For many Filipinos, commuting is the way to go when traveling around Metro Manila, especially to those who work. But as the pandemic hit in early 2020, many forms of mass transportation were suspended due to the lockdown being imposed on many parts of the Philippines, including Metro Manila. Luckily, work-from-home was a possibility to some workers so they could avoid the virus and have the ease of working at the comfort of their own homes, but to some, it left them with little to no options as to how they will continue to go to their on-site work.
With the decline of public transportation, however, many Filipinos began switching to bicycles to pedal their way to work. Using bikes cut down the hours of sitting in jeeps and standing in buses for many commuters and gave cyclists a sense of safety from the virus, as there is no longer any need to share breathing room with strangers. This method almost looked like a perfect situation where Filipinos adapt to the current circumstance, but to other commuters, such as frontliners, owning a bike was often still a luxury.
Solving the country’s mobility problems through cycling
In the new book Planting Greatness: Organizations Accelerating Social Impact in the Philippines, cyclist Carlo P. Carlon saw medical frontliners struggling to go to work due to a lack of any form of transportation. To combat this, Carlon started the Lend-A-Bike Project back in March 2020. The project aimed to aid medical frontliners by providing them bicycles as an alternative way to get to hospitals. Carlon kickstarted the project by outsourcing bikes from his cycling friends on Facebook, which he could then lend to medical frontliners. Eventually, he created a Facebook group where bike lenders and borrowers could interact with each other.
The project later expanded from Carlon’s inner circle to strangers who also wanted to lend their bikes and other members who wished to borrow a bike to go to their respective workplaces. This proved to be successful for Lend-A-Bike but later faced a challenge as there were more borrowers than bike lenders. To resolve this, Carlon organized a fundraiser and purchased bikes that were later lent to 29 hospitals and the local government of Cainta. The project continued to flourish and helped many more frontline workers to get to work during the pandemic.
Because of this, Carlon has converted many non-cycling hobbyists into full-time cyclists themselves. Some of their borrowers found it so beneficial to use a bike, that they eventually saved up and purchased their very own bikes, giving them a more permanent way of traveling to work. In 2021, there was a continued surge in demand and sales of bicycles due to more people wanting a safer and healthier way to get to their destinations. Many local cycling groups on Facebook have also persuaded their friends and colleagues to start commuting by bike. Cycling has definitely become an alternative way to travel around in the new normal.
Not only does cycling give travelers a sense of security from getting infected with COVID-19, but it also has general health benefits such as losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, and even easing your mental health from all the stress, especially during a pandemic. As mentioned earlier, cycling has also proven to save time when commuting. In the Philippines, a 30-minute trip would take 50% longer or possibly even more if you’re in a public transport vehicle due to the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic and long lines at the terminal that plague Metro Manila every rush hour. This is why many Filipinos started to commute on bikes to beat traffic and have more personal time instead of getting stuck in a crowded road.
The emergence of bike culture in the Philippines shouldn’t be a bump in history—something that was only necessary during the pandemic. With an increasing number of cyclists, as well as local mandates and guidelines for the betterment of their safety, people are beginning to embrace the idea of bikes as a permanent mode of transportation.
Want to discover more leaders who want to change the Philippines for the better?. Check out Planting Greatness: Organizations Accelerating Social Impact in the Philippines to learn about other change-makers making a difference in the Philippines.