This Filipino Entrepreneur Started A Transportation Startup. He Didn't Expect To Become A Social Activist
George Royeca, co-founder of motorbike ride-sharing app Angkas, is a rare thing: a tech founder crying out for regulation. He talks to Gen.T about the fight to pull his industry within the oversight of the law
One out of three Filipinos owns a motorbike, with the livelihood of many low-income families depending on the vehicles. “A motorcycle is the first thing a low-income family invests in for their future to get them out of poverty," says George Royeca, co-founder and chief transport advocate of Angkas, the Philippines' leading motorcycle ride-sharing service.
Dubbed "Uber for bikes", the company set out to help people get from A to B quickly, avoiding the country's notorious traffic jams. That mission soon took on a different hue when the founders saw the extent to which people depended on the vehicles to feed their families. "When we started Angkas, we didn’t know the extent of how many people this affected," says Royeca. "It shocked me to the core.”
Angkas currently has 27,000 accredited drivers on its platform, according to its most recently published figures. With 18 million motorcycle taxi owners in the country, the potential impact of the startup on the industry is huge. "Our mantra is to change mindsets. If you give the Filipino the proper tools, they will become productive citizens of our country. This is what we are fighting for,” he says.
Angkas' first fight is for the legalisation of motorcycle taxis in the Philippines. Although hailing a motorbike cab, known as habal habal, is a common mode of transport in the country, they are currently unlicensed and illegal. “For every 18 motorcycles, there is one car. Can you believe that? With that many people on motorcycles, there is a need for laws to protect the drivers and the riders,” says Royeca.
The legal grey area causes stress and uncertainty in the event of accidents or disputes, he says. “All of that was up in the air before Angkas entered the market,” he says. In response, the company lobbied for the Angkas Bill to be passed by the government, professionalising motorcycles as a form of transport.
It's a road well travelled. Over the last two decades, more than 20 bills trying to legalise motorcycle taxis have failed. The Angkas Bill got closer than any other, almost going all the way. The fight goes on.
Many of the challenges Angkas has faced are rooted in the stigma around motorcycles in the Philippines—the vehicles are associated with reckless driving. Changing the narrative, and changing mindsets, is what the startup is striving to achieve.
Alongside changing minds, Angkas is also investing in professionalising the industry. To become Angkas accredited, bikers go through stringent background checks, safety training, Covid-19 preparedness training and skills assessments. Their motorcycles are also quality-checked to ensure passenger safety.
“Everyone who drives a car passes a driving test, right? The big players sell two million motorcycles a year, but there was only one school that provided motorcycle driving tests in the country before Angkas came around, says Royeca. "These schools are not free and are thus not accessible to low-income families.
“Half or more of the people who buy the bike, ride it for the first time when they take it out of the dealership. You can be issued the license to ride the motorcycle, but they don’t teach out how to ride it. It is an institutional defect.”
Angkas provides training to anyone who asks for it. “We train our riders for free—[we've] trained over 120,000 bikers but have only onboarded 30,000. In truth, we fail more than 70 percent,” he says.
Not waiting for an invitation, Angkas has seized the initiative. Through its advocacy, government lobbying and training, the startup is taking an unregulated industry, one that represents a not insignificant portion of the Philippine economy, and dragging it back from the fringes of the law.
“A lot of people talk about new normal. Many businesses wait for things to normalise. But I am a firm believer in action and co-creation. You can’t just wait, because there is no expert on the new normal—no one has been here before.”