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What about bike transportation in the Philippines?

May 27, 2020 - Wednesday 4:05 AM by Atty. Jamil Matalam

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An estimate of more than 800,000 bikes have fallen into the canals of Amsterdam. In most university towns in Europe, bikes have been used by students and professors alike in going to their faculties. Biking around these old towns can sometimes be more convenient and efficient ways of going around than using regular public transportation. Bike culture also has developed in these towns. For instance, as a student biking around Ghent, Belgium, I did not worry about automobiles crashing into me; not only are there bike lanes, people usually protect bikers on the streets. They usually avoid bikers or give them the way. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, biking has been suggested as a good means of transportation for the so-called new normal in the country. Public transport like the jeepneys, buses, and the metro trains are crowded and therefore does not help mitigate the spread of the virus. So, what about biking in the country?

An important factor to consider in developing a bike culture in the country is the climate. The climate in Europe is suited for a biking culture. Two of its four seasons are temperate and one cold, and the temperature in summers are relatively moderate, making it conducive to biking around the towns. Compared to Europe, the Philippines has a rather hot climate. In this climate, biking is not only an inconvenience but may also pose a risk to our health. The heat of the sun will come from above and also from below, from the sun-heated cement road. We will be pouring sweat and dehydrated when we arrive at our school or office. In this climate, biking will not be the transportation of choice.

Distance also plays an important role. University towns or cities in Europe are usually old and relatively small. Living in these towns means that more or less the distance between your place and school or workplace is relatively close. It will not require a long bike time to get where you want to go within the city, they are just a bike ride away. These towns are planned to accommodate biking as one of its means of transportation. In huge European cities, bikes are less frequent means of transportation than in smaller ones. This I suppose is because of the distance from home to the workplace; the distance would require a longer time travel and therefore a bus or a train ride is more convenient. Our cities are not designed to accommodate bikes as one of its main means of transportation. The roads are wide, and places of residences are quite distant from our schools and workplaces.

A long history may also be helpful. In Ghent, which is a university town, there are businesses that lease bikes to students. Students can lease the bikes on a semester basis. In cities like Amsterdam, tourists may rent bikes, and they can leave them anywhere in the city. Bike transportation has a sufficient, if not high, demand for a bike transport business to thrive. What I am trying to say here is that given their long history of bike transportation, it has become a part of their economy. It is a sustainable business of public transportation. In the Philippines, bikes can be rented only in a few parks; they cannot be used to go around the city. Bikes for rent for city-wide use may not be a sustainable business and is high risk. Given the average temperature, most people will ride aircon taxis to go around the city.

While bike transportation has become common during this coronavirus crisis, I do not think it will become a component of our public transportation in the long run. It may have become now a common means of mobility because of the absence of regular public transportation. For now it is the cheaper means of mobility most available or allowed. After things get better and given the climate we have and our city planning, most people will go back to the regular means of public transportation for their mobility. And because of this, there will be no sufficient economic demand to make bikes a general public transportation. Bicycling will remain a health-related recreation for most of us.

Nevertheless, these matters should neither hinder anyone in opting to use bikes for their regular transportation, nor should it discourage someone from promoting bikes as an important component of our public transportation. Its contribution in mitigating air pollution is indisputably significant. Promoting bikes as a means of transportation to a significant number, however, will require careful planning. We cannot do anything much about the climate but we can do something in the promotion and policy side of biking. One of the first things to do is to inform the general public about road safety matters in biking. By this I mean inform the drivers of automobiles to know their road safety obligations to bikers. Between a bike and an automobile, the biker will incur more damage and is more exposed to high risk. Therefore, automobile drivers should give priority to bikers on the road. In Ghent, for example, as a biker I did not worry much about cars on the streets because they usually distance themselves from bikers. Most car drivers not only respect bikers, they also incur bigger penalty in case of mishap with bikers. If we cannot at the least do this, then it will be difficult to consider bicycles as one of our public transportation.