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Lawmakers, motorcycle taxi groups welcome continuation of test run

Faced with a firestorm of objections from commuters, lawmakers and motorcycle taxi operators, not to mention President Duterte’s stand on the matter, an interagency technical working group (TWG) on Tuesday said it would continue the pilot study to determine whether motorbikes are safe for public transportation.

It was a turnaround from the TWG announcement on Monday that it was canceling the second and final leg of the pilot test that was supposed to end on March 23 because service pioneer Angkas had filed court cases against the body that prevented it from effectively assessing this mode of transportation.

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The TWG also sought to blacklist Angkas for defying several guidelines for the study, including operating outside the pilot area (Manila and Cebu) and not providing its drivers’ safety vests.

In a television interview, TWG chair Antonio Gardiola Jr. said the body would continue the study “but then we would come up with [new] guidelines and talk to the providers with the guidance of Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade.”

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Victory for commuters

Sen. Grace Poe said the TWG decision to take back its decision pulling the plug on the operations of motorcycles for hire was a victory for commuters.

“The continuation of the pilot operation of motorcycle taxi is a triumph for commuters in need of an alternative mode of transportation,” Poe said in a statement.

It was “the sentiment [of the senators]” that prompted the TWG’s about-face but “of course I understand the need of the commuters for an alternative mode,” said Gardiola, a member of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

He did not mention the stand of Mr. Duterte, who is in favor of continuing the pilot run to help legislators write a law regulating the new mode of public transportation.

“He (the President) agreed to put on hold the [TWG order] apprehending [drivers of motorcycle taxis],” Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go told reporters on Tuesday.

“So the pilot run will continue for the meantime until we have come up with amendments to the existing law … As of the moment, their business will be allowed to continue. Nobody will lose their livelihood,” said the senator, Mr. Duterte’s longtime aide.

Gardiola said Go also had asked him and Tugade to continue the study and to talk with Angkas and the other two operators—MoveIt and JoyRide.

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The LTFRB began a six-month pilot test of motorcycles-for-hire with Angkas in June last year. It extended the testing with the addition of JoyRide and MoveIt until the third week of March.

The TWG is composed of officials from the LTFRB, Land Transportation Office, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group and i-ACT.

Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo welcomed the LTFRB’s “last-minute” decision to allow motorcycle service providers to continue their operations.

“If the LTFRB is really an ally of the riding public, it should complete the study with the end goal of finding an immediate solution to the problems posed by the lack and high cost of public transportation,” she said.

Quimbo, a former member of the Philippine Competition Commission, lauded the TWG for resorting to “evidence-based” policymaking, as she branded the initial move to withdraw the study as “anticompetitive.”

Undue advantage to GrabHad the TWG ended the pilot run, it would have put up a “barrier to entry” in the market for on-demand and platform-based private transport, which includes Grab, according to Quimbo.

“Because Angkas and other operators potentially compete against Grab, this barrier to entry would provide the latter an undue advantage,” the economist-lawmaker said.

“The move will limit consumer choices prematurely and possibly, unfairly. Consumer safety is paramount, but such objectives must also be balanced with competition principles,” she said.

The pilot study seeks to determine the appropriate regulatory intervention to ensure passenger safety, according to the Marikina lawmaker.

“In the process, it should not kill jobs, narrow consumer choice, or eradicate market options that have the potential to effectively compete with transportation options such as Grab,” she said.

AltMobility coconvenor Ira Cruz objected to the termination of the test run. “There is clearly a need for [motorcycle taxis]. They cannot just stop it because they don’t know what to do next while people are getting stranded,” she said.

Commuter groups like Komyut, Lawyers for Commuters Safety and Protection and Move Manila used to be part of the TWG’s discussions before the group reconstituted itself into a government-only body.

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TAGS: Angkas, Antonio Gardiola Jr., Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, motorcycle taxi, President Duterte, technical working group, test run
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