One of my advocacies that I’ve often written about in this column is green transportation – in other words, forms of transportation that use little to no fossil fuels, and instead make use of human power and environmentally-friendly power such as solar and electricity.
I am happy to note that some government and private agencies have this on their agenda too.
Last Sept. 22, World Car-Free Day, the Inter-agency Technical Working Group on Active Transport (IATWG-AT) issued a statement affirming “the continued relevance of active transport in advancing inclusive, people-oriented, and environmentally sustainable mobility that prioritizes public health and well-being of Filipinos.”
Active transport or active mobility is the transport of goods and people via human physical activity using non-motorized means.
Examples of these are walking and running, as well as using bicycles, skateboards, kick scooters, and roller skates.
Places that have adopted active mobility measures such as policies supporting bike use and infrastructures such as biking and walking lanes have shown that health indicators tend to improve due to the higher levels of physical activity.
Rates of obesity and diabetes are reduced.
In addition to better health, people also gain other benefits such as reduced use of fossil fuels and lower air pollution.
According to the IATWG-AT, with over 28 million Filipino students returning to face-to-face classes this school year, active transport becomes even more important and necessary.
Given the continued fuel price hikes and ever-expanding traffic volume, the returning students and school personnel will add to the numbers of people on the streets, competing for the limited number of rides on public transportation.
The IATWG-AT calls for the greater and more widespread use of active transport, better infrastructure, and greater protection for those using such methods such as walking and cycling.
The group reiterated the benefits of “inculcating healthy habits among children” via active mobility: “Children who engage in regular physical activity not only reap lifelong physical and mental health benefits, they also show stronger academic performance. Better test scores and fewer drop-outs signal healthier minds and bodies among the Filipino leaders of tomorrow.”
The members of the IATWG-AT are the Departments of Education, Health, Transportation, Public Works and Highways, and Interior and Local Government; as well as the National Economic Development Authority, Pasig Transport, Rizal High School, and the University of the Philippines- National Center for Transportation Studies.
The foreign partners are the Netherlands Embassy and the Australian Embassy-The Asia Foundation in the Philippines. There are also some 12 or so private sector companies and civil service organizations that have joined the effort.
The Makati Business Club also issued a statement for World Car-Free Day, calling on “managers and policymakers to ask about or even experience the challenges and benefits of public transport and active mobility (walking and cycling).”
They added that they “support increased investment in public transport that is well- and holistically-studied as well as pedestrian sidewalks and bike lanes that are safe and inclusive. We support evolving discussions around motorcycles given the fast-growing role they are playing in our lives. We believe these investments are an essential part of a transport and mobility system that will enable all Filipinos to work and do other activities they need or want to do.”
The MBC supports bike commuting via its Business For Biking Program that it established last year “to help Filipinos who bike to get to work and for whom biking is work.”
The influential business organization also called on “government, businesses, and civil society organizations to promote and build more protected bike lanes, bike ramps, and end-of-trip facilities (bike racks, showers, and lockers).”
This is a very practical way of looking at things and a starting point for those who want to promote this method of mobility.
As for those who summarily dismiss the idea of a bike culture by saying, well, “it’s too hot for a bike culture” here or point out that the country is in a monsoon belt or that most people work more than 10 kilometers from where they live or that there’s “a better alternative to bike culture” (what?), then don’t bike!
But don’t bar, hinder, or get in the way of those of us who believe that this is something important we need to do, not only to enable us to get places but also because we want to improve our health.
For all the Villar family’s pushing for better biking policies in their careers as lawmakers, for all the laws passed last administration regarding this, a lot of work still needs to be done before active mobility methods are normalized and made safe.
Private groups and individuals can only do so much. The rest is up to the government and the political will of government administrators and elected officials who want to do right by commuters tired of waiting for a seat on public transportation.
(Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of the Philippine Center for International PEN and a member of the Manila Critics Circle, which established the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO)