Habal-habal: A Guide to Cebu’s Motorcycle Taxis

Latest Updates:

March 16, 2020: Angkas and Habal-Habal (motorcycle taxis) temporarily suspended due to the implementation of social distancing as preventive measure of Covid-19.

January 21, 2020: Angkas stays in Cebu, for now. The TWG overseeing the pilot run decides to continue studying the safety of the motorcycle-for-hires after several lawmakers urged them to continue the pilot run during the Senate hearing.

Read full news here: SunStar Cebu

January 20, 2020:  Motorcycle taxis will be banned starting next week, after the TWG decides to cut short the pilot run for motorcyle-for-hires.

Read full news here: CNN Philippines

Habal-habal or motorcycle taxis are ubiquitous in Cebu. They’re the new ‘King of the Road,’ a title long held by jeepneys. People new to Cebu and Habal-habal motorcycles also find them confusing, and have lots of questions. How do you hail one? How much do you pay per ride? Do you negotiate and when? Is it dangerous? Do they always have a helmet? Is it legal? Read that and more in our guide!  

A reason for the popularity of Habal-habal motorcycles is Cebu’s grave traffic condition. Habal-habal rides allow you to side-step the traffic problem as the driver will easily weave through the flood of slow-moving cars and find faster routes that no four-wheeled vehicle can take. That way you both beat the traffic and you usually pay a cheaper price than with taxi.

Whether you’re coming in to Cebu for a short visit or for a long-term stay, you’ll be acquainted with habal2 soon enough. For example, if you’re visiting during tent-pole events like the Sinulog Festival, getting a taxi in the city or hitching on a jeepney is close to impossible. If you have to go to work or school on regular hours, you’ll find there’s no better conveyance.

What’s the Meaning of Habal-Habal?

“Habal” is a Visayan term for the mating act of animals. But how does that relate to the motorcycle taxi?

Until recently, habal-habals are used to transport people and goods over rough terrains or areas unserviceable to public transport vehicles. You won’t see them in and around the city. These motorcycles have an extended rear or wooden plank seats attached to accommodate as many as six passengers at a time (yes, that makes seven including the driver!).

The crammed sitting position of the riders somewhat resembles a bunch of animals copulating (*snort*), and with the Visayans’ knack for doubling a word to diminish its meaning, the term “habal-habal” is coined. And in the best Filipino tradition of shortening words, you sometimes see “habal2”, too.

Most habal-habals in the city no longer sport the odd rear contraption, so they look like any other motorcycle navigating the streets. In fact, city habal-habals are allowed to carry only one passenger at a time. But at night when there are no traffic enforcers in sight, some drivers take advantage and carry at least two passengers at once. It makes sense because there are fewer taxis and jeepneys plying past midnight, so more passengers are in need of a ride.

How to Hail a Habal-habal and when to negotiate a price

Habal-habals don’t have designated terminals, but you’ll usually find them near or in front of schools, churches, wet markets, malls and business centers like I.T. Park and Cebu Business Park. Some cruise the major streets in search of passengers.

The drivers are required to wear a helmet and provide one for their passenger, so you can tell a motorcycle taxi just by that extra helmet dangling on the handlebar or the driver’s arm.

To get a ride, simply wave at a driver and tell them where you’re headed. Sometimes drivers will approach you instead, asking if you need a ride. You’ll be greeted with “Habal-habal, ma’am/sir?”

It’s customary to figure out the price before getting on. It helps when you’re familiar with your destination and the going rate because this gives you a chance to haggle. Generally, though, foreigners are charged more than locals.

What’s a fair fare and what’s not?

Habal-habals are generally unregulated, so the fares can be pretty inconsistent. Different drivers may charge differently for the same route. Fares also increase with demand. So on rainy days and rush hours, drivers tend to charge more because they know a lot of passengers are desperate for a quick way to get home or go to work.

Basically, a 2-kilometer ride will cost around P50. But since there are no standard rates to speak of, let’s discuss the average prices for the usual routes instead:

  • Ayala to I.T. Park – P30 ($0.57)
  • Maria Luisa Road to I.T. Park – P70 ($1.33)
  • I.T. Park to SM City – P70 ($1.33)
  • Ayala to SM Seaside – P120 – P150 ($2.3 – $2.8)

Some drivers, who have organized themselves to appear more ‘professional’, have their own terminal and ply a specific route. They also have standardized rates and follow a code of conduct. An example of this is the 2k15 Cebu Riders Association Inc. members have the Cemobahada sticker on their motorcycles to show that they’re registered. From their terminal, they charge P15 to SM Seaside, P50 to downtown Cebu, P100 to I.T. Park, and P300 to Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

If you’re a tourist visiting a far-flung attraction, you can book a habal-habal ride for a round trip and pay additional hourly rate for the waiting time. Here’s an example scenario: If you’re going to popular tourist attractions in the Busay Transcentral Highway like TOPS Lookout, Temple of Leah or Sirao Flower Garden, the price from JY Centre Mall is P400 roundtrip + P100-200 hourly waiting fee (for 2 persons).  

