In a formidable show of strength and solidarity, thousands of motorcycle riders took to EDSA again yesterday for another Unity Ride. Earlier this year, a similar event took place to highlight how bikers felt they were being discriminated against in everyday life, and this latest mass ride was organized to shine a light on new issues close to the hearts of the two-wheeled community. This time, two main subjects took center stage: the impending possibility that motorbikes have to use two number plates in the future, and the way the government is treating transport provider Angkas.
The first point bikers aren’t happy about right now is Senate Bill 1397, or the Motorcycle Crime Prevention Act of 2017. Often simply called the Doble Plaka Bill, this piece of legislation was authored by Senator Richard Gordon and would require motorcycles and scooters to fit two large license plates for easy identification. According to the author, motorbikes are being used to commit many crimes these days, and fitting them with two instead of just one number plate is meant to make things safer for everyone. That criminals don’t usually care about number plates being seen—or that putting the Land Transportation Office in charge of making and distributing these new plates is asking for trouble—doesn’t seem to have been an obstacle in the act’s journey through the legislative process (it is now close to becoming a law).
The second (and undoubtedly bigger) issue on everyone’s mind during the event, however, was Angkas. The fast-rising transport provider was again shut down by the government very recently, and its operators aren’t amused. Among the thousands of attendees in the latest Unity Ride, most were wearing the distinctive blue-and-black outfit of the two-wheeled ride-sharing company. If things proceeded according to the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, then not a single one of them should have been on the road in the first place, but anyone who witnessed the sea of bikes riding along EDSA would have quickly realized that this seems to be a battle the government is unlikely to win.
While Angkas is currently breaking local regulations, it seems there is little to nothing any government agency could really do to stop the firm or its riders. In fact, when the company was thwarted late last year, its rider-partners simply continued on their own accord by arranging rides via Facebook. Angkas CEO Angeline Tham, who was present at the event and even joined the convoy of bikes, is on record as saying that the company doesn’t like or condone it when riders arrange their own bookings in this way, as it means that the startup is not in control of proceedings. Instead, she is trying to seek dialogue with lawmakers to work toward the required changes in local transport regulations, with the long-term goal being a fully legal and regulated environment for the provision of two-wheeled public transportation. The company is already investing heavily in rider training and also provides P200,000 insurance for riders and passengers.
Until it becomes fully legal, the firm seems to have little choice but to continue its current approach and hope that things work out favorably. In a way, Angkas seems a little bit like bitcoin, the decentralized cryptocurrency that cannot be controlled or banned by a single person, agency or government. Sure, the company has a CEO, but even without her, the riders wouldn’t just disappear and the system would continue to function. It’s already too big to be stopped by anyone. This isn’t so much a company as it is a fundamental shift in the way citizens want to get around Metro Manila, and the powers-that-be inevitably will have to accept this new reality. Either that or they can try and apprehend every single Angkas motorbike. And having seen firsthand how many such riders there are now, we think the authorities do not have enough trucks or storage space to actually do that.