Motorcycle taxis beat metro gridlocks, satisfy milk tea cravings

Jessica Fenol and Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 29 2019 10:06 AM

Motorcycle taxi driver Melody Viray ferries commuters on EDSA everyday as an Angkas driver. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- Ex-security guard Marciano Torregosa was among a swarm of motorcycle taxi drivers that wove through rush hour paralysis on the capital's main highway one weekday evening, all of them just a few smartphone taps away from millions of potential customers.

For the 32-year-old Torregosa, it's an opportunity to earn more for his young family. For urban dwellers, motorcycle taxis offer a cheaper and faster way to navigate the city and have nearly anything delivered to their doorstep, including the newest milk tea flavor.

From television star Maine Mendoza and Miss Universe-Philippines Gazini Ganados, Filipinos are embracing the growing motorcycle economy, which run on regional platforms like Grab, Lalamove and foodpanda to homegrown app Angkas.

"This is a big deal for everyone in Metro Manila. It's good that they brought it back," Torregosa told ABS-CBN News during a 45-minute ride from South Triangle in Quezon City to Poblacion in Makati.

"I'm never going back to my old job," said Torregosa, who at one point was careful not to hit the side mirror of a white Mercedes Benz on EDSA.

Ganados told ABS-CBN News that she took Angkas rides between modelling gigs before she won Binibining Pilipinas in June. Mendoza, on the other hand, shared a photo of her Angkas ride with boyfriend Arjo Atayde.

COMMUTER PAIN

Chronic traffic jams choke Metro Manila and its 12 million residents and according to a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the gridlocks cause P3.5 billion in daily losses to the economy.

There are 1.2 million registered motorcycles in the capital as of last year, or one for every 10 people, according to the Land Transportation Office. By Angkas' own estimate, 1 in 3 Filipino families own a motorbike.

It was only this year that regulation was drafted recognizing motor taxis as public transport.

Traffic "changed the culture of commuters" who will try everything to get to their destination, said Ariel Inton who heads the traffic unit of Quezon City, Metro Manila's largest city. 

"If you have an innovation na makakadagdag sa pwedeng sakyan ng pasahero, I’m always in favor because the public transportation in the country went from bad to worse," said Inton, a former head of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

Part of President Rodrigo Duterte's P8-trillion "Build, Build, Build" list is Metro Manila's first ever subway, which will be partly operational by the end of his term in 2022. The MRT, which serves half a million daily, will also be rehabilitated.

PROFESSIONAL HABAL-HABAL

Even before the regulations, motor taxis or "habal-habal" are prevalent and platforms like Angkas seek to professionalize the drivers, said its head of regulatory and public affairs, George Royeca.

"Itong mga apps, it really enabled this segment to level up in terms of their business… So tumataas talaga ang kita nila," he told ABS-CBN News.

(These apps really enabled this segment to level up in terms of their business... They earn more.)

Since going full-time on Angkas, Torregosa earns up to P1,800 a day, which adds up to more than double his P12,000 wage as a security guard which is given every 15 days. He took out a loan for his P70,000 bike, and has paid 1 year out of the total 3 year installment plan.

Melody Viray, 36, resigned from her call center job in 2016, which promises a P20,000 monthly paycheck, for Angkas where she earns as much as P3,000 on a good day. 

Melody Viray ditched her call center job in 2016 to become a motor taxi driver. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

In under 4 years, the hotel and restaurant management graduate fully paid for her Honda motorcycle. She is paying installments for her second bike worth P97,000 and a house and lot in Tanza, Cavite.

"Ang goal ko, masaya ako kapag nakauwi ako ng bahay nang walang galos, walang galos pasahero ko at walang galos ang motor ko," said Viray, who once traversed a flooded street to help bring medicine to a very sick patient in Antipolo.

(My goal, always, is to come home unharmed and to ferry my passengers unharmed, also, with no damage to my vehicle.)

ON-DEMAND DELIVERY

Food delivery apps are so popular in Metro Manila that takeout counters have dedicated queues for drivers who bring plastic bags full of desserts and hot meals to office and condominium buildings.

Outside some milk tea shops, drivers can be seen camped out waiting for orders on their smartphone.

Federico Esperida, a 50-year-old former limousine driver in Dubai now delivers for GrabFood, where he earns P1,000 to P2,000 daily. He sells other stuff on the road such as smartphone accessories while waiting for bookings.

Former OFW Federico Esperida sells waterproof pouches for mobile phones while waiting for GrabFood orders. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

"Iba 'yong nasa abroad ka hindi mo kasama ang pamilya mo, 'pag nagkasakit ka walang mag-aalaga sa 'yo. Dito 'pag gising mo, may naghahanda sa 'yo, asawa mo" he said.

(It's different when you're abroad, unlike here when you're with family, someone will take care of you when you get sick. When you wake up, your wife takes care of you.) 

Leo Valenzuela, 24, is among a group of drivers who offer bookings via Facebook when he is off his 8-5 job as a delivery man. Motor taxis give people like him an opportunity to earn a decent living, he said.

"Pero kung sa future kung may mas magandang trabaho pagpursigihan ko na rin 'yon kasi mahirap din maging driver. Umaraw, umulan, minsan nakakalimutan ko na kumain," he said. 

(In the future, if there's a better job, I'd go for it because it's not easy being a driver. Rain or shine, sometimes I forget to eat.)

Moonlighting as a motor taxi driver allows him to earn P400 to P700 on top of his daily P700 income. 

Leo Valenzuela works as a logistics delivery rider from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and as an online habal habal driver from 6 p.m. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

COMMUTERS FIRST

Viray and Valenzuela said government should protect motor taxis and other services that use motorbikes instead of restricting them to help ease the pain for commuters. 

"Nagtatrabaho naman 'yong tao, hindi naman kami gumagawa ng masama, sariling pagod namin ito eh, nakakatulong ka pa sa pasahero. Dapat lalo nila kami bigyan ng pansin. Tsaka nila kami pigilan 'pag gumawa na kami ng masama," Valenzuela said. 

(We are earning a living without harming anyone. We are not doing anything wrong. We are working hard. At the same time, we are helping commuters. We should be heard. They can stop us the moment we do something wrong.)

Commuters are starting to overcome their fear that riding motorbikes risk their lives or are "buwis-buhay," said Angkas' Royeca.

Angkas riders are provided with a helmet, a face-mask to shield them from pollution and a raincoat when needed.

"Congestion has debilitated our society and our people so badly na lahat na lang gagawin nila para makapagtrabaho, para makauwi sa pamilya nila and that’s not good," Royeca said.

(Congestion has debilitated our society and our people so badly that they are willing to do anything to get to work and go home to their families.)

"That’s why if you drive it underground and if you keep this thing underground, hindi magwo-work (it will not work)," he said.