Caught (up) in traffic
May 2016
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Better indicators than GDP

A friend shared this article on social media:

Five measures of growth that are better than GDP

The article explains in clear and simple terms five better indicators of growth and development than what is regarded as the conventional and traditional measure that is gross domestic product (GDP). There is an analogy in the article using speed, a parameter in traffic, to explain how GDP is insufficient in describing growth in a more complete manner. For example, in the Philippines, the significant increase in GDP over the last 6 years has been mentioned as proof of economic growth. While this is true, many people could not appreciate this growth since there is the perception is that it is not inclusive. That is, economic development is not felt by many who are in the lower income classes.

Speed, indeed, is not enough to describe the transport situation along a road considering that there are other metrics needed to have a more complete picture of transport and traffic conditions. I will talk about this in another posting soon.

A new Department of Information

The big news today is the creation of a new Department by virtue of a new law signed by the outgoing President. The news article describing this new Department may be found in the following link:

Department of Information and Communications Technology created

This is a significant development as the next President of the Philippines already named his man for the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and now he has to deal with a new Department and more appointments.

With the DOTC (or DOT?) now reduced to dealing only with transportation, perhaps it can be more focused on the issues it needs to address immediately, over the next 6 years and beyond (i.e., from a strategic perspective). Also, perhaps the next administration can take a look at the possibility of having a merger of the transportation department and DPWH. Of course, such a merger would require a really good person on top to lead. This person should not only be an excellent manager but also a master strategist, with a clear and progressive vision for a modern, efficient transportation system for this country.

 

Electric vehicle deployment in the Philippines

Electric vehicles have been around in the Philippines for quite some time now. Most of these have been electric 2- and 3-wheelers with electric tricycles or e-trikes being the most visible. Of course, there are also electric 4-wheelers in the form of jitneys or e-jeeps. The electric vehicle wave has not caught on with private transport with the exception of those who bought electric scooters or motorcycles (but these are few and are not in significant numbers compared to those using conventional motorcycles).

The following map from the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP), the organization of e-vehicle manufacturers, importers and advocates in the country. It shows where electric vehicles are operating, what kind of vehicles and the manufacturer for the model in use in those places.

evehiclemap-PH

This is not a comprehensive rendering of the presence of e-vehicles throughout the country as there are also e-trikes and e-jeepneys in many other cities and towns as well. Perhaps EVAP only illustrated where e-vehicles have made significant strides or presence. I believe that with the right conditions including policies, incentives and infrastructure, e-vehicles will continue their rise among transport in the Philippines. Energy mix aside, e-vehicles have a great potential to reduce air pollution and noise, reduce fossil fuel consumption, and also has a potential to reduce road crashes. Cheaper operating costs from e-vehicles can also help increase income (i.e., take home pay) of public transport drivers and operators. It would be nice to find champions for electric vehicles in the incoming government especially from the heads of agencies like the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of Energy (DOE), among others that have a direct hand in transforming our fossil fuel dependent transport sector to an environment-friendly one.

Questionable choice for DPWH Secretary?

I had only recently written about appointments to top government posts when I learned about the offer of the DPWH top position to a politician who is also the son of power couple of former and present senators. Their core business is real estate development so there is definitely going to be conflicts of interest whenever certain infrastructure are built that will favour the development of their lands. This is basically the issue for the controversy regarding the Circumferential Road 5 Extension more than 6 years ago, which alleged that former Sen. Manny Villar (then running for President) influenced the DPWH to construct the highway that mainly benefited lands his company developed.