Are Habal-Habal Safe?

This isn’t meant to scare you but to inform you. Without sugar-coating the facts, habal-habals are unsafe. You’ll likely hear or read cautionary tales against riding them – from passengers getting thrown off, to stories of assault and gruesome accidents. Although these tales needn’t generalize the trade, they tell of the dangers involved.

Let’s spell out the risks:

 Unregulated and illegal. The Land Transportation and Traffic Code actually prohibits the use of a motorcycle for public transport.

  • No insurance for passengers. Since the trade is illegal, you will not be covered by a passenger personal accident insurance in case of injury or death. Sometimes, the motorcycles used aren’t even registered and do not have the mandatory third-party liability insurance. Some drivers also don’t have a license.
  • No safety seminars for drivers. Many are notorious speeders. They precariously breeze through stationary and slow-moving traffic. Some drivers even try to compete with and overtake SUVs, buses and huge ten-wheelers. In other words, your safety depends on your driver’s driving abilities as much as his conscience.         

Based on the Cebu City Traffic Office (CTTO) data, 300 out of the roughly 1,000 vehicular accidents each month involve motorcycles.

To be fair, there are plenty of honest and reliable drivers out there who care about their safety as much as their passengers’. Passengers should just take precautions. If you are uncomfortable about speeding, you can just communicate with your driver openly. Drivers easily assume you’re in a rush, so they speed off unnecessarily.

What is Angkas and how does it Work?

Angkas solves most, if not all, of the safety and pricing concerns about the trade. Drivers are cautious and courteous. They have full protective gear and proper documentation.

The ride-hailing app works pretty much like Grab and Uber, but for motorcycles.

To book a ride, just enter your location and destination, then wait for a driver to accept your booking request. You can add notes for landmarks, pick-up arrangements or other specifics. Once a driver accepts, you’ll be able to see his photo, name and vehicle registration number.

A fixed price is shown right after you enter your pick-up location and destination, so no haggling necessary.

Since the start of its six-month pilot run in May 2019, Angkas follows the prescribed fare matrix:

Particulars Charge
First kilometre P20
Additional fare up to 8 km P16/km
Additional fare from 8 km above P20/km
Surge cap 1.5x

Unlike your regular habal-habal drivers, Angkas operators are trained on road safety, hygiene and customer relations. They’ll provide not only a helmet but a face mask and a hairnet as well. On rainy conditions, they’ll even have a raincoat ready for you.

More importantly, every Angkas ride comes with a P200,000 insurance cover for both biker and passenger.

The future of habal-habal

There are currently around 6,500 motorcycle taxis listed in operation in the 80 barangays of Cebu, among which 3,000-4,000 operate within the city. Until the city is able to provide an efficient mass transport system, habal-habals will continue to flourish.

Here’s why:

  1. a)    Motorcycles are sold cheap here.
  2. b)    The trade has garnered support from the local government due to its contribution to the local economy. Majority of habal-habal patrons are workers in the BPO industry, which brings in P7-billion monthly revenue for the city.
  3. c)    It’s a viable money-making venture. With just a motorcycle and basic driving skills, anyone can operate a habal-habal. In addition to the agreed price, sometimes passengers give tips if they’re happy with the ride. The average driver makes P400-P700 a day or more, or P12,000 – P21,000 a month. That’s good enough considering habal-habal drivers don’t pay taxes.

Wondering what other ways to navigate around Cebu? Check out our article How to get around CebuCity.

 Regulating Habal-Habal in Cebu

Part of the future for motorcycle taxis is regulation of their operation. 
Talks of regulating habals started in 2018. The previous mayor of Cebu City considered this solution to protecting the welfare of both the riding public and the drivers. However, the ordinance did not have the number in the council then. 
Late August of 2019, another city councillor re-introduced the concept through legislation that seeks to grant the “Local Government of Cebu City the power and authority to issue local regulatory license and permits to operators of motor taxi” within the city.
Here’s what it aims to do:

  • The City Government of Cebu will be involved in the issuance of franchises of habal habal, but the Land Transportation Office will retain authority over registration of vehicles.
  • Habal habal drivers will need to register in their area of operation. To do so, they need a driver’s license with official receipt and certificate of vehicle registration. In that way, they become legit and easy to monitor.
  • Barangays will coordinate with Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) for the issuance of plate number stickers to registered habal2.
  • Drivers are now required to carry third-party insurance coverage and two helmets.
  • Drivers will have to wear a uniform and undergo training.
  • Drivers and operators must be members of an accredited Transport Network Vehicle service or company.
  • Fares will be standardized
  • Drivers and operators are to pay annual registration fees of P250 and vehicle registration as a motorcycle-for-hire for P500. 
  • There will be fines for any lacking requirements (e.g. license, ID, plate number) and traffic offenses.
  • Section 9 of the proposed ordinance states that the Office of the City Mayor shall formulate the Implementing Rules and Regulations through the CCTO together with the LTO, habal-habal operators, and barangay officials.

