October 2014
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Undergraduate research topics on transportation for AY2014-2015

The Transportation Engineering Group (TEG) of the Institute of Civil Engineering (ICE) recently finalised the researches to be implemented by undergraduate students assigned to the group.

  • Calibrating car-following and lane-changing models for local traffic micro-simulators
  • Effects of clear yielding rules at weaving sections
  • Evaluation of re-opening of traffic signals along Katipunan Avenue
  • Shuttle service for University of the Philippines Diliman employees
  • Analysing trip-cutting behaviour of jeepneys and UV express with respect tot he LRT Line 2 Santolan and Katipunan Stations
  • Assessment of pedestrian facilities along Ortigas Avenue Extension and Marcos Highway
  • Study on satellite parking system for UP Diliman
  • Road safety audit checklist for expressways
  • Study on Philippine National Railways (PNR) station congestion
  • Using drones for analysis of weaving sections, and traffic circulation in roundabouts
  • Air quality assessment at the Centennial Dormitory along C.P. Garcia Avenue
  • Estimating bus passenger demand between UP Diliman and UP Los Banos
  • Mode choice modelling of new transport systems
  • On-road energy efficiency of alternative fuel vehicles

Note that several topics in the list are focused on issues concerning the UP Diliman campus. These are a continuation of studies geared at providing solutions to transport or traffic problems at UP’s flagship campus sprawled over an area of 493 hectares. The above are working titles at best as students taking up the topics are supposed to develop their research proposals (complete with literature review, methodology and budget) this semester and then implement these in the next semester. Since UP has already adjusted its academic calendar, research implementation will be undertaken from January to May 2015.

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Puerto Princesa Airport

I haven’t been to Puerto Princesa, Palawan since 2010 so I had wanted to see for myself what improvements they have done to their airport. This was considering the city and the province in general have become a very popular and accessible tourist destination featuring pristine beaches, hidden natural attractions as well as vibrant communities around the island. While the airport has been under renovation for a while, the terminal is already nearing if not already at capacity. Surely, as the country continues to promote tourism, Palawan will have a steady increase in the number of visitors and Puerto Princesa Airport will be the main airport access to the main island. The islands of Coron to the north of Palawan is served by a small airport in Busuanga, and El Nido at the northern part of Palawan Island will soon likely be served by another airport. But the jump off point for most of the island including the relatively “unexplored” south will be Puerto Princesa, which is also the centre of business/commerce. While its runway can handle large planes (I once rode on a B747 from Palawan), its terminal cannot handle the number of passengers such airliners are able to carry. The prospect of direct and regular international flights also would require a larger terminal to efficiently handle both domestic and international arrivals and departures.

IMG09345-20140925-1309View of the airport upon stepping out from the aft door

IMG09349-20140925-1310Passengers walk towards the terminal. Many passengers linger or loiter on the tarmac to take photos of themselves with the airport or aircraft in the background. While not unique to the Philippines, lingering on the tarmac is a no-no in many other airports due to security concerns.

IMG09350-20140925-1311Air Asia recently acquired local budget airlines Zest Air and now services Zest’s domestic destinations like Puerto Princesa.

IMG09351-20140925-1311We flew Cebu Pacific, which has the most flights servicing Puerto Princesa and had the better schedule for us. Unfortunately, CEB passengers seem to be experiencing a lot of delays. Our flight was delayed by 2 hours, which was definitely a waste of time as we had to go directly to our meeting upon our arrival in the city. Apparently, CEB has already earned the monicker its main competitor had for “planes always late.”

IMG09352-20140925-1312Bags being transported from the aircraft to the baggage claim area. Bags are loaded and unloaded manually so handling can be an issue and a concern especially for those using designer or expensive luggage. On days with inclement weather, luggage can get wet and there is the occasional bags being dropped (and damaged).

IMG09353-20140925-1313The baggage claim area at Puerto Princesa airport is obviously not so spacious with just a single belt shared by arriving passengers from different flights.

IMG09354-20140925-1314Crowded but not chaotic. That’s how I would describe the baggage claim area when two flights arrived one almost immediately after the other.

IMG09355-20140925-1316Baggage carousel.

IMG09356-20140925-1322Sign informing visitors about the policy for going to the Underground River, one of the most popular if not the top attraction in Puerto Princesa.

IMG09357-20140925-1323Covered area for loading/unloading passengers and visitors at the airport.

IMG09358-20140925-1323Waiting area for people fetching passengers just outside the arrival area.

IMG09508-20140927-1333Notices for passengers and others entering the airport driveway.

IMG09509-20140927-1334Entrance to the airport.

