Malilong: Legitimizing the habal-habal

The other side

THE motorcycle taxi service fills a significant public need. It is also big business. If only for these two reasons, the government should intervene in this otherwise unregulated service industry.

There used to be just a few habal-habal units operated mostly by the motorcycle owners themselves who dealt directly with customers wanting a ride to areas that were otherwise not accessible to the more conventional means of transportation. When the neighbors and the friends saw that driving motorbikes for hire offered good income, the habal-habal industry was born.

The phenomenal growth of the habal-habal and its huge business potential did not escape the notice of businessmen and eventually Angkas came. Habal-habal was until then mostly disorganized and riders depended largely on the “suki system” to generate customers. Angkas provided the application that not only rationalized the distribution of fare opportunities but also made it easier for passengers to hitch a ride.

Angkas is big business, not a charitable institution, no doubt about it. I’m not talking about the people in helmets and their machines but those who invented and now run the app. They must have made a pile until the government banned the motorcycle taxis from operating. It was Angkas that dominated the headlines when the order to stop came but the habal-habal--those who continued to operate individually--suffered just badly, if not worse.

With the ban in effect, the drivers went underground. Those affiliated with Angkas took off their identifying jackets and helmets and blended with habal-habal drivers in soliciting business. I spoke to one of them in December last year, and he said it was easy to evade police interception because he looked just like any ordinary motorcycle rider.

The drivers gained a reprieve when the government lifted the ban and agreed to a six-month test run. With the end of the test run looming, Angkas is stepping up pressure on the government to legalize its operations. Its services have improved, claimed the Angkas founder.

I support legitimization. If you run the motorbikes for hire out of the streets, you will be creating a big social problem because many families depend on their operation for a living. Besides, and this is even more important, the motorcycle remains the most convenient means of travel not only in the far-flung areas but even in the city where traffic is a problem.

The government can start by franchising motorcycles for hire. Only the roadworthy should be allowed to transport people for a fee. It should also require anyone who wants to operate a “public utility motorcycle” to secure a special driver’s license which shall be issued only to one who has undergone training and has proven not only his driving skills but also his readiness to observe road courtesy and obey traffic rules and regulations.

The government should also encourage the drivers to organize themselves into a cooperative and help them come up with an application of their own similar to that of Angkas. There should be no monopoly in the motorcycle-hailing business. And if you give it to the drivers themselves, you are at least certain that they will not be exploited.

Angkas claims that the quality of its services has vastly improved and that its safety record is at 99.97 percent. The figure is probably bloated and public safety remains a concern. But its record for inefficiency notwithstanding, government regulation is infinitely better than no regulation at all.

The sad reality is that if you don’t legitimize its operations, the motorcycle taxi will just go underground again.


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