Food delivery rider Gary Acquio dodges his way through Quezon City's heavy traffic to reach a street peppered with fast-food chains.
He keeps refreshing his phone, hoping another food delivery request will come in. It was already lunchtime, but Acquio had so far received only five requests.
Months ago, the 22-year-old food delivery rider would attend to over 20 deliveries a day.
“Matumal ngayon Alert level 1. isang oras pa, hanggang alas dose lang ako, naka-lima pa lang… Dati po, malakas talaga… Ngayon, tiyaga-tiyaga lang talaga,” said Acquio.
(Income has been low this Alert Level 1. It's just an hour before 12 o'clock, but I've only had five deliveries so far... Before, I was earning a lot... Now, I need to strive harder.)
Like other workers in Metro Manila, Acquio bought a bicycle at the start of the pandemic. But as Metro Manila started adopting least restrictive measures with the improved COVID-19 situation, four-wheeled vehicles have once again crowded the streets.
Cyclists, like Acquio, had to take extra caution against swerving vehicles as some would intentionally drive through bike lanes.
“Naka-bike po ako, nag-signal ako nang ganun. Nauna po ako sa kaniya, nasa likod siya. Nag-ganon ako. Pa-kaliwa ako. Tapos nasagi niya ako. Namutla ako, kinabahan ako," Acquio recounted an incident.
"Request ko lang sa mga malaking sasakyan, magbigay sila sa bike. Dalawang gulong sa'min, balance pa kami. Mahirap,” he said.
(I was riding the bike, sending signals as I was ahead. I was about to turn left, when a side-swiped me. I got scared. I appeal to bigger vehicles to give way to bike riders. We ride on two wheels and we have to keep our balance. It's not that easy for us.)
People, not only in Metro Manila, have turned to bicycles as the pandemic forced areas to restrict public transit.
Bicycle sellers have felt the increase in demand in the past two years. However, sales dropped in the past month as restrictions were relaxed.
Bike vendor Rommel Hernaez observed that as bike sales shrank, the number of vehicles passing by his store increased.
Hernaez used to sell 24 bikes a month when Metro Manila imposed stricter lockdowns. For now, what sells more are bicycle parts.
“Medyo humina siya dahil siguro dahil sa maluwag na at marami nang sasakyan. Marami nang nasasakyan mga tao,” Hernaez said.
(The sales went down a bit, maybe because mobility of people have been allowed, as well as use of vehicles. People have vehicles to ride on already.)
Freelance producer Lester Bubiera shifted to riding a bicycle instead of driving a car in the city.
He explains the benefits of riding a bike - cheaper, pollution-free, and it helps him to stay fit.
He is now one of the staunch advocates of riding a bicycle.
As he weaves his way through notoriously bad traffic three days into the Alert Level 1, Bubiera realizes that cyclists are often overlooked when it comes to transport policies.
“Sa tingin ko, kulang ang enforcement na ginagawa nila. And based on the interviews that I’ve been hearing from them, ang focus pa rin nila ay decongesting the road by imposing number coding scheme, by adding more roads,” he said.
(I think there is a lack of enforcement. And based on interviews, their focus is still geared towards road decongestion by imposing number coding scheme, and by adding more roads.)
AltMobility, a group of policy advocates passionate about making transport sustainable, says that transportation needs for workers' return have been severely underestimated under Alert Level 1.
The group said that the quality of bike lanes in Metro Manila is substandard and risks users' safety with the tight spaces and numerous potholes and obstructions.
They also pointed out that enforcement to ensure unobstructed bike lanes is lacking. This leaves bike lanes often blocked by motor vehicles.
“Nasayang yung dalawang taon na pwede sanang nagamit upang maihanda ang ating mga siyudad sa pagbabalik ng mga tao sa opisina by making sure that they are able to bike or take public transport to their offices," AltMobility Director Ira Cruz said.
(We wasted two years of what could've been a chance to prepare our cities for the return of employees to on-site work by making sure that they are able to bike or take public transport to their offices.)
The Department of Transportation says it completed 497 kilometers of bike pavement markings, physical separators, and road signages in the three metropolitan areas in 2021.
"It is now becoming a way of life na nakakatulong (that helps)," Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said in one of his speeches in Manila.
The Asian Development Bank released a study in 2019 showing Metro Manila was the most congested of 24 cities surveyed across South and Southeast Asia.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency estimated in 2018 that the cost of traffic to Manila's economy is more than P3.2 million pesos a day.