and a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued last week by Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court and a Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
The two courts issued a stay on the implementation of a 10,000 motorcycle taxi cap per ride-hailing firm during the trial period suddenly imposed by the TWG, in response to an application by Angkas, which said it would displace 17,000 of its 27,000 riders.
This is revenge
Accusing Mr Gardiola and the TWG of being too thinned-skinned to the adverse ruling of the courts and protest rally against the cap, Mr Recto said “because they had a rally against you, you’re now angry. You lacked public consultation, that is your problem”.
Joining in the criticism fellow senator Sherwin Gatchalian said, “this is revenge”, while a visibly angry senator Poe said the decision was “because they got pissed”.
The decision to cancel the habal-habal pilot programme also did not go down well with AltMobility PH, an advocacy group for ‘sensible and humane transport policies which create a system that is safe, accessible, inclusive, dignified, and sustainable.
“While AltMobility PH does not see motorcycle taxis as a permanent alternative to an extensive and well functioning public transit system, it recognises the acute need of the Filipino people to get where they need to be, and the repercussions of a world where these motorcycle taxis do not exist.
Better than nothing
“If the government cannot offer better alternatives to motorcycle taxis immediately, the next best course of action would be to regulate and formalise their services in order to provide legal protection to the industry stakeholders”, it said in a statement issued in the wake of the surprise announcement.
By late this afternoon it was all kisses and make-up though, with senator Bong Go obtaining an agreement from Mr Tugade and LTFRB chairman, Martin Delgra III, that the haba-haba pilot programme could continue until March 23.
Scheduled to conclude last December 26, the habal-habal pilot programme was extended until March 23, to allow new ride hailing app players JoyRide and MoveIt, which have 1,438 and 1,414 motorcycle taxi drivers each respectively, to participate, while more data is gathered.
Emails sent to Angkas, Joyride and Move It were not immediately responded to.
Feature video CNN Philippines
Feature photo Matthew Mendoza
- Commuters to cope without motorcycle taxis next week (CNN Philippines)
- Senate set to tackle bills on motor taxi regulation (CNN Philippines)
- Motorcycle taxis ownership issues, pilot test to be raised in Senate hearing (Inquirer.net)
- Government told to come up with new rules in selecting motorcycle taxi players (Business Mirror)
Between November 2010 and February 2012 she was a staff writer at Daylight Online, Nigeria writing on health, fashion, and relationships. From 2010 – 2017 she worked as a freelance screen writer for ‘Nollywood’, Nigeria.
She joined AEC News Today in December 2016.