The disruption to public transportation brought by the repeated declarations of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to the COVID19 pandemic cannot be overemphasized. The resulting suffering that these stoppages have caused to the livelihoods and day-to-day commute of thousands of Metro Manila residents are chronicled extensively in social media. My heart breaks whenever I come through such posts or reports of so much misery in our roads. Close to heart is one of our security guards in my office who has to walk around 10 kilometers to his residence near Batasan or a good 20 kilometers roundtrip. As the jeepneys and buses plying the route along Commonwealth Ave. have dwindled in numbers and with very limited seating, he has, most of the time, made to walk the distance as he is also afraid to contract the Covid-19 virus. Multiply his daily experience a thousand, or a million times and you can imagine the economic loss to the economy of such wasted hours of walking by our countrymen when they can do more productive things.
Which brings me to the subject of alternate transportation which is why bicycles are making the news not only in transportation circles but more so in the economic and business headlines around the globe. For example, from an Irish news site which announced that, “The global market for bicycles is expected to reach US$ 82.3 billion by the year 2027, trailing a post Covid-19 CAGR of 6% over the analysis period 2020 through 2027. An interesting fallout of the pandemic and the associated restrictions imposed by various countries is increased interest in cycling. People are avoiding public transit given the infection risk leading to a mini bicycle boom, enabling bike riding to emerge into an effective alternative to crowded public transit, while simultaneously allowing people to engage in physical exercise while conforming to social distancing guidelines.”
I have seen how European cities for example, have embraced the bicycle as a principal people mover with bike lanes set up in all their streets and even side roads such as in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo. I could not help but reminisce wistfully in those pre-pandemic times when I can see hundreds of bike riders breezing through city streets fully confident that their ride would be safe and well secured not only because the biking lanes are clearly marked but also due to the respect and courtesy that motorists exhibit vis-à-vis the biking crowd. As press reports have it, “Bicycle sales are further propelled by decisions of various countries, mainly in Europe, to provide bike buyers with attractive subsidies. In addition, several cities are looking forward to new and extensive bike lanes. Customer optimism regarding bikes is also enabling manufacturers to enjoy immense gains.”
On another front, biking is also considered by scientists as making a significant impact on how countries could cope with the threat of climate change. According to a press report, “Transport is one of the most challenging sectors to ‘decarbonise’ due to its heavy fossil fuel use and reliance on carbon-intensive infrastructure — such as roads, airports and the vehicles themselves — and the way it embeds car-dependent lifestyles. One way to reduce transport emissions relatively quickly, and potentially globally, is to swap cars for cycling, e-biking and walking — active travel… Active travel is cheaper, healthier, better for the environment, and no slower on congested urban streets. So how much carbon can it save on a daily basis? And what is its role in reducing emissions from transport overall?”
According to research data from the University of Oxford, “We observed around 4,000 people living in London, Antwerp, Barcelona, Vienna, Orebro, Rome and Zurich. Over a two-year period, our participants completed 10,000 travel diary entries which served as records of all the trips they made each day, whether going to work by train, taking the kids to school by car or riding the bus into town. For each trip, we calculated the carbon footprint. Strikingly, people who cycled on a daily basis had 84 percent lower carbon emissions from all their daily travel than those who didn’t. We also found that the average person who shifted from car to bike for just one day a week cut their carbon footprint by 3.2kg of CO2 — equivalent to the emissions from driving a car for 10 km…we found that emissions from cycling can be more than 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car, and about ten times lower than driving an electric one.”
So, there you have it, in terms of a more practical and safe transportation means in these pandemic times, the bicycle offers a solution to lessen the people’s misery and suffering but our government authorities have to put in the adequate support and policy guidance to make this alternative transport system work not just for a handful of people but for the masses as a whole. In the long term, such policy measures in support of bicycle transportation or active travel will redound to the benefit of Mother Earth and our efforts to combat climate change. As for our security guard at our office building, I’m looking for a second-hand bicycle and biking helmet that he can use.