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From his New Manila home, bicycle enthusiast Jojo Gutierrez used to ride a jeepney to LRT-2’s Gilmore train station. These days, however, he has been happily pedaling his way to and from any LRT train station to reach his destination for the day. Anyone who has a folding bike can easily follow Gutierrez’s tracks, thanks to the “Bike On, Bike Off" or “Bike O2" project of the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) that was launched last Nov. 8. The project allows passengers to bring foldable bicycles inside the train to cut travel time and lessen carbon emissions from motor vehicles. “We are able to save on transportation costs by using bikes as an alternative to cars," said Gutierrez, who heads the University of the Philippines’ Mountaineers Padyak Project. “The project’s also good for the health because it promotes exercise, and for the environment because it reduces pollution." Under the novel scheme, the last coach of every train has been dubbed as the “green zone" to accommodate folding bike users at no extra cost. [See: Guidelines for Bike O2 project] The LRT has two routes: the LRT-Line 1 (yellow line) that stretches from Baclaran in Parañaque City to Monumento in Caloocan City, and LRT-Line 2 (purple line) that starts from Recto in Manila City and ends at Santolan in Marikina City. Businessman-cyclist Pio Fortuno also waxes enthusiasm about the new opportunity. “If we can convince one person to leave his car and use the bike instead to go the LRT, that’s one less car off the road. It lessens the traffic and we have better air," he said. Fortuno is a member of Padyak as wells as the Firefly Brigade, a group of bicycle enthusiasts. They are now starting to organize the Tiklop Society, which promotes the use of folding bikes to ply Manila’s streets. A former resident of New York City, Fortuno said the Bike 02 project in the Philippines is the realization of a dream. “I used to take the subway in New York, where I first experienced something like this. I once dreamed that this will come true in Manila," he enthuses. While he acknowledges some difficulties, such as having to squeeze in the foldable bikes inside the train during rush hours, Fortuno said the benefits far outweigh them. “So far, everything has been positive. Everything is do-able. You can also prevent the minor inconveniences because the bikes can fit between your legs," Fortuno said. Only four bikes are allowed if the coach is too crowded. To cope with Manila’s chaotic traffic and undisciplined drivers, Gutierrez said the UP Padyak is also thinking of ways to reduce the risks for cyclists as they pedal around the city’s streets. “We have been plotting safe routes for the bikers to avoid vehicles making a mad dash on the streets," he said.
In a statement, LRTA administrator Melquiades Robles enjoined motorists to leave their vehicles at home, hop into the trains, and use bikes instead of walking when going to their destinations. “While one can use the LRT and enjoy economy and speed, one still has to walk to his intended destination. But with the Bike-O2, you can enjoy fast, efficient, economical and environmental friendly mode of transportation while at the same time giving you the same personal mobility that you enjoy with a car, not to mention the health and environmental benefits that you will gain from it," Robles said. No plans for MRT yet Meanwhile, the Manila Rail Transit (MRT) has no plans yet of creating an eco-friendly project similar to the LRTA’s initiative. In a telephone interview with GMANews.TV, MRT-Line 3’s public relations officer Lysa Blancaflor said, “Sa ngayon, hindi pa napapag-usapan talaga (As of now, it has not been discussed yet)." The MRT-3 (blue line) traverses the Epifanio delos Santos Avenue and has 13 stations from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City. Blancaflor said the MRT’s congested trains prevent the transport system from implementing a project. According to MRT records, during the month of September 2009, the blue line carried 12.69 million passengers, with a daily average of 423,152 passengers. The figure is just slightly lower than that for the LRT’s yellow line, which carried 12.85 million passengers for the same month. In contrast, the purple line had only 5.27 million passengers during the same period. The LRTA has no data of daily average number of passion both lines’ daily ridership average. Blancaflor said the MRT considers bicycles, even foldable ones, as “bulky items" that are prohibited inside the trains. “Bulky items take up the space that can be occupied by one person, and the foldable bikes take up the same amount of space," she said. Blancaflor said allowing the bicycles inside their coaches would only aggravate the congestion problem in the mass transport system. Interestingly, the LRT is able to carry bikes even though its Line 1 has more passengers than the MRT. - GMANews.TV
Cyclists are enthused that the LRT Yellow and Purple lines have gone "green" by allowing them to hop onto the trains with their folding bikes in tow. Pio Fortuno and John Siron