Having a politician at the helm of the DPWH is not a good idea. While apologists for the President-elect want us to give the guy a chance and explain that the soon-to-be-President probably saw something in the congressman that makes him qualified for the job, I must disagree with them given what I’ve seen up close with the DPWH. Here are a few arguments against a politician being DPWH Secretary:

  1. A politician as head of the DPWH will be more likely to give in to politicians (e.g., congressmen) requesting the appointments of ‘more favourable’ District Engineers (i.e., those who will do their bidding). This is basically going back to the ‘padrino’ system that is undesirable for such posts as they become prone to abuse and anomalies particularly in contracting.
  2. The DPWH Secretary chairs the Road Board, which is in-charge of funds collected from Motor Vehicle Users Charge (MVUC). This means the Secretary will have a say on how funds will be allocated and disbursed under the difference special funds (e.g., Special Road Safety Fund and Special Vehicle Pollution Control Fund). A politician will have no qualms approving requests for projects proposed by his allies or party-mates regardless of the merits or justification (weak?) of a program or project. This position requires objectivity and insulation against political pressure that may lead to questionable decisions.
  3. Governance-wise, the DPWH Secretary is expected to have a clear vision for the agency and must be an imposing figure to an organization where everyone under him including Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries will be organic staff. This is unlike other agencies where the Secretary gets to bring in his/her own people to appoint as senior officials (e.g., DOTC). And DPWH will only perform as good as its head. Outgoing Sec. Singson has shown how good and efficient DPWH can be under an excellent Secretary. Past heads have already shown how bad DPWH can be.

A couple of friends also mentioned that the DPWH Secretary sits on the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) is basically under the DPWH. There is conflict of interest here because the Villars own a water concessionaire in Primewater. The DPWH Secretary will also sit on the Infrastructure Committee (Infracom) that screens and approves major infrastructure projects around the country.

Since the next President has already decided on his choice for DPWH Secretary and the nominee has already accepted this, then we can only cross our fingers and hope that his appointee will be doing a good job and will uphold the current mantra of the DPWH: right projects, right cost, right quality, right on time and right people.

On critical government posts related to transportation

The camp of President-elect Duterte has been busy the past week trying to determine, among others, who will be secretary of which agency. As far as I am concerned, my interest is in who will be assigned to agencies that have a lot to do about transportation. Thee include the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Energy (DOE) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). DOTC, of course, is the main agency and has under it several front line agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) and the Philippine National Railways (PNR).

So far, what we know is that the DOTC portfolio will be given to Arthur Tugade, the former head of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC). Tugade has the confidence of Duterte as they are good friends and were classmates at the San Beda Law School. I’ve met Tugade once when we presented the outcomes and recommendations of a traffic study for a project at the Clark Freeport only a few months ago. The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman has had a productive relationship with Clark from the time the Center came up with a comprehensive transport and traffic master plan for the free port back in 2010. Tugade has been very productive in expanding businesses at Clark and has been quite an astute figure in his dealings with various political leaders in the region especially with respect to the local governments of Angeles City and Mabalacat. I wish him well at DOTC and hopefully, he can harness its much maligned organic staff like what he has done at CDC. There are so many challenges at DOTC including assigning good people at the LTO and LTFRB.

I hope Duterte retains Sec. Rogelio Singson as head of the DPWH . I had made the observation before that the DPWH is only as good as its head and Singson has been an excellent DPWH Secretary, introducing and institutionalizing many reforms to the agency so much so that it has been performing way above expectations and corruption has been curbed in many areas. In terms of e-governance and open data, the DPWH has been a bright spot in the past administration so much so that its performance in implementing infrastructure projects including those convergence programs with other agencies has made the DOTC look really bad.

As for the other agencies, I can’t think of any names yet as I am not very familiar with Duterte’s inner circle but based on what his camp has already announced, there will be people from the administrations of former Presidents Ramos and Arroyo, a throwback perhaps to the once powerful Lakas party than Duterte’s PDP-Laban. I am anxious to know who will be the next NEDA Director General. NEDA has a big role being the agency consolidating infrastructure plans and projects and the convenor of the very influential Infrastructure Committe (InfraCom) that approves projects for implementation. Very interesting, too, would be the appointee to the position of MMDA Chair. The nation’s capital needs a good administrator with an excellent vision for the megalopolis and the skill set to get things done. Hopefully, we will know who these people will be in the next few days.

Eastern transport terminal in Marikina City

I noticed the roadworks near SM Marikina beneath the Marcos Highway Bridge. These are part of what is being developed as an Eastern Transport Terminal. Although there is a sign there announcing the location as a terminal it is more a garage for UV Express vehicles and jeepneys that eventually proceed to the LRT Line 2 Santolan Station to get passengers.

