Private motorized transport is a privilege, not a right


Iñigo S. Roces

Over the past couple of weeks, social media has been abuzz with talk about checking one’s privilege. There have been a couple of influential people who have overstepped their boundaries over the less fortunate, which predictably, has led to some backlash from the public.

Whether it’s about looking forward to starting work in the New Year, smearing cake, what brand constitutes as luxury, or complaining about “useless” bike lanes, it’s easy for many of the more privileged of us to forget that some of these conveniences don’t come as easily for others.

Much has already been said about working on New Year’s, smearing cake, or whether one brand’s bags is “luxury” or not, so I’ll focus mainly on complaining about “useless” bike lanes.

Early in the pandemic, the government found itself in a bit of a quandary over how to get essential workers safely to work, with little risk of contracting the virus while in transport. After all, social distancing had been mandated, reducing the effective capacity of most public transport systems, resulting in longer lines for commuters.

The government’s solution was to provide a second option for those with bicycles, a safe space to cycle to work. After all, cycling is typically a solo activity. Being exposed to the elements, particularly the wind, it posed the least possibility of contracting the virus while in transit.

Granted, it took some time to create these bike lanes, and by the time a proper network was established, the spread of the virus was in its decline. Now that the country is returning to normal, some private car owners are beginning to complain about these bike lanes. They say they’re taking up valuable space, causing traffic, and are rather useless now that traffic is back to its peak.

Still, the government has not budged on the bike lanes, keeping them there, and in fact, actively catching motorists that encroach on it.

“But I pay for Road Users Tax,” “I pay vehicle registration,” “I pay for taxed fuel and cars,” many will argue. Let’s not forget that by traveling by private vehicle, we are also opting for our own means of traveling from home to work, despite the presence of the government-provided option: public transport.
Our vehicular infrastructure, after all, was not solely built for private motorists. It was built for public transport and the efficient movement of goods as well. We’re fortunate that the government, together with private entities, has spent a great deal on road infrastructure in the past couple of years. We’ve seen many new bridges, highways, and roads built to efficiently move people and goods, not just private cars. In the greater hierarchy of things, private motorists are actually the last priority.

Of course, yet more will argue, “I choose to take my car because public transport is terrible, inefficient, and crowded.”

Then you’re more than welcome to take your own bicycle to work, which does not require a license, registration, or the payment of road users tax.

Never forget that you’re one of the few fortunate enough to afford a better transport option. There are still many more citizens out there for whom public transport is still a costly proposition. The creation of these designated bike lanes, providing a safe space for cyclists on the road, was a godsend.
To this day, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) continues to remind drivers that having a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right. As license holders, we must abide by whatever rules the government sets forth for driving, and that includes staying out of bike lanes.

Just because something may seem useless or trivial for you, it does not mean it is not vital or a luxury for someone else. It’s that perspective that many of these influential individuals often forget.

(Iñigo S. Roces is the Motoring Editor of Manila Bulletin)