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Challenges of a Future Bike-Sharing System: Manila

Residents and workers of Bonifacio Global City – (BGC), a trendy mixed use development site at the heart of Metro Manila, will be soon able to commute within the area riding Tutubi ("dragonflies" in Tagalog), the new bikes of a sharing system initiated by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that may expand to the whole metropolitan region of Manila in the future. The name is a clear message against polluting transport practices in the congested capital of the South-East Asian archipelago, which result in the deterioration of the environment. The ADB and supporting NGO Clean Air Asia hope to start a long-term revolution in the mode of transport privileged by commuters of the city, encouraging them to shift from motorized mobility to cycling.

Recently developed BGC benefits from some of the infrastructural prerequisites that make it "bikeable" (adequate street lighting, safety, traffic signals, enforcement of parking rules etc.), and as such was deemed the ideal place in Manila to experiment the project and introduce it to the people. The demonstration will consist of two stations of about 10 bikes each, one located near Market-Market and the other one at the other end of Bonifacio High Street (a liveable and wide pedestrian walkway) to connect the offices to the bus drop off area notably.

Bonifacio High Street

The ADB and Clean Air Asia follow the world trend of implementing a 3rd generation bike sharing system which experienced its first successes in Lyon, France and which is now well anchored in cities such as Paris and Hangzhou, China. Tutubi answers the growing need to make cities greener and more liveable, and could help Manila get rid of its smog in many ways. Bikes can be a relevant alternative to the insane daily congestion, allowing people to save time, to enjoy the sunny weather, and to complete their trips without using their own cars or the polluting jeepneys plying through the city. Additionally, increased physical activity through biking brings significant health benefits that should not be neglected, such as reduced risks of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Establishing a bike-sharing system in Manila however presents tremendous challenges. Changing the mentality of people, who are not accustomed to this mode of transport and may not understand the point of biking, is a priority for the success of the operation. Campaigning and assistance during the demonstration project – which should last a few months in 2013 – will have the mission to make the Tutubi a familiar and essential means of mobility in the eyes of people. The necessary behavioral change will also have to target authorities and business owners who will have a word on the expected introduction of the system in other parts of the city, to make them aware of the benefits of the bike-sharing system (in terms of public health, attractiveness, liveability and revenue potential).

Stakeholders will have to explore how the Tutubi can be implemented at a wider scale in Metro Manila, which does not present an urban core but a scattered development pattern where dangerous highways are the privileged connections between cities. The capital city of the Philippines indeed is a massively sprawled metropolitan region with poor linkage between its cities, making the point of biking highly restricted to a delimited area, while most people commute over several kilometers everyday. The traditional strategies for the implementation of a bike sharing system will have to be rethought to adapt to the local land use context, running the risk of destroying the comprehensive character of a project which is so successful in some countries of Europe.

Metro Manila also raises issues that Paris or Lyon never faced and which might help rethink the bike sharing scheme according to Asian standards. The street in Asia is not the same kind of public space as it is in the Western world: as Professor IEDA and Mrs. MATEO-BABIANO demonstrate in Street Space Renaissance: a Spatio-Historical Survey of Two Asian Cities (2005), "in Europe each component of an urban space has its own function such as the task of the building is to delimit the urban space, the task of the street will be to lead, and the task of the square is to assemble. In general, this is not being practiced in Asia as spaces take on a vertical, multi-functional dimension wherein each function is segregated by time". Conflicts and cohabitation of users on the sidewalks and in the streets is indeed common in Asia, for this reason Tutubi may find obstacles on its way. Nonetheless, the success of the bike-sharing system in Hangzhou proves that this is possible, but clearing the way for bikes often goes with development. Is the bike-sharing system only adapted to developed cities? Lots of lessons are to be learnt from Manila's experience in 2013.