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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Going electric in the Philippines

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) hosted and co-organized a forum on electric vehicles with the Department of Energy (DOE) today. The forum was divided into two parts where the first part included remarks from the DOE Secretary and two presentations from invited speakers. The second part included mainly presentations of experiences in the deployment of electric vehicle technology around the country and a presentation by the ADB on their program to support electric vehicle deployment in the Philippines.

In the first part, the DOE Secretary was very clear in his message in support of electric vehicles. He emphasized the importance of addressing concerns pertaining to the use of fossil fuels, mentioning the need for fuel efficiency and our transport system’s (over)dependence on fossil fuels. He also expressed concern over environmental aspects, recognizing the direct association between emissions and fuel consumption. His remarks was followed by two presentations on experiences on electric vehicle applications abroad. One presentation was mainly on the infrastructure for charging e-vehicles and included material on the experiences in China. Another was on battery technology but included also the different e-cars that are currently available in the market (e.g., Volt, Leaf, Tesla, etc.).

I must admit, modesty aside, that I was disappointed with the presentations as they were both mainly on private vehicle applications including electric motorcycles and electric cars. I was unimpressed, as were others, with the presentations that had material one could easily pick out of the internet. Even information on battery technology did not provide any new knowledge to most participants that included proponents/advocates of electric vehicles in the Philippines. The comment of one participant said it all when he mentioned that in the Philippines the focus was on public transport applications of e-vehicles.

The second part was more interesting, although two presenters tended to stray away from the topic of electric vehicles. The first presentation of the second part of the forum was delivered by the Congressman representing Taguig City. He did not use any slides but chose to make a rambling speech on Taguig’s experience during his time as mayor of the city. He explained his administration’s push for the e-trikes in Bonifacio Global City and made it appear as if his administration was progressive in its push and that the private sector (i.e., Ayala Land, which had a say on transport at BGC) did not have foresight. In truth, the question that needed to be answered at the time of their push was if the e-trike was the appropriate transport mode at the Fort. Ayala knew it was not but it was clear that Taguig insisted on the deployment of e-trikes at BGC rather than take the more progressive (radically) yet risky push of replacing conventional tricycles in the old Taguig east of C5. His speech was really more a conscious delivery of soundbites and I must say, was quite pretentious and self-serving. It was, for me, simply lip service and a waste of time. In fact, one person near us was already snoring by the time the Congressman finished his speech.

The second presentation was delivered by a representative of the Puerto Princesa Mayor. It was straightforward and wasted no time in explaining PPC’s programs and clearly showed their efforts in deploying environment-friendly transport systems. He also mentioned the incentives that the city has so far offered and proceeded to ask those present to partner with them in promoting e-vehicle use.

The third presentation was on Makati’s experience on electric vehicles. The presenter was city’s traffic consultant and I was expecting him to focus on the electric jeepneys now operating along three routes in that city’s central business district. Instead, he took up much time presenting on Makati’s transport plan including the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and its extensive pedestrian facilities that included walkways connecting buildings and to the shopping district. Nevertheless, his presentation had its saving grace in that it mentioned how the e-jeepney could serve as feeders to the BRT and how the pedestrian facilities complemented public transport services.

The fourth presentation was by a representative of Mandaluyong City, which is the first recipient of the incentives being granted by the ADB in support of e-vehicles. This was another straightforward presentation and clearly covered the main points of the e-trike application in that city including the infrastructure they put up for charging. These charging stations represented an innovation that can be picked up by entrepreneurs in coming up with a business model for charging stations. It was not clear though if Mandaluyong has set out to replace conventional tricycles as my impression was that the e-trikes they acquired will be on top of the existing tricycles plying routes around the city.

The fifth presentation was from Ateneo De Manila University, and focused on that school’s efforts to pilot e-vehicles for the use of their students and staff. The presentation mentioned their rationale and the apparent marching orders from their newly installed president, who is an acknowledged expert on environment, to address air quality in the vicinity of the campus. I found their presentation awkward and at the very least hypocritical of the fact that the problem they have to face is the overwhelming number of private vehicles the school generates and their continuing coddling of tricycles whose phase out along Katipunan is long overdue. Perhaps I will expound on this and other issues when I write about Katipunan transport and traffic in the future.

The last presentation was a quick one from the ADB. It was mainly on the ADB’s program supporting e-vehicle promotion. It was also explained why ADB chose to focus on tricycles and was unapologetic in their argument that tended to generalize the problem on transport in the Philippines. There was no mention of rationalization considering that there is actually an oversupply of tricycles and this too needs to be addressed.

