Tackling Equity on the Roads

Quezon City, Philippines

For Arielle Celine Tabinga, the car-centric mindset just doesn’t make sense. According to one study, around nine out of 10 (88%) of Filipino households in metro Manila do not own cars. Yet, the vast majority of the city's roads and infrastructure are designed for, well, cars. 

She knew there was a better way. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has gotten more people cycling and walking. The pandemic had also proven a wakeup call for the need for alternative approaches, after medical frontliners and essential workers had very limited means of getting home after their life-saving duties when public transit was suspended. 

Celine recognized that if more people had the means to choose active forms of transport, the shift could have a bigger impact not just on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also on improving the air quality of cities and day-to-day lives of citizens. She saw that rethinking cities’ priorities on moving people instead of cars will help make communities more accessible, inclusive, and equitable especially for the most vulnerable – by freeing up seats for pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly on public transportation.

Celine also knew that the shift to active mobility will be very challenging for many immersed in a car-centric culture. Working with fellow mobility advocates at The Climate Reality Project Philippines, the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, 350.org Pilipinas, MNL Moves, and the Pinay Bike Commuter Community last 2020, she began coordinating the convening of the Mobility Awards to challenge local government units, private companies, and businesses to do more  in making cities more bike- and pedestrian-friendly for hardworking Filipinos. 

The Mobility Awards promotes active competition by challenging citizens to recognize acts of leadership of exemplary  local governments, employers, and businesses who are creating safer, more inclusive, efficient, accessible, and sustainable communities. In its second year, the Mobility Awards worked with 27 local partners from different civic groups and non-government organizations and the League of Cities of the Philippines to roll out the nationwide leg.  

Working with local governments and partners, advocates mobilized more than 600 volunteers to count people on bicycles in nine cities during peak hours in key streets and thoroughfares. For some of these volunteers, the platform has become their way of giving back to their cities and helping fellow cyclists. The data to be collected are being used to help planning and funding for bike lanes in partner cities.

According to Celine, progress is happening. Some forward-looking city leaders are openly coordinating efforts for inter-city bike lane networks. Businesses are stepping up by providing more facilities and infrastructure for cyclists, pedestrians, and other low-carbon transport users. Civil society groups are also working to change public attitudes, and today, 87% of Filipinos say they want the government to prioritize investments in public transportation, walking, and cycling.

So after this incredible success, what would Celine tell other mobility advocates?

"Engage and collaborate with people, public leaders and the private sector. Citizens and civic groups are important agents of change when it comes to promoting and sustaining the movement that is advancing better, inclusive, reliable and resilient mobility. If streets are the spaces for the civil society and broader community to assert democratic ideals, we have to make ‘those who have less on wheels, have more space on the road’ as everyone counts and everyone matters.”

Together let’s organize bike counts and challenge our leaders and businesses to make our streets more bicycle and climate-friendly.

In Their Own Words

What was the problem you saw and which of the solution areas does it relate to?

According to the 2015 JICA-MUCEP study, 88% of Filipinos households in metro Manila do not own cars. And yet, our infrastructure, especially our road systems, are designed not for them in mind but to cater to needs of cars and move vehicle traffic. 

Now more than ever, cycling and the prioritization of pedestrian needs are gaining national prominence as safe, empowering, cost-effective, practical, democratic, and efficient transport modes due to limitations brought by this pandemic. This is where efforts to promote and enable active mobility (or cycling and walking) is central because not only does it abate emissions and tap into concerns for sustainability, but more importantly it takes into consideration issues of equity and accessibility. 

What was your idea to solve it and the end result you wanted to achieve?

The pandemic has shown the value of cycling and walking. With the Mobility Awards, we wanted to take this opportunity to further promote active transport by highlighting and supporting initiatives of proactive local governments and private sector who are making strides in making conditions for cyclists and pedestrians safer, convenient, and efficient. It also aims to challenge and promote positive competition among local government units, employers, and businesses to do more in enabling the mobility of the majority of Filipino families.

Why is this solution important to your country and community?

Safe mobility is a basic human right. If cities are built to be accessible to children, elderly, pregnant women and persons with disability – meaning safe for pedestrians and bicycles, then we can be assured that it will become accessible to everyone while also encompassing a spectrum of benefits ranging from health, safety, and livability benefits to economic and environmental contributions.

What were the biggest challenges you faced/ran into?

It’s hard to sustain the movement especially in the absence of popular support. Therefore, addressing mobility challenges must also be a cultural approach. This will require change in the collective mindset of communities and a long-term commitment from policymakers, the private sector, and civic groups.

How did you mobilize people to take actions?

Through public nominations, we wanted to amplify the voices of the public by promoting a culture of feedback, data generation, and collaboration that can encourage local governments and businesses to invest in pedestrian and cycling-friendly infrastructure and systems. 

Who were key stakeholders/partners that worked with you?

The Mobility Awards, in collaboration with civic groups and local partners, aim to inspire action, involvement, and coordination among local government units, workplaces, and establishments that want to improve conditions for urban mobility. This is our way of accelerating and mobilizing support for government's programs promoting active transport and inclusive mobility. We aim to recognize leaders – those who have been contributing to the movement early on and those who have been responsive to the changing times by offering forward-looking ideas that help embrace cycling and other means of inclusive, active mobility.

What insight, ideas, or suggestions would you offer someone looking to take action in a similar way?

Engage and collaborate with people on the ground. Civic groups and citizens are important agents of change when it comes to promoting and sustaining the movement on active mobility. A strong sense of civil society can motivate the broader community in supporting the call for safer and more inclusive streets. 

How did this project you created promote equity or justice in your community?

By highlighting the call of 87% of Filipinos (SWS Survey) who want to prioritize public transportation, pedestrianization, and cycling, we are pushing for safer, more inclusive, and cleaner ways to move around.