Navigating Through Manila’s Traffic Mess
Nov 21, 2019

The motorcycle-based ride-hailing app Angkas is redefining the way Filipinos get around the Metro. With over three million app downloads and 27,000 registered drivers, it has become an increasingly popular mode of transport thanks to its efficiency and relative affordability.

Angeline Tham, the company’s Singaporean-born CEO, founded Angkas in 2016 after being stuck in Metro Manila traffic for six hours and being late to three different meetings. She quickly recognised the need for speedy and convenient transportation in urban spaces, and sought to provide a solution for the city’s worsening traffic problem.

She was right on the money. In the three years since its launch, Angkas has exploded in popularity, challenging top industry players such as the Singaporean-owned Grab. Despite two attempts by the government to shut down its operations, Angkas is still gaining ground as more and more Filipinos hop on and make motorcycles their transport of choice.

“Worst traffic in the world”

Getting around an overcrowded city like Metro Manila is a challenge, to say the least. A 2017 study by transportation tech giant Uber reveals that Filipinos spend an average of one hour and six minutes in traffic each day, or roughly 16 days a year.

Another study by the navigation app Waze finds that it takes five minutes for a motorist to travel one kilometer by car in the city, making Metro Manila the “worst city to drive in.”

Experts suspect that the main culprit is congestion. As of 2019, around 13.6 million people live in the country’s capital with around 42,857 people per square kilometer, making it the world’s most densely populated city.

Making matters worse is Metro Manila’s volume of cars – according to the Land Transportation Office, over 1.6 million manual vehicles are registered in the Philippines’ Capital Region.

It also doesn’t help how little public transportation has improved in the past forty years. According to Rappler, the Metro Railway Transit (MRT) system recorded 449 offloading incidents in 2017, where passengers had to alight from stalled trains and walk along the train tracks. In 2018, the MRT suffered from almost daily breakdowns.

Manila isn’t called “the world’s biggest parking lot” for nothing.

One for the road

Grab is currently the biggest ride-sharing company in the Philippines. This status was solidified in early 2018, when it bought out its competitor Uber’s Southeast Asian business, allowing it to monopolise the market. The results? Sky-high passenger fares and what appears to be a devil-may care attitude towards government regulations.

Grab’s chokehold on the ride-hailing market and the city’s persistent traffic woes make commuting around the Metro both a dreaded and wasteful experience for millions. According to CNN Philippines, the country loses 3.5 billion pesos (around $69 million) a day due to Metro Manila traffic.

The people’s choice

Enter Angkas. With its millions of riders, the app is steadily becoming a favourite mode of transport for Manila-based commuters. This is largely in part due to the speedy and efficient nature of motorcycles and how they can snake through traffic and significantly cut down travel time.

“It’s more convenient, especially when it comes to traffic. Although it can get congested, they find ways to slip through the roads. It’s also way cheaper, especially when compared to Grab and their expensive surge price,” says one regular Angkas user.

“Being stuck in heavy traffic gives me anxiety, especially when I think about everything else I can do with the time I spend traveling,” another Angkas rider says, adding “that’s why Angkas is my preferred mode of transportation – it’s more efficient, cheap, and I’m almost never not moving.”

“Hygiene is also really important to me, which is why I appreciate that they provide surgical caps and masks,” she notes.

Of course, motorcycles aren’t exactly a new-fangled concept for Filipino commuters. Habal-habal, an informal (and illegal) motorcycle-taxi service, has operated for decades in the country. But according to Tham, this is where Angkas can shine – by offering a legitimised motorcycle-based commuter experience.

“We are looking at new and innovative ways of doing things. People riding bikes, it’s been around for a long time. We want to make it more professional and safer,” she said in an interview with ABS-CBN News.

To this end, Angkas drivers must undergo a rigorous training process in both driving and customer service. Company standards seem to be fairly high: of 60,000 driver applicants, so far only 27,000 have made the cut.

Competitive pricing also makes Angkas appealing. With a minimum base fare of 50 pesos ($0.98) for the first two kilometers and ten pesos ($0.2) for each succeeding kilometer, Angkas fares easily trump those of Grab.


Still, others are not so easily impressed.

In November 2017, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board suspended the ride-sharing service’s operations because it had no business permit, leading Tham and her board to temporarily rebrand the company as a parcel delivery service.

In December 2018, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against Angkas due to safety concerns.

Despite these setbacks, demand for Angkas remains high. And thankfully for Manila’s tide of commuters, the Department of Transportation allowed the company to resume Metro Manila operations on a provisional basis in May 2019.

A transportation trailblazer

Tham, who used to work for Grab Philippines, stresses that Angkas’ foremost goal is to provide Metro Manila with a tangible solution to the transport crisis. For her, this begins with debunking the myth that motorcycles are unsafe.

“When government says that motorcycles are really dangerous, I think the danger is not the motorcycle itself, because the motorcycle can be ridden in a way that is safe and responsible,” she said, speaking with ABS-CBN News.

After that, it’s all about expansion. Currently, Angkas plans to extend its operations to provincial areas. They have already embarked on a six-month pilot test in Metro Cebu, but they are looking to enter the transportation markets in Davao City, Cagayan de Oro and Batangas.

Additionally, Tham looks forward to launching Angkas Buhay, the country’s first motorcycle-based ambulance emergency service. Fully-trained drivers will stabilise patients until secondary medical support comes.

More motorcycle-based taxi services are set to enter the Philippine market, such as the Indonesian-owned Gojek and the homegrown Sampa. But Angkas clearly has a head start. Not only have they a few years of strong positioning and delivering on their promise, they’ve brought hope to millions that traffic can be overcome, one motorcycle ride at a time.

By Jeremiah Capacillo