MANILA, Philippines - The motorcycle, and not the jeepney, is the king of Philippine roads.
On any given day, millions of the 2-wheeled machines thunder through the streets of Metro Manila and other parts of the country.
|Motorbikes are the most fuel efficient vehicles ever built. Credit: joelpastor.com
They weave through traffic--filtering or lane splitting, it is called--squeezing behind cars and buses (dubbed "cages" by motorcycle riders) to be the first to reach and leave a stoplight.
More than half of the 6.2 million registered vehicles in the Philippines as of 2009, around 3.2 million to be exact, are motorcycles, scooters, or tricycles, according to the Land Transportation Office (LTO).
Jeepneys, which fall under the utility vehicle (UV) category, numbered to only 1.6 million last year.
Cars, even less so at only around 780,252, according to LTO figures.
Dr. Romulo A. Virola, secretary-general of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), has revealed that until 2004, registered utility vehicles outnumbered the other types of vehicles, posting an average share of 41.8%.
However, from 2005 onward, motorcycles, scooters, and tricycles overtook the number of UVs, with the gap between them increasing gradually.
"Is this additional proof that indeed, the Pinoy middle class is shrinking?" he asked in an NSCB data presentation in October 2009.
Mobility and purchasing power
The rise of the motorcyle as the vehicle of choice for many Filipinos and most Southeast Asian countries is caused by the need for personal mobility amid and despite a smaller per capita purchasing power, analysts believe.
According to the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP), motorcycles are the most popular vehicles in the region due to their relatively low cost and their ability to bring people from point A to point B in the least amount of time.
Motorbikes are also exempted from the number-coding schemes being implemented by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and most cities in the metropolis.
In some Southeast Asian countries, the number of motorcycles represents approximately 95% of the overall vehicle fleet, the GRSP revealed.
In the Philippines, most of the motorcycles and tricycles are registered in National Capital Region, Region IV ( IV-A and IV-B combined), Region III, and Region VII, according to the NSCB.
How much do motorcycles cost?
While basic car models fetch hundreds of thousands of pesos, a cub-type 100cc Japanese motorbike (which is a descendant of what the Discovery Channel has declared as the world's greatest motorcycle model in history only sells for around P50,000 in cash.
One can also bring home a brand-new motorbike for as little as a P7,000 downpayment and a monthly installment of P3,000.
Motorcycles from mainland China, meanwhile, sell for far less.
Motorbikes are also the most fuel-efficient vehicles ever built. Some models boast of a fuel consumption of up to 60 kilometers per liter of gasoline.
Scooters, which are motorbikes' automatic gear-shift brothers, sell a little higher than the cub and underbone-type motorcycles. They are ideal, however, for city driving and are preferred particularly in Europe due to parking, storage, and traffic issues.
City dwellers' romance with the classic scooter has also endured through the years, thanks to the images of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck riding a Vespa in "A Roman Holiday."
Post-boomers having a midlife crisis also see the motorcycle as their last hurrah at the forgotten rebellion of youth. They trade their sedans and SUVs to become weekend warriors on a road trip with fellow riders heading for destination anywhere on any given Sunday.
A question of safety
Yet, all is not well in the land of the road king.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that deaths and injuries from motorcycle accidents have become a public health epidemic in many countries in Asia, the Philippines included.
The WHO's Manila-based Regional Office for the Western Pacific said in an April 2007 report that young motorbike riders make up a significant percentage of injuries and fatalities among road users in the region.
Speeding, the non-use of helmets, risk-taking behavior, and drunk-driving contribute to a significant portion of the motorcycle accidents.
According to a WHO study, motorcycle riders can cut the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by 72% if they wear proper helmets.
The Philippine Safety Driving Center's Facebook page also revealed that from January to August this year, the Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group recorded 2,228 accidents involving motorcycles.
The MMDA's Metro Manila Accident Reporting and Analysis System (MMARAS), meanwhile, revealed that most of the 20,151 accidents it recorded from January to May this year involved motorcycles.
In a study that covered accidents in 2009, the MMARAS said motorcycles have the highest fatality accident rate (29.46% of the total fatal accidents) compared to other vehicles. For non-fatal incidents, motorcycles also had the highest rate (6,677 or a 36.78% share) compared to cars (4,543 or 25.02%) and other vehicles.
Keeping riders alive
Various national and local government agencies, lawmakers, civic groups promoting road safety, as well as motorbike riders' associations have launched divergent efforts to slash the number of road accident involving motorcycles.
These include various laws, ordinances, studies, and road safety training programs that aim to keep motorcycle riders alive.
The Mandatory Helmet Act or Republic Act 10054 was signed by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on March 23 this year.
The law requires all motorcycle riders nationwide, and including both drivers and pillion riders, to wear standard protective helmets at all times while driving motorcycles, whether on long or short drives, at any time of the day, and in any type of road and highway.
Violators will be penalized with a minimum fine of P1,500.00 to a maximum fine of P10,000.00
The Mandatory Helmet Act also mandates the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), through the Bureau of Product Standards (BPS), to conduct a mandatory testing of all manufactured and imported motorcycle helmets in the country.
The law, however, has yet to be enforced amid the lack of implementing rules and regulations.
Even without the law, the LTO has been going after motorcycle riders who do not wear helmets as part of the agency's revised rules and regulations on motorcycles.
Violators are fined P1,500 and are required to attend a seminar on traffic safety management.
Motorcycle enthusiasts, on the other hand, are doing their part by rolling out road safety programs for motorbike riders.
One online community, Motorcycle Philippines, has organized a comprehensive Motorcycle Riders Course for new, experienced, and advanced riders of scooters, cubs and underbones, and big bikes.
The motorbike may be king of the road but it doesn't argue with a speeding bus on EDSA.