Problem is the new ordinance faces the same conflicting legal opinion that trashed the previous one. 

For some context: House Bill 8959, otherwise known as the “Act Allowing and Regulating the Use of Motorcycles as Public Utility Vehicles, otherwise known as the Land Transportation and Traffic Code, and for other purposes,” received a disappointing 181-0 vote. Ergo, it’s impossible to regulate something that is still considered illegal.

For the local government to successfully have the authority to regulate local motorcycle taxi operations, the law must first be amended. At the moment, the new legislation is still being referred for further review by the Committee on Laws.

Some drivers welcome the ordinance but with conditions. For one, John Rey Aparicio of Ermita-based Freedom Riders wants the fare metric system to be in kilometers and slightly higher than that of Angkas. He reasons that Angkas drivers don’t need to wait for hours to get passengers.

Riders associations in Cebu

Long before the city government took notice of the plight of habal-habal riders and passengers, some drivers have already took steps to “professionalize” the practice. Two riders association, the SRP Motorjack Riders Association and the Mambalinganon, have merged into the now 2k15 Cebu Riders Association Inc. They have their own terminal and ply a specific route.  They also have standardized rates and follow a code of conduct. This was even before Angkas entered the picture.  Members of the RA have the Cemobahada sticker on their motorcycles to show that they are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. From their terminal, they charge P15 to SM Seaside, P50 to downtown Cebu, P100 to I.T. Park, and P300 to Mactan-Cebu International Airport. After the first ordinance was passed, the CTTO started working on programs to organize the motorcycle riders and create riders associations in some of the barangays in Cebu City. They started with riders from Lahug, Banilad, Apas and Mabolo – the areas near I.T. Park where BPO companies are located. The riders were oriented on the benefits and responsibilities once they are part of the barangay habal-habal associations. There is currently no definite list of RAs in Cebu, but here are some of the recognized ones:

  • Cebu City Riders – 3000 members in 49 barangays in north and south districts of Cebu City
  • Talisay Motor Riders Association (TMRA) – 154 members
  • Osmeña Fuente Habal-Habal Drivers Association
  • Tungasan-Guadalaraja Riders Association in Guadalupe

The RA will organize the routes, fares, and identification (i.e. uniform, vehicle registration, stickers, etc.) of drivers. It will also clean out the ranks on riders that do not have the proper licenses, drug testing, and road safety training. Whether the drivers will start paying taxes once regulated remains unclear.  

It’s really a matter of ensuring passenger safety, reasonable rates, and accountability of these habal-habal drivers. Plus, there’s a need to ensure their terminals don’t hog road space and aggravate traffic.

It is not uncommon for RA members to also be registered on Angkas. The platform simply offers a better deal for the drivers at the moment. The daily salary of an Angkas Driver averages at P1,100, which is something other drivers won’t earn just by waiting or looking for passengers on their own.

Apart from RAs, there are groups on Facebook that work pretty much like Angkas, though the company has nothing to do with it. One of these is the ANGKAS CEBU Riders and Passengers GROUP, wherein passengers can post their pickup/destination, pickup time and a set fare and Angkas drivers can send private messages to seal the deal. The group members also post events, traffic updates, services, activities, alerts, forums or other Angkas-related happenings.

A final word

 For many Cebuanos, like school children in the mountain barangays and business process outsourcing (BPO) employees working on Western time, patronizing habal-habals is a matter of survival as much as convenience. Even you might find it indispensable. Even with plans for a bus rapid transit (BRT) on the way, the city acknowledges that habal-habals are needed to provide the first and last mile – that is, door-to-door mobility and rural-urban connectivity. It’s certainly become a way of life in Cebu.


mactan airport to cebu city

First time in Cebu? Check our dedicated article for 

7 ways to get from Mactan Airport to Cebu City.

About the author

Hey, it’s Chenzi! A writer made in Cebu. Stringing words is my bread and butter, but baking and mothering my 3-year-old are what feed my soul. I have an insatiable thirst for learning.