The choppy ride of motorcycle transport provider Angkas took its latest turn yesterday after the Supreme Court halted a court order that favored the company’s operations. Back in November of last year, Angkas was essentially shut down by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board as local regulations did not allow for motorbikes to be used as PUVs. The thousands of riders and passengers who had already signed up with the transport network company by that time didn’t just shrug their shoulders and go home. Instead, they went underground and continued offering and requesting rides as before. This clandestine and often Facebook-based business model continued until the Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court granted the plucky startup a preliminary injunction, stopping the government from blocking its operations.
It is this very injunction that has now been prevented from being implemented any further by the Supreme Court, through the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order requested by the Department of Transportation and the LTFRB. This means that Angkas is now illegal again, and the cat-and-mouse game between the government and the company enters the next round. The press release from LTFRB and DOTr that followed was as predictable as it was unconvincing, stating how maintaining safety and upholding the laws are their priorities, despite a quick look at the current state of our public transportation suggesting otherwise.
If all of this feels like Uber Part 2, that’s because it basically is. The LTFRB and the DOTr are hiding behind Republic Act 4136—or the Land Transportation and Traffic Code—by stating that motorbikes are not allowed to transport passengers, while Angkas is doubling down on its bet by not only continuing to operate but even rubbing salt into government wounds with a new promo for some free rides. The promo code? TRO. To say these guys are pushing it would be putting it mildly, but the fact is that the cold, hard reality of everyday commuting in this megalopolis may well be moving the odds into the transport provider’s favor. Yes, they are technically breaking the law, but so was Uber before it was made legal—and Angkas, with its over 25,000 riders, seems to have a decent track record when it comes to operational safety.
The LTFRB and the DOTr, on the other hand, are quickly losing the very justification for their existence in the public eye, and with it any remaining credibility the agencies may have had left after all their debacles of recent times. Angkas may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, as people have finally had enough of government regulators spouting the same old lines, filled with empty words and lacking any connection with the reality that countless commuters face on a daily basis. The people behind Angkas know that they are playing with fire, and the LTFRB has already said that riders will be apprehended and their motorbikes impounded. But is this really a hand of poker the government wants to play so close to Christmas?
Angkas may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, as people have finally had enough of government regulators spouting the same old lines filled with empty words
Traffic is worse than it has ever been and the government is still nowhere near getting a grip on things. The fact is that passengers who need to go from A to B don’t give two hoots about RA4136, especially as the powers-that-be continue to fail in their efforts to provide safe and reliable public transport. Just the other day, we wrote an article about how a clampdown on colorum PUVs had actually made things worse because nobody had thought about ensuring a sufficient supply of legal vehicles first. With this sort of shortsighted thinking being encountered by the commuting public time and time again, it’s quite unlikely that the LTFRB has actually considered the consequences of its latest regulatory action on Angkas.
Apart from it being almost physically impossible to stop and impound over 25,000 motorcycles, removing all of these vehicles from the road leaves hundreds of thousands of passengers without transport. They won’t all just start walking, but will instead revert back to using cars again, leading to even worse gridlock. Then there’s the potential for abuse, with crooked traffic enforcers smelling a Christmas gift and squeezing Angkas riders for bribes. The question of what will happen now is also not an easy one to answer, but we can see a number of options playing out. One of them is the LTFRB insisting on its game plan and going into anti-Angkas beast mode, a move that could have unforeseen consequences for the whole transport ecosystem. Option two is that Angkas stops operations, maybe after a few riders have been nabbed or its very own management has been collared.
Option three is what should really be happening, which is government and Angkas sitting down and sorting this mess out by grabbing a lawmaker or two and working on the required changes to RA4136. People are sick to their teeth with hollow talk and just want to see results and progress. This means the onus is on the government to be proactive and to use that rarest of superpowers: common sense. It is clear that current laws aren’t working here anymore, and even Stevie Wonder can see that motorbike taxis have already established themselves as part of the transport mix, reducing the number of cars on our roads in the process.
Government needs to find a constructive way forward. The 13 million people of Metro Manila simply demand it.