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Top Gear Philippines

If you're a car owner--or "cager," as coined by motorcyclists--you should know by now that two-wheel rides are multiplying like crazy. It's no longer possible to reach your destination without honking at or evading a wayward motorbike at least once a day. You know these bikes are everywhere, but just how many exactly are they?

Let me give you some concrete numbers. The Motorcycle Development Program Participants Association--kind of like the formal motorcycle industry in the country, and which counts Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Motorstar and Kymco as official members--reports that in the last five years, motorbike sales in the Philippines have reflected an average growth of nine percent per annum. From 517,705 new units in 2006, formal motorcycle sales reached 759,849 in 2010. That’s just the "formal" sector of the industry.

According to the Land Transportation Office, a total of 903,663 new motorcycles were registered last year, which means 143,814 units came from independent importers and even smugglers. As you can imagine, it's big business. But do you really know why the motorcycle is slowly but steadily pushing the automobile to the roadside, even if most people are fully aware of the dangers associated with motorcycling?

Because it's cheap, that's why.

"Anyone can now get a new motorcycle for just a monthly installment of P1,500," says former Honda Safety Driving Center executive Arnel Doria, who is opening a motorcycle safety-riding school called Safe T Ryders. "For someone who is spending about P3,000 on transportation fare every month, acquiring a motorcycle makes a lot of sense."

So it's economics. Add to this the social dimension that motorcycle ownership brings--affording individual mobility any time of the day and even on weekends--and you have a popular product whose supply can hardly keep up with demand. And since the motorcycle market is growing fast, the business-minded among us will always find a way to capitalize on the golden opportunity, even at the expense of public safety.

"Motorcycle dealers don't bother to find out if the buyer even knows how to ride a bicycle," Doria points out. "All you have to do is make the payment, and you can take home a brand-new motorcycle with you."

No proper training, no education. What do you think will happen? In 2009, a total of 109 casualties, 6,677 non-fatal injuries and 7,542 property-damage incidents were recorded among motorcyclists in Metro Manila alone. And with motorbike sales still growing, these numbers will only escalate. You can count on it.

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You might be thinking: "What do I care? I own and drive a car. Why should this concern me?"

Well, this should alarm you for the simple reason that it's usually cars that motorcycles ram themselves into. Worse, it's the car driver who usually gets penalized if he collides with a motorbike rider, even if the accident is the latter's doing. This should alarm you because at the rate things are going, the Philippines will one day be like Vietnam--a country teeming with crisscrossing motorcycles.

But since we can no longer do anything about the situation, the least we can do is improve riding safety. Question is: How do we do that?

"There are so many driving schools for automotive beginners, but there's not a single dedicated training center for motorcycle riders," laments Doria.

Sure, Doria's former employer, HSDC, also offers motorcycle training, but that's just one-half of the center's focus, the other being car driving. And it's expensive, at around P2,000 for a five-day course.

"An average wage earner who pays a monthly installment of P1,500 for a motorcycle will not be able to afford P2,000 for training," Doria infers. "And they won't skip work for five full days just to train how to properly ride a motorbike. They can't afford the loss of income."

The solution to this, Doria believes, is to make motorcycle training more affordable and more accessible, something Safe T Ryders promises to deliver. Doria's new motorbike training school--located at Ortigas Home Depot on Julia Vargas and which should be fully operational by the end of October--offers a two-day comprehensive (lecture and actual riding) course for just P750. Not only is this cheaper, Doria says, but it also requires less time from the students.

Doria is lobbying for motorcycle training to be made mandatory before a person gets sold a bike. He is also looking at offering his training course to establishments that employ delivery services, such as the fast-food industry. He figures his school is likely to lose money initially, but he doesn't care. He just wants to make a difference in the community.

"I've been talking a lot about the importance of riding safety, but have not done anything about it," Doria concludes. "It’s time to put my money where my mouth is."

Whether we like it or not, motorcycles are here to stay. We can now only hope that the riders we share the road with, have bothered to train for safety. If you personally know a rider, it's your responsibility to at least inform him about Safe T Ryders. Never mind the tacky spelling of the school's name; it will spell the difference between life and death.

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Safe T Ryders

Vernon B. Sarne
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motorcycle riders motorcycle sales Motorcycle Development Program Participants Association Safe T Ryders
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