The Manila Times

Bicycle-owning households outnumber those with cars

- Robert Y. Siy is a developmen­t economist, city and regional planner and public transport advocate. He can be reached at mobilityma­ or followed on Twitter at @RobertRsiy.

LAST week, new informatio­n — with significan­t implicatio­ns for decision makers — came to light about the mobility environmen­t of Filipino households.

On January 14, Christian Michael “Mike” Entoma, a senior survey specialist of the Social Weather Stations (SWS), presented findings of research conducted on bicycle utilizatio­n that were based on five probabilit­y-based national surveys conducted between May 4, 2020 and May 2, 2021, with sample sizes ranging from 1,200 to 4,010. The results provided solid evidence that cycling is a mainstream mode of travel for Filipinos and deserves priority attention and support. Up until the SWS surveys, I had not heard of any other effort to measure bicycle ownership and use at a national level. In fact, bicycles received zero-to-minimal coverage in earlier transport master plans and investment studies.

With the absence of meaningful data, many unfounded views have circulated, such as: “Filipinos will never walk or cycle because our climate is too hot and humid” or “walking and cycling are not in the Filipino DNA.” The SWS research has proven such assumption­s wrong. Below are several key findings.

First is that a large number (24 percent of the respondent­s) of Filipino households used bicycles. This translates to an estimated 6.2 million households nationwide. Most of the bicycle-using households (19 percent of those surveyed) owned bicycles while 6 percent used borrowed bicycles. One out of five used bicycles for essential activities (jobs, livelihood, marketing/ grocery runs), while 9 percent used bicycles for recreation and exercise (important for physical and mental health).

Second is that many more Filipino households owned bicycles than households with four-wheeled motor vehicles. The SWS found that 20 percent of the households surveyed owned bicycles, compared to the 5 percent that owned cars. Extrapolat­ed to a national level, this translates to an estimated 4.9 million bicycle-owning households compared to 1.2 million with four-wheeled motor vehicles.

Also significan­t was the prevalence of bicycle ownership in the National Capital Region (NCR). The survey found that 36 percent of NCR households owned bicycles — over a third of the population! (This can be compared with 11.5 percent of households that owned cars in the Greater Manila area as measured by a 2014 Japan Internatio­nal Cooperatio­n Agency-funded study).

The third key finding was that over two-fifths of the cycling households (42 percent of the respondent­s or an estimated 2.6 million households) were cycling more frequently than before. This observatio­n is corroborat­ed by a sharp growth in bicycle ownership.

Between November 2020 and May 2021, the percentage of households that owned bicycles jumped from 8 percent (an estimated 2.0 million households) to 20 percent (4.9 million households). This growth was mirrored in the NCR, where the percentage of households that owned bicycles rose sharply from 17 percent in November 2020 (0.6 million households) to 36 percent in May 2021 (1.2 million households). This is consistent with earlier NEDA (National Economic and Developmen­t Authority) reports that around 2.1 million bicycles were imported in 2020, more than double the number in 2019, based on statistics from the Bureau of Customs.

This strong demand for bicycles demonstrat­es their relevance and value, especially in mobility-constraine­d environmen­ts in many urban areas. We could also be seeing a response to the new bicycle infrastruc­ture that national and local government­s have been introducin­g since 2020.

In these difficult times, the expansion of bicycle ownership and use is a bright spot and a cause for optimism. More people cycling is good news for everyone, even those in motor vehicles. Bicycles are a highly efficient, environmen­tally sustainabl­e, carbon-free mode of travel. Bike lanes can move five to 10 times more people on the same space than roads devoted to cars — and with no pollution or carbon emissions.

More people on bicycles also means happier and healthier Filipinos. If car users can be attracted to cycling, it means fewer vehicles on already congested roads. If public transport users shift to cycling, it means less crowding during rush hour on trains, buses and jeepneys.

Accordingl­y, the SWS survey results deliver important policy messages for national and local officials:

– Bicycles serve a significan­t number of Filipinos and need to be regarded as a highly desirable mode of travel; increased bicycle use in urban areas should be a national transporta­tion priority.

– Bicycle ownership and utilizatio­n should be measured regularly at national and local levels and be included in the performanc­e targets of the Public Works and Transporta­tion department­s.

– Networks of protected bike lanes need to be a part of every city’s transporta­tion infrastruc­ture plan; traffic management should be re-oriented to prioritize travel of pedestrian­s and bicycles over private motor vehicles.

– Cyclists deserve their fair share of road space, especially on the most important corridors; inequality in the use of roads (with private cars currently occupying an excessive share) should be rectified with urgency.

– Removing or narrowing bike lanes in order to give more space to motor vehicles is inefficien­t and unequal use of road space and places vulnerable road users at great risk. Such decisions should be vigorously opposed.

– Given the percentage of households that use bicycles, larger budgets should be allocated by national and local government­s for the improvemen­t of bicycle infrastruc­ture and the promotion of bicycle use.

– With the growing number of cyclists, more streets could adopt bicyclefri­endly designs and rules (protected bike lanes; otherwise, make street carfree or with low vehicle speed limits and priority for pedestrian­s and cyclists).

In closing, here is a shout-out to Mike Entoma and the SWS team for their timely and path-breaking work on bicycle ownership and utilizatio­n. It is already making a difference.

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