Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Evolution of the Motorela Business in Cagayan de Oro


I have always had an ardent love affair with motorbikes, owning and driving several motorbikes of different makes and models commencing in my youthful years. To this day, I own a heavy China-made bike that resembles the looks of the sport bikes of the 60’s.  

But more relevantly as one who had engaged in the rela business during its infancy, which would be toward the end of the 60’s, I feel that I have some critical insights about the business that in this day and age has taken the city by storm and upended the peace and quiet of its once tranquil streets. A business that is now leered at as having grown uncontrollably to such unwieldiness as to be considered unruly and a woeful bane to local traffic. Thus in the process it has courted serious attention and derision from both the government and citizenry, questioning its role in the local public transport system and eager to drastically rein it in.

Prior to the introduction of the motorela, which many may know was started by a local family here in Cagayan de Oro, the use of motorbikes as public transport had been ongoing from the early 60’s when pioneering Honda locally introduced the motorbike as an appropriate alternate mode of transport for the locals.   In reality it commenced as an alternate mode of transport for those rich enough to own motor vehicles.  A very conveniently different and light vehicle for those who found using four-wheeled vehicles a bit cumbersome especially for quick short trips around the city. Though others found the bike a good and convenient vehicle for tackling narrow trails or other off-road places.  Plus its novelty struck a chord in a lot of local fans, allowing them to open up their purse strings.   Honda was also quite good enticing traditionally nonplussed consumers to try their very smart-looking models which soon appealed to the daring spirits of young folks eager to pursue adventure or simply to give expression to their latent wanderlust via a vehicle that appeared to be apt extensions of their limbs.

Before long this romance blossomed out into something more. The entrepreneurial urges of the locals were piqued and awakened, especially for those that did not want to view its purchase as simply one of consumption but rather for something productive. So motorbikes as a tool to make money became the next purpose for its purchase.  It was viewed primarily as a light vehicle to ferry passengers around town, in lieu of the much-slower means which was the slow-poke tartanilla.

But how to do it? Culling and copying from the not so distant past, the idea of using a sidecar became an easy choice.  Local artisans started tooling around in their small shops and before long came up with a sidecar that could be attached to the motorbike models then in the market.  It became known as the motorcab.

With profit as the driving motive the motorbike of choice was the 90cc bike which was the default size for the smallest bikes then. But at times more robust twin-cylinder bikes were also used, typically in the 125cc and 150cc categories.  During those early times, Honda had the slight edge in the market with their bike models, coming out with pure 4-stroke gas engines, while other companies like Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki had deferred to the mixed models or 2-stroke engines.  The 2-stroke engines gave the operators a leg up with better fuel mileage, thus many also opted for them.  Since then the sale of two-stroke engines had been stopped by our government, so now only a few hold-overs can be found in our streets.

Before long noisy motorbikes with side-cars were plying the streets of CDO displacing almost overnight the long-regarded tartanillas.

And just as quickly a serious upheaval was soon to ensue because of the propensity of the designed sidecar to turn turtle causing serious accidents on the roads.  It just was not a well-balanced vehicle and was also quite challenging for the hapless drivers to handle safely.

So after many accidents later, people started questioning the continued lifespan of this upstart vehicle.

Creative innovators always tend to fill in vacuums, whether already in existence or still impending.  And the onset of the motorela is one of those instances, filling an impending vacuum that was surely to come.

The early versions of the rela were quite crude and simple.  It could accommodate 3 passengers with passenger access on either side.  The middle passenger making do with quite cramped space made so by the enclosure of the rear end of the motorbike.

BTW, since the inception of the motorbike being used as public transport, a rather uneasy and rather unresolved relationship of regulatory bodies, particularly the motor vehicles agency, with vehicle owner has always dogged it. Unable to fit in any of the categories deigned as authorized motor vehicles subject to licensing, the motorcabs and motorelas have always existed in some kind of licensing limbo.  The motor vehicle agency could only license the motorbike as a two-wheel vehicle subject to licensing.  But the contraptions attached to them whether as sidecars or relas do not fall under any of the categories and thus they ply our streets with no license and no effective oversight from those officially tasked by the government and thus from an agency with the necessary expertise on matters of safety and roadworthiness.

And to make matters worse, many enterprising locals eager to go completely under the licensing radar have fabricated a public transport that completely eliminates licensing from the motor vehicles agency, by putting together a vehicle that runs on a marine engine used on pumpboats.  Since that kind of marine engine does not require licensing, these intrepid road-hoggers have found a way to operate without any regulation and supervision, other than within their fiefdoms called the barangays.  These land-based pumpboats now cruise our highways adding to the traffic turmoil already experienced.

Taken together, over the years the clamor to regulate or all together remove the rela has been building to a crescendo.  The exasperated citizens are slowly letting their voices heard, condemning the relas and their step brothers as the bane in our traffic mess.

Some revealing facts we cite here all conspire to lend more credibility and loudness to the voices of change or removal of the ugly monster the rela transport has become.

Over the years but more so in the unlamented administration of the previous mayor, the rela business had suddenly gained the unseemly notice of the public not only for its numbers but also for the reckless traffic behavior of their drivers, known more for their utter and reckless disregard of basic traffic rules, regulations, and courtesies.

Initially allowed to continue its operations in spite of the inability to license its cab from the motor vehicle agency, the city had preempted that agency by taking upon itself the licensing authority for such transport.  Thus while LTC licenses the bike used, the cab and thus the business are all regulated by the city, initially as benevolent accommodation for some local families who pleaded from city authorities to allow them to earn income by operating a rela business.  Thus, you may have noticed that each rela unit carries the complete name of the owner/operator, conspicuously painted on both sides, as assurance to the city that indeed the family authorized to operate truly does.  Now, we learn that many owner/operators own multiple units, many of these may not even be licensed by the city.  One previous councilor grudgingly admitted that many relas plying our streets are not licensed or authorized by the city.  How many?  Said councilor admitted that there may be as many as 3,000 licensed relas, but that twice that number may be running in our streets.   So who knows really how many relas are clogging our streets.

Trisikads are of course even worse.  Licensing is done solely by the barangays and controls are at best minimal, or worse, none at all.  That goes for those land-based pumpboats operated in the eastern section of the city toward Puerto.

Over the years operators of relas, or sikads, or whatever, have formed themselves into politically strong associations, throwing around their weights in the political arena for political favors.  The previous administration is a glaring example of how policies detrimental to the public good are shunted aside in response to complaints from said associations.  And this has contributed to our overall problematic situation.