THE House committee on transportation led by Samar Rep. Edgar Mary Sarmiento on Thursday urged the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and the National Task Force (NTF) on coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) to allow the resumption of the operations of motorcycle ride-hailing service Angkas and other similar transport network vehicle service (TNVS) to provide safe public transportation to commuters especially those who still need to go to work amid the pandemic.
House Assistant Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo filed the motion asking the IATF and NTF to allow resumption of MC taxi operations but also separately asked the bodies to look into allowing tricycles to ferry one additional passenger to help double capacity and cut costs. “As long as we can implement the relevant public health measures as advised by our partner experts, the motorcycle taxis and more passengers on tricycles will go a long way towards augmenting our current transport capacity, which has become the key bottleneck to reviving our economy.”
The pilot was supposed to end last March and reviewed by legislators, but was overtaken by COVID-19.
At the same time, the House transportation committee also adopted the motion of Manila Rep. Cristal Bagatsing for Congress to spearhead the evaluation of the pilot study of motorcycle taxis in conjunction with the existing to TWG to augment their review of other aspects important for legislation such as economics and competition. “The TWG has done good work so far in reviewing MC taxi safety during the pilot. Our added involvement will ensure we round out the study before we draft the final bill by examining issues of pricing, supply pools, and taxation.”
Iloilo City Rep. Julienne “Jam-jam” Baronda supported the move to extend the MC Taxi pilot study, and filed a separate motion which was later merged with Castelo's to include members of the academe and private sector to help the proper formulation of relevant measures, particularly related to public health in the context of the pandemic.
“Upon hearing Doc Belizario’s presentation from the UP College of Health, I would like to reiterate my motion in collaboration with experts and with respect to oversight of authorities in power, and move for the approval of the extension of testing of motorcycle taxi study in Metro Manila and selected areas under the supervision of IATF and NTF,” Baronda said.
She was referring to the collaborative study made by Angkas in partnership with the University of the Philippines College of Public Health (UP-CPH) on public health safety protocols for motorcycle taxi.
Dr. Vicente “Jun” Belizario, in presenting the various public health considerations for transportation, highlighted the key advantages of motorcycles. “Motorcycle taxis operate in open ventilation with one passenger only, which makes them very good candidates to help get our economy’s transport system back on track. In reference to the proposed measures we gave Angkas, there is no 100% guarantee that this will work, but the more measures you add, the safer you get, so we are cautiously optimistic about this. These are definitely worth taking calculated risks with to augment our transport system.”
He was referring not just to the recently IATF-approved motorcycle barrier, but also a host of other protocols – passengers and drivers wearing their own personal helmets and masks, regular disinfection protocols, fleet-wide PCR testing, in-app public health education and information dissemination, and using the platform’s already-extensive network of over 4M downloads for contact tracing.
Tackled in the hearing as well was the proposed use of shield as an added layer of protection for motorcycle pillion riding. George Royeca, Angkas Chief Transport Advocate, presented the specifications of the IATF-approved Angkas shield which was given the seal of approval of Total Control, a world-renowned motorcycle safety school based in California that has trained the US Marines.
Royeca said he shares the public’s concerns on the shield’s impact on road safety, which was why Angkas spent months designing and prototyping it with Total Control to ensure its roadworthiness.
“The shield is made of high-quality plastics, weighs less than 1kg for all-day usage and comfort, and is extremely pliable and shatter-resistant. Our shield was also specifically designed and repeatedly field-tested to be aerodynamic in conditions our bikers usually operate in.”
Royeca also emphasized that the shield is only one tool in a suite of many to ensure high standards for public health and road safety, and that Angkas has been working with UP CPH since the beginning to ensure operations factor in all the relevant recommendations for public health. “All our bikers are being retrained with proper public health protocols, and we are working with partners to help passengers purchase their own quality helmets. The Angkas app will soon become cashless to minimize face-to-face interactions. It will now also serve as a platform for public health education, information dissemination, and contact tracing. The trust people have on the Angkas brand will go a long way to keep the riding public with us safe,” Royeca said.