IMG09510-20140927-1334Another look at the loading/unloading/waiting area just outside the terminal building.

IMG09511-20140927-1335Airport terminal driveway and departure unloading area.

IMG09512-20140927-1336Departure area under construction/renovation with seats, counters and other materials everywhere.

IMG09513-20140927-1340Cebu Pacific check-in counters. Tiger Air flights are operated by Cebu Pacific.

IMG09514-20140927-1340Air Asia Zest check-in counters.

IMG09515-20140927-1340Entrance to the pre-departure lounge/area.

IMG09516-20140927-1341Philippine Airlines check-in counters

IMG09517-20140927-1349Self service check-in machine by Cebu Pacific. This is very useful for passengers arriving early at the airport for their flights. It allows you to check-in, select seats and get your boarding passes prior to the counters opening for passengers checking-in at the terminal. It’s basically an internet or online check-in so you can go to the internet check-in counter, which usually has a shorter queue.

IMG09518-20140927-1532Passengers accumulating in near the Cebu Pacific check-in counters. I think airlines shouldn’t have policies preventing passengers arriving early from checking-in. This might be okay for large terminals servicing so many flights but for smaller airports like PPS, Cebu Pacific would probably do better by attending to passengers. Everyone could see that their staff were not at all doing anything behind the counters so they might as well check in passengers so as to reduce and better manage the queuing later on.

IMG09520-20140927-1549The airport now services international flights but mostly chartered ones. There is an international departure area and a simple immigration counter. These don’t look like they are in regular use.

IMG09523-20140927-1607Pre-departure area at the terminal – there seems to be a lot of seats but these are all practically occupied for a single flight. Most aircraft servicing the MNL-PPS route are not wide bodied but the area cannot accommodate 2 plane loads (assuming A319 or A320) of passengers. This is a non-smoking area by law and there is a room for smokers. People though seem to be in-and-out of the room so people seated near the door leading to the smoking room (there are 2 doors) still get a sniff of cigarette smoke.

IMG09524-20140927-1607Overall, the terminal is clean and orderly. There are 3 gates reserved for each of the airlines (Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and Air Asia Zest) that have the most flights to and from Puerto Princesa.

IMG09528-20140927-1757Our Cebu Pacific plane was again late by an hour and so that meant we were getting home later in the night. The good thing about it was that it also meant less traffic (both the airport and roads) in Manila compared to a late afternoon arrival.

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COMET – just another jitney?

The COMET (City Optimized Managed Electric Transport) is a 20-seater vehicle designed along the lines of the jeepneys operating along many streets in Philippine cities and towns. More information on the vehicle, its operations and the organisation behind it may be found in their website. The COMET has been in experimental operation for a few weeks now but has been a rare sighting considering only 20 units are operating along a relatively long route that happens to be have congested sections depending on the time of day (e.g., Katipunan Ave. can be very congested during the day and Congressional Ave. is not necessarily a free flowing corridor given jeepney and tricycle operations along the road).

A good feature of the COMET is the GETPass, which is a card that is used to pay for fares. The card is something that should have been available many years ago and for use in most if not all transport modes (LRT, bus, jeepney, taxi, etc.). At present, it can be reloaded via COMET staff who are assigned to each vehicle or stationed at the designated stops. They help promote the transport as they sell the tap cards to passengers and other potential users of the mode. Here are photos showing the GETPass and the brochure that comes with it.

IMG09298-20140923-0952The GETPass card comes with a brochure on the COMET and how to use the card.

IMG09299-20140923-0952Basic information on the GETPass card.

IMG09300-20140923-0952Illustrative example of how to use the card.

IMG09301-20140923-0953The GETPass card

IMG09302-20140923-0953Instructions at the back of the card.

IMG09303-20140923-0953More information on Global Electric Transport.

IMG09305-20140923-0958Southbound designated stops for the COMET.

IMG09306-20140923-0959Northbound designated stops for the COMET.

IMG09307-20140923-0959Route map included with the tap card brochure.

IMG09573-20141008-1629COMET in operation along the southbound side of Katipunan Avenue (C-5).

The current experimental route of the COMET overlaps with several jeepney routes including Katipunan and Tandang Sora jeepneys. If the objective is simply to demonstrate vehicle performance (and reliability) using this route and with actual traffic conditions, then this would be a very fruitful exercise. However, more suitable routes should be considered for the COMET including possibly new routes like missionary routes or feeder routes that are not yet served by any formal public transport. This is one way for the COMET to be mainstreamed and for the low emission vehicle to have a significant impact on transport and environment. Another way that would certainly be the more challenging one is the prospect of the vehicle replacing conventional jeepneys along established routes. I say this is a challenge because there has been a need to retire or phase out conventional jeepneys in favor of higher capacity modes (i.e., bus) and the jeepney sector (operators and drivers) have always been somewhat averse to proposals modernizing jeepneys due in part to financial implications of transitioning to low emission options like the e-jeepney or the COMET. If these are not considered, the COMET will just be an additional vehicle along Metro Manila’s streets, contributing to the chaotic road public transport, and its hyped benefits will not be realised.