The terminal is a pet project of former Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Bayani Fernando or BF. His company’s and his name is on a couple of signs proclaiming he gets it done. BF is now a newly minted congressman, having won the seat for the First District of Marikina City. In an upset of sorts, the former congressman who vacated this seat (after the maximum 3 terms), Marcelino ‘Marcy’ Teodoro, defeated incumbent mayor Del De Guzman who was running for a 3rd and final term. The development of the terminal actual started during BF’s stint as MMDA Chair where he conceptualized a terminal near SM Marikina and Santolan Station. Unfortunately, it did not materialize as he had planned with Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) flooding the area (and devastating much of Metro Manila and neighboring areas) and BF eventually exiting the MMDA to run for Vice President the following year.

The terminal will probably be completed but there are currently few public transport including provincial routes terminating at Santolan. Most jeepneys, for example, are bound for Cubao with the opposite trip ends in various towns of Rizal. Eastbound buses do not pass through Marcos Highway but instead take the older route through Ortigas Avenue and Antipolo and Teresa. It would take some effort to re-route these or perhaps there can be new routes via Marcos Highway? Provincial routes to the north and south are currently concentrated in Pasay, Cubao and Manila. It makes sense to decongest Cubao and have some buses have their terminal instead at Marikina. However, that means loading Aurora Boulevard, C5 and perhaps the FVR Road (Riverbanks) with additional bus traffic. Those impacts need to be evaluated and I am sure countermeasures can be developed for this transport terminal to work.

Some thoughts on transport for President-elect Duterte

My colleagues and I were talking about the not so surprising results of the recent national elections in the Philippines. I say not so surprising because people have been clamouring for change for quite some time now. It did not help the current administration and its standard bearer were hounded by the transport and traffic problems experienced by the country especially in Metro Manila. Here are some thoughts for the President-elect and whoever will be part of his transportation team:

  1. Come up with a framework for developing transportation in the country. The framework should contain both soft and hard measures. On the soft side would be strategies and policies like those promoting sustainable transport especially low carbon transport systems. This many include promoting walking, cycling and public transport at the local level. Hard measures would include infrastructure for all modes of transport including railways, airports and ports. Local roads development might be something President-elect Duterte’s team should look into as local roads basically provide accessibility for rural areas and contribute to development. The framework will serve as a guide for the next 6 years for whoever will be in-charge of transport-related agencies. He should have a sound game plan so as to be systematic in the approach to address transport and traffic issues.
  2. Watch out for and appreciate low hanging fruits. I think the current administration has already initiated solutions to pressing problems but mostly in Metro Manila in the form of the LRT Line 2 Extension and the MRT Line 7. There is also the new rolling stock for MRT Line 3. Pres.-elect Duterte’s team should already look into the mass transit needs of other highly urbanized cities such as Cebu, Iloilo and his hometown of Davao. Whether these will be road or rail-based systems should be the subject of studies to determine what can be completed immediately and within the term of the President and which need substantial investments and perhaps engagement with the private sector. The mention of “paralysis by analysis” by critics of the outgoing administration can be traced to the latter’s seeming disregard of the accomplishments of its predecessor, which could have been implemented early on during the term. The next administration should not make the same mistake.
  3. Just do it. That was the mantra of the late Juan Flavour, which he got from Nike. Transport and traffic problems in this country has worsened over the years due to the slow development of infrastructure coupled with issues on land use planning. These two actually go hand-in-hand. Metro Manila is already at a stage where indeed it will take long-term planning and infra development to solve (i.e., significantly reduce) congestion (note: You cannot eliminate congestion for a megalopolis like the NCR). Meanwhile, it is not too late for other major cities so investments and infra development should start under his watch. For starters, completing the proposed Cebu BRT and building a mass transit system for Davao should serve as inspiration for other cities to follow. Already there is a need for sophisticated public transport in emerging metropolitan areas like Iloilo, Bacolod, CDO and Angeles-Clark-Mabalacat. These do not require 12 years but perhaps with urgent action be addressed within 6 years. This, of course, should go together with the building infrastructure for walking and cycling where applicable and in relation to transit development.

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