Motorcycles are considered one of the safer modes of personal transport amid the CoViD-19 pandemic.
Many health experts agree that it is almost impossible to get infected by the coronavirus while riding a motorcycle in open air, wearing mask or balaclava, and the mandated helmet with visor.
They also agree that there is a much greater chance for passengers riding in airconditioned vehicle, especially in sedans, breathing in recirculated air to spread or get infected by viruses.
However, safety against the spread of viruses while riding-in-tandem is still up for debate, at least within the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
Angkas, the local pioneer of app-based motorcycle taxi services, wants to weigh in that debate.
In areas under general community quarantine (GCQ), riding-in-tandem is now allowed by the IATF but only for married couples and live-in partners living in the same domicile. And they have to use a shield or barrier of approved design to prevent contagion.
The IATF has approved two designs, one proposed by Bohol Governor Arthur Yap which calls for a clear acrylic shield framed by metal tubes affixed to the motorcycle.
The other submitted by Angkas uses a shield made of high-density plastic and worn like a backpack with strategically placed grips for passengers to hold onto.
In designing the prototype shield, Angkas consulted with Lee Parks, president of Total Control Training in California, a multi-awarded and well-established institution for motorcycle safety.
At a recent online press conference, Parks said the Angkas-design met all his concerns about placing a protective barrier between rider and pillion passenger on a motorcycle, including how the barrier would affect motorcycle ride and handling.
Parks came to Manila to test the use of the Motorcycle Passenger Shield both as rider and as passenger, and found it to be safe.
“It’s really light, it’s less than one kilogram. It needed to be clear enough [so people can] have visibility, looking through it,” he said. “And when when the bike accelerates, the passenger can hold on to the handles at the bottom of shield.”
Parks added that while the shield can firmly maintain its shape during a ride, it remains pliable in case of a crash, providing safety to rider and pillion passenger.
In coming up with its Motorcycle Passenger Shield, Angkas meant to put another barrier against contagion aside from the protection of helmets, masks and balaclavas, according to Walter Wong, Angkas Head of Marketing and Special Projects.
“It blocks the virus. You have a driver facing one way; transmission would be from passenger to driver. However, we want to make sure that it does not add to risks when it comes to road safety,” said Wong.
Angkas partnered with the University of the Philippines-College of Public Health (UP-CPH), to come up with recommendations on how to make motorcycle taxi services relatively safe amid the CoViD-19 pandemic.
At the digital conference, Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr., UP-CPH Dean, indicated a barrier between rider and passenger is just one of aspect of protocols for the safe resumption of motorcycle taxi operations.
The others include disinfection of motorcycles after each use, at least the frequently touched surfaces, handwashing or use of sanitizing gels, passengers using own helmets, wearing of masks, and cashless transactions.
Angkas chief transport advocate, George Royeca, said that the use of the shield should be complemented by public behavior that conforms to health protocols.
Angkas wants to continue working with government to find ways to make motorcycle taxi operations safe.
“Angkas has always been about collaboration. Let us help each other in a collaborative effort to create a new world. Hopefully, we can live in this new world relatively safe,” Royeca said.
There is always a risk of infection when taking public transport. The most important thing is reducing the risk to levels acceptable to health and other safety experts. Every mode of public transport allowed to operate, do so under protocols mandated by the IATF to reduce risk of spreading the contagion. Motorcycle taxis should be given the same consideration to operate. The community and the economy need as many safe and efficient public transport modes to survive and overcome the pandemic.