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Working together for grassroots reform

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Bike lanes along EDSA

Keisha Mayuga is an urban planner and biking advocate who found herself at the center of the biggest transport crisis in Metro Manila when the government shut down all public transportation to contain COVID-19. Keisha became an active voice in the Move as One coalition, an Australia-supported organization, who worked for landmark legislation and policies for active mobility in the Philippines.

Keisha’s lifelong goal is to get people home in under 30 minutes – “faster than your pizza delivery”, she jokes. Fueled by that dream, she changed careers, shifted industries, enrolled for a graduate program in urban planning, led bike donation drives, and became an active proponent for bike lanes. And she’s just getting started.

COVID-19, Bike Lanes, and a More Liveable City

On EDSA, Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare, cars are king, but traffic lords everyone. The road is a notorious contributor to three-hour commutes that some estimate cost the Philippine economy as much as PhP 3.5 billion (AUD 100 million) a day in potential income.

During one of those hour-long traffic jams then 23-year-old Keisha Mayuga started dreaming of the impossible – what would it take to get people home in under 30 minutes?

“It’s not healthy or productive for people to be stuck in traffic two to three hours one way. That’s six hours a day, or one-fourth of your day wasted…especially for people who have families. So, I thought I want to be part of this movement. I want to improve transportation here in the Philippines.”

Keisha moved fast and shifted gears. She resigned from her job and enrolled in a Master’s degree in urban and regional planning in the University of the Philippines (UP). Keisha then started working for UP Bike Share, a pioneering student-led bike-sharing program. It was 2017, and Keisha was already seeing biking as the possible balm for Metro Manila’s worsening traffic.

She started biking everywhere, from Cavite to Quezon City, covering 33 km distances on her bike. Keisha was slowly gaining recognition for promoting cycling as she pedaled through Metro Manila’s dense traffic.

But then, the pandemic hit. “When the government announced that there was no mass transportation, I cried knowing that there were millions of people who are going to be stranded, who won’t get to work or go home because there’s no mass transport. I cried for a good hour, but then, I realized that I couldn’t stop there”, she said.

Within 20 hours, Keisha launched Life Cycles PH, a bike donation drive for those with no other means of going home due to the transport restrictions. “We started giving bikes to frontliners, and so far, we’ve delivered more than 1,000 bikes to more than 50 institutions,” shares Keisha.

But without protected bike lanes, the roads were still not ready for bikers.

Riding As One: Bayanihan for Faster, Safer Transportation

Keisha, one of the country’s few urban planners focusing on active transport, lent her expertise on the issue of bike lanes. The coalition became a common platform to advocate solutions for better mobility in the metro.

“Because of Move as One, everybody got more organized with how we approach things. We were already working on it before, but have been approaching it differently,” Keisha said.

In seven months, Keisha and Move as One have shifted the public perception on active transport – resulting in a spur of government legislations.

“Before the pandemic I would count 15 bikers before I saw a female cyclist. Now it’s one out of three, and most of them are frontliners,” she shared.

Keisha is happy to see not just frontliners biking to work – “people who used to drive cars are now buying bikes to get around. It’s just really amazing how cross-cutting cycling is becoming,” she added.

Keisha found her community in Move as One, a coalition started by a group of passionate advocates for a safer and more inclusive public transport. It is supported in part by the Australian Embassy and The Asia Foundation. It was Move as One that encouraged the inclusion of a funding provision to build protected bike lanes under the Bayanihan Recover as One or Bayanihan 2 Law, signed by President Duterte on 11 September 2020.

In a recent study by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), 78% of bikers indicated that they would still use bicycles to work, even if there were other accessible forms of transportation.

“Joining the Move as One taught me how to look at active mobility at a policy-wide and national level to see how it all trickles down to the cyclists. Whether it’s the daily cyclists, the enthusiasts, us policy-advocates, or the policymakers themselves – everybody plays a big part in creating this cycling culture in our country that’s just been waiting to boom,” she said.

In 2017, Keisha dreamed of getting people home in under 30 minutes. Along the way, she helped make bike lanes on EDSA a reality. She now has her eyes set on a new goal – creating a sustainable and integrated transport system in the Philippines. With leaders like Keisha dreaming and doing, this goal looks more achievable than ever.

Australia supports grassroots and community leaders such as those working to address people’s mobility in the metro during the pandemic. In the spirit of bayanihan, Australia has supported local initiatives that spur change, improving the economic and social lives of Filipinos.

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