I do hope that the COMET will not be just another paratransit mode that is integrated with all the other land transport modes currently in operation throughout the country. I believe there is a big potential for the vehicle and similar other models like it for cities and towns that are not yet as highly urbanized as Metro Manila or perhaps Cebu. There are corridors or areas where buses are not or will not be viable within the foreseeable future (next 5 to 10 years?) given the demand for this period. These are where jeepneys thrive (assuming tricycle operations are restricted or strictly regulated) and where the COMET would be most suitable.

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Interesting articles on traffic congestion

Here are a few good reads on traffic congestion and its measurement or quantification:

Reading these articles will probably make you think that traffic is good or that congestion is good. While congestion is indeed indicative of economic vibrance as movement of people and goods are a good measure for economic activity, excessive congestion results in many other problems that need to be addressed and which can also be quantified in economic terms. Note, too, that one author mentions “peak traffic” that is now becoming common in developed countries as motorization has plateaued and transport systems have become developed to provide people and goods with a variety of modes to choose from including walking and cycling. In our case, traffic has not yet “peaked” in the sense that motorization continues for many of our cities including Metro Manila. There is also a lag in the provision of transport infrastructure including mass transit systems that should have been constructed decades if not years ago. Perhaps we need to be clear about the context by which congestion costs are estimated and presented.

The somewhat dramatic presentations like the manner shown in the first article above reminds us of similar estimates of congestion costs in the Philippines, particularly for Metro Manila. The latest of these come from a JICA project that had as an objective the drafting of a roadmap for transport in the expanded region that is dubbed as Mega Manila (Region 3, National Capital Region and Region 4A). The end product has been billed as a “Dream Plan for Mega Manila” and draws on congestion cost estimates that would definitely be regarded as exaggerated if seen in the context of the two articles we mentioned above. Perhaps it is the important message (i.e., we need to build transport infrastructure) of such exaggerated presentations that we should focus on an not really the specific numbers being quoted by news organizations and circulated in social media.

We have to caution the reader that congestion is here to stay and cannot be totally eliminated, especially with economically vibrant or growing cities. What we probably would like to address, however, is excessive congestion. Yes, there is such a thing as excessive congestion. I would like to describe this as something that is “unreasonable” along the lines of say instead of your regular 1 hour commute, it took you 2 hours or more. For some, this can be due to horrendous traffic jams due to flooded streets. Or perhaps someone who takes public transport waiting for hours just to get a ride. And so people are forced to cope and in a way, their minds have been conditioned to tolerate (accept?) the levels of congestion they experience on a daily basis. Congestion is good but it does not have to be hellish.

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Metro Manila Urban Transport Improvement Project (MMUTIP, 1981)

We continue with our historical features on transport with the Metro Manila Urban Transport Improvement Project (MMUTIP). MMUTIP was implemented from July 1980 to August 1981 with funding from the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) of Japan. MMUTIP recommended for a new franchising system to be adopted by the then Board of Transportation (BOT), with standards covering citizenship, route opening, operating performance and financial capability. It also called for the adoption of measures that will safeguard the integrity of franchise records and the speedy processing and better control of franchise applications. The BOT is the precursor of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

IMG09225-20140904-1028

Additional bus routes were identified by the study and recommended for 5,900 units for daily operations. The study estimated that as much as 1,870 additional units were required for Metro Manila. Meanwhile, the study found the operations of the Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC), the government owned bus company, unprofitable and stated that the government-run company has failed to define objectives and policies particularly in specifying the extent to which MMTC will render public service at the sacrifice of profit (note that MMTC was losing money in part because it was serving missionary routes so as to reduce direct competition with the private companies). I think looking back now, this was perhaps the beginning of the end for MMTC. Some people say that we could probably have used something like the MMTC today to keep public transport operators honest in their operations and also to continue providing services for missionary routes rather than letting these be served by tricycles and jeepneys that will eventually would have to be granted franchises. As it is, such situations often lead to poorly planned transport services including the (mis)determination of the number of PUV units required to serve an area or corridor.

