June 19, 2018, 7:58 pm
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INDEPENDENCE DAY ON THE ROAD; Will allowing all motorcycles on expressways mean real road freedom?

THE recent announcement by Committee on Metro Manila Development head Winston Castelo of Quezon City to look into claims of discriminatory policies on the use of motorcycles on the tollways, has opened a long thread of discussion over social media about the soundness of the idea.

The discussions centered over the policy that restricted motorcycles with engine displacements less than 400cc from entering the expressways. Believed to be “discriminatory” and without basis, the policy has been in the courts since 1997. The opinion stems from the fact that when the administrative ordered was penned and approved, small displacement motorcycles could not meet the requirements of the “keeping pace” on the expressways. 

These days, according to proponents of opening the tollways (meaning the South and North Luzon Expressways and its extensions such as the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road [STAR] and the Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway [TPLEX])to motorcycles—even those below 400 cc because technology has allowed even a 125 cc to reach the required highway speeds with no problem.

According to individual motorcyclists and some bike clubs, allowing motorcycles with less than .4-liter displacements will be beneficial to freeing traffic and will theoretically be safer because of the wider roads, lesser intersections and more constant travelling speeds. 

These proponents also believe the current law was arbitrarily created. Having no study or factual basis behind its contents and exclusions when it was adopted. It also gave no voice to owners of motorcycles of lower engine displacements who were “not even included” in the tenets of Department Order 123, Series of 2001. The “discrimination” also stems from the fact that there was no explanation why sub-400 cc bikes were excluded.

NOT NIXON’S FAULT. An urban legend that has been going around says it was Richard Nixon and his visit to the Philippines that caused the ban on motorcycles in the SLEX.

The story is not true because Nixon never visited the Philippines. It was U.S. President Lydon Byrd Johnson who visited the newly established International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna in December 1969, a year after the ban was released. Moreover, Johnson went to IRRI by helicopter. 

The real story though happened when John D. Rockefeller III visits IRRI to see for himself the project his group was funding. The Rockefeller entourage visited using IRRI buses with motorcycle riding police escorts. One of the escorts was involved in a road crash and perished. This embarassed the country as the report of the crash was supposedly broadcast the next day. According to the said legend, this national embarassment was the reason why motorcycles were banned from the expressway after. But this story remains to be a fable. 

The original 1968 included motorcycles in the “banned vehicles” list along with bicyles, carts and horse drawn carriages. 

ON THE FASTLANE. Motorcycles with engines above 400cc have been allowed in the tollways, on and off since 1997. Court decisions have flipped flopped between geographies and circumstances that is it now difficult ascertain exactly when the ban was lifted but in July 18, 2001, two days after a major defeat in the courts the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) hastily issues Department Order No. 123, (DO 123) Series of 2001.

The Makati Regional Trial Court, Branch 147, in a 5-page decision penned by Judge Teofilo L. Guadiz, Jr. ruled that motorcyclists have the legal right as licensed motorists to use the tollways and that the DPWH and the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) have no power or authority to ban motorcycles on expressways.

DO 123 was to amend the original 1968 motorcycle ban by allowing motorcycles with engine displacements of 400cc and up access to the tollways. During those years, there were few “big bikes” around, around 1 percent of the total motorcycle population but was growing. Even then motorcyclists believed that DO 123 violates the Writ of Preliminary Injunction issued by the courts just two days earlier and prepared to challenge the order so that all displacement motorcycles would be allowed. 

The petitioners cited that, based on evidence presented, and as a result of the ban, motorcycles are forced to use side roads and inner highways in their trips. These smaller roads are narrower, have denser traffic, more intersections and other “distractions which makes it more dangerous” in comparison to using the expressways. They cited how the many hazards (road constructions, high road gutters, heavily congested intersections, center islands, opposing traffic, poorly designated PUV passenger loading and unloading zones, and pedestrians) contribute to high incidences of crashes and similar untoward incidents involving motorcycles. 

Despite protestations and pending restraining orders, DO 123 was carried out in toto.

RESTUDYING THE BAN. Castelo’s committee held a hearing last June 6, 2018 where Congressman Ruffy Biazon, a motorcyclist himself questioned the basis of DO 123 focusing on seeking an explanation on the less-than-400 cc ban.

Some motorcycle groups at the meeting erroneously pointed out that the limitation to 400 cc. was the suggestion of a particular group of motorcycle riders when in fact it was a hastily created document signed by then DPWH Secretary Simeon A. Datumanong under advice of then Philippine National Construction Companu (PNCC) Chairman Luis Sison. It was the belief that at that time, it would be more dangerous to introduce small displacement motorycles into the expressways without further studies. 

During the hearing Biazon suggested a policy review and a thorough study on the potential hazards and corresponding advantages of allowing smaller than 400 cc. motorcycles of using the tollway.

“The current policy was arbitrary when adopted. It did not give a fair chance for users of lower engine displacements to be considered in the use of the tollways through a policy based on study on safety and efficiency,” Biazon in a statement in his official Facebook page.

He however emphasized that he was not advocating full access to all motorcycles “whatever the displacement.”

“There has to be a study on up to what lower limit is safe for highway use considering not just the speed capability but even resistance to forces like wind and turbulence on highways or visibility by other vehicle operators. What is important is that there is an actual study done to determine the limits,” Biazon stated.

Allowing more types of motorcycles on the freeway opens up new risks and newer possibilities. It can for example improve and strengthen motorcycle tourism, now very strong in places like Rizal or Baler in Quezon.  It can also open up the roads to faster travel for those who use motorcycles to reach work from home.
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