Edward and Lovina work at Philippine General Hospital and while many people were hailing them as heroes labeling them essential, they were struggling just to get to work. Essential workers covers a lot of ground. They are doctors, nurses, security guards, cooks, grocers, food delivery drivers and janitors. Many live miles from where they work and rely on public transportation to commute.
When a public health emergency was declared in the Philippines because of coronavirus, public transportation was still packed with riders. Commuters like Edward and Lovina were risking their lives to crowd onto buses because they didn't own cars. Within a week, the government implemented the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to slow the spread of COVID-19. The ECQ closed non-essential businesses and immediately shut down all public transportation, leaving many essential workers stranded.
Almost immediately, a concerned group of cyclists set up a bike lending program targeting essential workers. Through an online process, Life Cycles helped match lenders and lendees while also raising money to support the cause. Through this program bike owners could loan their bikes to help frontliners get to work. Workers were matched to bikes and given helmets, locks, and reflectors to help keep them safe on the roads.
Bikes for the Philippines (BfP) operated out of warehouse in Manila and had many bikes stored there that could be helpful during this crisis. IF they could access them. BfP, and Director Joel Uichico found themselves caught up in the lockdown. Unlike here, bike shops were not immediately considered essential businesses and mechanics were unable to sell or service bikes. This included BfP. The ECQ was strictly enforced by the military who only allowed people with passes to leave their homes. Joel couldn't get to the warehouse to access those bikes.
Finally by mid-April, BfP connected with the University of the Philippines, Philippine General Hospital Chaplaincy Group to donate the few bikes they had on hand and ready to ride (many still needed repaired). The initial donation of six bikes included bikes for Edward and Lovina who were now both walking more than an hour to work. Alexander (not pictured) is a security guard who also works at PGH. He received a bike from BfP which he shares with a co-worker. When Alexander rides in for his shift, he turns the bike over to the guard he is relieving who then rides it home.
BfP also directed a truck full of bikes to Mindanao where they are scheduled to be donated to a group of essential workers in Davao. They are currently experiencing some issues gaining access to mechanics to service the bikes. They are also working to gain entry to the neighboring community where the essential workers live. Currently the lockdown does not allow travel between communities without special clearance.
The Philippines just moved into the next phase of opening the country which is known as modified ECQ or MECQ. As shopping malls begin to open more employees will be reporting to work, even while public transportation is still not operational. Life Cycles delivered nearly 100 bikes last week to employees at three different shopping areas in Manila.
Even after public transportation becomes fully operational again, many concerned workers may still not feel comfortable using crowded buses and shared taxis. As the threat of COVID-19 lingers, bikes may still be a preferred mode of transportation, bringing weight to the argument that more bike facilities are needed especially in the cities. Armed with that realistic possibility, several different entities, including BfP, banded together to urge the government to recognize the increased number of bikes on the streets and address safety concerns regarding bike commuters. They are asking immediately for pop up bike lanes to help make cyclists more visible and separate from traffic to help cut back on increased accidents. Moving forward, they will continue to fight for cyclists' rights, increased awareness and bike lanes.