After five years of a government study temporarily allowing two-wheeled taxis on the road, Congress has finally decided to take legislative action through House Bill (HB) No. 3412. The bill aims to “legalize” the use of motorcycles as public transportation. Speaker Martin Romualdez said the bill was a priority, and perhaps rightly so.

Motorcycle taxis have been on the roads in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu since 2019 under a pilot test of the Land Transportation Office (LTO). In short, they have been operating using only temporary permits for almost five years now. It is about time that a law is passed to recognize and legitimize the industry and provide a stronger legal basis for their operation.

Not too long ago, the National Federation of UV Express went to court to take motorcycle taxis off the streets. The group, composed of UV Express operators, wants a Mandaluyong trial court to stop the ongoing government trial temporarily allowing motorcycles as public transportation. The group claims two-wheeled taxis are stealing their customers.

UV Express operators also claimed that it was unfair for two-wheeled taxis to continue operating without franchises. Other public transportation like jeepneys and buses, UV Express, Grab cars, and even school buses and tourist vehicles all secure franchises from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board or LTFRB.

Just to differentiate motorcycle taxis from tricycles, two-wheel taxis have not been required to secure a franchise to date, while three-wheelers all get franchises from local governments and not the LTFRB. In short, tricycles are required public transport franchises, but motorcycle taxis are not. With HB 3412, franchises will be required for all.

HB 3412 is timely as motorcycle taxis have now become a permanent fixture on Metro Manila roads. As I have noted in previous columns, a lot of commuters rely on them. And it does not seem right that the service continues to exist merely on temporary permits under a “pilot” program. The LTO and LTFRB can chime in on the proposed law to help lawmakers make an informed decision.

But I am concerned that as drafted, the bill might lead to more confusion than clarity, and may result in administrative nightmares that might do more harm than good. I support HB 3412 and what it intends, but I also believe it requires more study and will benefit from comments and feedback from all concerned parties.

For one, it refers to motorcycles as any “two-wheeled motor vehicle without appendages.” It makes no distinction between two-wheelers running on gasoline or electric motors. Does this mean that even electric two-wheelers can qualify as motorcycle-for-hire? Note that another bill pending in Congress intends to make imported two-wheeled electric vehicles tax- and duty-free.

Also, the bill appears to allow motorcycle taxi operators to get accreditation from multiple transport networks or “online e-commerce platform providers.” The bill provides for “multi-homing.” Does this mean that an operator can offer for-hire services simultaneously through Angkas, Joy Ride, Move It, and Grab, and perhaps also through Shopee and Lazada? Won’t this be unwieldy for both operators and networks?

Moreover, HB 3412 intends to regulate and require franchises for all motorcycles used as common carriers for the transport of passengers and goods, including mail and parcels. But it excludes motorcycle fleets “owned by entities and used exclusively in the line of business for delivery of goods and other services.”

In a previous column, I noted that the court case questioning motorcycle taxis was timely to ascertain whether the LTO, and perhaps the LTFRB, were abusing their discretion in allowing two-wheelers to operate as taxis indefinitely under the guise of pilot testing and without a franchise. However, if HB 3412 gets passed anytime soon, then maybe the court case will be moot.

However, HB 3412, if passed, may result in its own set of problems. LTFRB franchising and regulation will be difficult given that there are an estimated 1.4 million motorcycles on the road operating as taxis part-time or full-time. Do the LTFRB and LTO have the time, resources, and personnel to inspect all these motorcycles for safety, and check the qualifications of all operators and drivers?

The bill also requires that the franchising of motorcycles-for-hire in metropolitan and urban areas where transport network companies or online e-commerce platforms operate be done by the LTFRB. But in areas without transport network companies or e-commerce platforms, franchising will be “coursed through the LGU under which jurisdiction the motorcycle-for-hire intends to operate,” and such vehicles may “only operate within the territorial jurisdiction of the LGU concerned.”

It is unclear how this will work, and if the LTFRB is devolving franchising functions through LGUs or will simply coordinate with them. And with that franchising function comes responsibilities for route rationalization, fare structure and setting, and determining supply and demand. As such, it appears that going beyond the present system of motorcycle taxis, where fare is determined by algorithms that consider supply and demand, the LTFRB and local governments will now have a say in how much motorcycles-for-hire can charge.

The bill states that the “booking system of [transport networks and online platforms] shall feature a mechanism that enables clients to compare the transportation cost charged by each of the available platforms.” Also, in case of two-wheelers operating “outside digital platforms, the fare shall be determined by the LTFRB after public consultation with the LGUs and the operators and other stockholders, with the approval of the DoTr (Department of Transportation).”

On the safety side, the proposed law prescribes a speed limit of 60 kph for all motorcycles-for-hire, and makes operators, transport networks, and online or digital platforms all “jointly and solidarily liable” for any death, injury, or damage to property that may occur during operations of motorcycles for hire.

Transport networks and digital platforms offering motorcycle-for-hire services will also be required to establish quick response teams “to provide immediate medical care or bring any person injured by operation of the motorcycle-for-hire booked through its digital platform to the nearest hospital or medical facility.”

I am sure HB 3412 has good intentions. But some of its provisions need clarity, in my opinion. I can only hope that Congress will gather all stakeholders and solicit their opinion and support. The proposed law should be backed by solid research and data, timely studies, and parameters and metrics that also take note of global best practice.

In today’s fast-paced world, technology and current developments will always outpace regulatory frameworks. The government needs to get ahead with practical but dynamic regulation of public conveyances and common carriers. Laws and regulations should not be drafted based only on present circumstances but with the future in view as well.


Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippine Press Council