MMUTIP recommended for the control of entry and operation of jeepneys along major bus routes while at the same time calling for a deregulation of entry and operations outside major thoroughfares, which were served or are more suitable for buses. Further, the study called for encouraging tricycle services where bus and jeepney routes are scarce while also stating that these should be limited to local or feeder services. Then as now, tricycles are restricted from national roads.

[Note: A copy of MMUTIP may be found at the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) Library located at their building along Apacible Street at the University of the Philippines Diliman. This is not a public library so access is limited to UP staff and students. Researchers and others from outside UP would have to write to the Director for permission to use the library and its holdings.]

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Sta. Lourdes Wharf – Puerto Princesa City

The jump-off point to island hopping in Honda Bay is Sta. Lourdes Wharf just north of Puerto Princesa City proper. I have seen this wharf evolve into the modern (compared to other Philippine wharves or ports) facility that it is now. I guess this is possible if both national and local government really put the necessary resources to improve such infrastructure that obviously benefits everyone and not just the tourists who happen to flock to this port for island-hopping trips.

2014-09-26 07.45.55The local tourism office and amenities like toilets are housed in this building. What it used to be was a building made out of bamboo with nipa and a few iron sheets for roofing. Boats were moored just behind the building in what looked like a chaotic set-up for tourists and islanders. There was no concrete road 5 years ago and the dirt road was a muddy mess during the wet season.

2014-09-26 07.46.19Philippine Coast Guard station at the wharf

2014-09-26 07.46.36Outriggers carrying passengers; mostly tourists on the Honda Bay island hopping package

2014-09-26 07.46.46This larger boat is not necessarily for tourists but for ferrying passengers between the mainland and the smaller islands off Palawan. It is obviously of sturdier design and has a bigger passenger capacity.

2014-09-26 07.46.56Our outrigger waiting for us to board. The crew consisted of two boatmen – one handling the motor and driving the boat while another was in-charge of handling the line, anchor and maneuvering the boat from the port and towards the sea (with just a bamboo pole as a tool).

2014-09-26 07.47.02A snapshot of other boats docked along the wharf shows mostly outriggers. In the background at about right is a glimpse of a Philippine National Police fast craft. The PNP has a maritime unit complementing the Philippine Coast Guard and those stationed in Palawan have modern fast craft capable of giving chase to pouchers and pirates in their speedy boats. 

2014-09-26 07.59.41A Chinese boat moored at the PNP dock. This fishing boat was intercepted by Philippine authorities illegally fishing in Philippine waters. This was the subject of well-circulated news reports showing the Chinese were catching endangered species like sea turtles and were carrying live and dead pangolins and other wildlife they were smuggling out of Palawan (with the help of shady Filipinos, of course).

I think the Sta. Lourdes Wharf is a good example of adequate port facilities serving both passengers (including tourists) and goods. It provides for the basic needs of users though there is usually some congestion at the port due to increasing tourism activities. The wharf practically becomes a parking lot to tourist vehicles during certain times of the day and this becomes serious during the peak tourism months. This, however, is a minor concern for now. Access to the wharf is also excellent with good quality concrete roads from the city centre to the wharf; a combination of national and local roads being developed to a standard that makes them “all-weather” and comfortable for use by travellers using all types of vehicles. This is something that can and should be replicated for similar ports around the country not just for tourism areas but basically to address the needs of travellers and goods.

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Bad P.R. for road sharing

A few articles came out of Sun Star Cebu recently regarding an activity over the weekend that was supposed to promote road sharing. I read four articles by different opinion writers. These may be found in the following links:

The first three articles seem to be more like reactions of motorists to activities that seek to promote road sharing and cycling in particular. The writers missed the point in so far as road sharing is concerned and are definitely biased towards the status quo in terms of road usage. However, some of their observations need to be qualified as certain roads seem to have been closed with little advise to the general public, many of whom take public transport. The last article is the more grounded one and explains the perspective of non-bikers who are public transport users. This is the calmer opinion among the four and expresses his points in a more objective manner.

I was not there and I haven’t read yet any articles from the organizers or participants to the activity. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt in so far as their advocacy is concerned. But then one also has to consider the valid points raised by other road users whenever road sharing is equated to cycling rather than a more balanced mix that is focused towards maximising the number of people or amount of goods transported. It is not only a question of space but of efficiency of movement. Bicycles might be efficient in energy but unfortunately it is not the most efficient in terms of the number of people carried between origins and destinations. And we can never decongest our streets in order to make more space for cyclists and pedestrians if we cannot come up with efficient public transport systems that will encourage people to leave their cars or not to buy one in the first place. It can be argued that people are actually opting for motorcycles than bicycles for commuting – another trend that needs to be understood from the perspective of people making these choices for their transport needs.

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