While it is commendable that the ADB has extended assistance in the form of grants incentives to promote e-vehicles, there are still questions on the sustainability of this effort given that they chose to focus on tricycles. Of course, the statistics on the number of tricycles and their environmental and energy impacts clearly argue for addressing this problem pertaining to conventional motor tricycles. However, the ADB must realize that local government units (LGUs) can be quite fickle-minded or hard-headed in their approaches to public transport regulations. This is a fact given that there are few LGUs that have been successful in regulating tricycles and particularly in restricting their numbers and their operations along routes or areas where they are suitable. If we take a look at many cities, we will find tricycles running on national roads and causing congestion in CBDs. We would also see that many of these cities, among them highly urbanized cities (HUCs), have a need to graduate from these low capacity modes into middle or even high capacity vehicles.

It was noticeable that there were no representatives from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) nor its attached agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) at the forum. Despite pronouncements by the DOE Secretary that the DOTC and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) were on-board in the former’s push for e-vehicles, experience has shown that DOTC and its attached agencies have been the bottlenecks in the forward movement of e-vehicles. This includes the absence of clear policies pertaining to e-vehicles including their registration as well as the lack of direction pertaining to their mainstreaming as public transport modes (i.e., franchises). Also, lest we forget, all the talk on e-vehicles while being spearheaded by the DOE, is very much the province of the DOTC since we are, after all, talking about transport. It is the main responsibility and the mandate of the DOTC to see the e-vehicles through and lead in the mainstreaming of these vehicles in the context of environmentally sustainable transport. It is a pitch for e-vehicles that would go a long way into ensuring that a critical mass can be realized and that the tipping point for the shift to electric would be reached in the near future.

Some issues on walkability in the Philippines

I have written about walking in the past (No Car? No Problem!), and it was mainly about a personal experience I had commuting home one evening. At the time, I had already made the observation that we are generally lacking for pedestrian facilities. We do have sidewalks but most are too narrow for the typically high volume of pedestrian traffic. In cases where there are sufficient width or space, sidewalks are often occupied by vendors. In commercial areas, establishments also have a tendency to encroach on pedestrian space thereby constricting the walkways. This is the predicament in most, if not all, Philippine cities and the result is often that pedestrians are forced to walk along the carriageway, using space that is supposed to be for motor vehicles and effectively causing congestion due to the reduced road capacity. Such are issues pertaining to walkability that touches mainly on the safety, mobility and accessibility aspects of walking.

In rural areas and particularly along national highways, there are practically no pedestrian facilities unless one considers highway shoulders as appropriate for walking. As such, one will most likely find people walking along the shoulders or, should it be the wet season and these shoulders happen to be muddy, along the carriageway. It is not uncommon also to see children walking along the highways since many schools are located along the roads. Such situations often put children at risk, thereby magnifying their vulnerability to becoming victims of road crashes.

Another vulnerable group are senior citizens, who, despite their age, can still be very active and are entitled to mobility just like any person. They, too, deserve facilities that will keep them safe from risks such as wayward public transportation or reckless drivers and riders. Then there are also those who are physically-challenged, people with disabilities who, despite their physical limitations, also have the right to move about. In fact, there are laws with provisions requiring public facilities to be designed according to the needs of persons with disabilities (PWDs). Sadly, pedestrian facilities in Philippine cities generally do not incorporate ramps, guides and other devices that would allow for efficient movement of PWDs.

Crossings are also a big issue considering the statistics of pedestrian involvement in road crashes. Of course, there are two sides of the coin here where, on one hand, hard-headed people still cross at inappropriate locations or say at street-level when there is an overpass or underpass nearby. Such incidences of jaywalking are quite prevalent in urban areas, betraying a lack of discipline that is often in combination with weak traffic enforcement. On the other hand, there are pedestrians crossing along designated locations like zebra crossings but are placed in harm’s way as motorists do not give way.

Heading to the airport last Maundy Thursday to fetch my wife, I took Marcos Highway and saw the many people walking to Antipolo Church, a popular pilgrimage site for Filipino Roman Catholics during the Holy Week as well as the month of May when the feast of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage is celebrated. They came from all over Metro Manila but mostly from Pasig, Cainta, Marikina and Quezon City. ┬áIt was around 10:00 PM and due to the Holy Week, there were very few public transport (and vehicles in general) along the highway, which is a major corridor to the east. Most of them had to walk along the carriageway considering the ongoing construction work along Marcos Highway for a major drainage and pavement project. Considering the volume of people, they has practically occupied one lane (the outermost) of the highway. Fortunately, because there were few vehicles, the people didn’t have to worry much about being sideswiped as they walked.

I could imagine a similar case along Ortigas Avenue, which is along the original way to Antipolo Church. Perhaps there were even more people walking along that road considering that it passes through densely populated areas of Mandaluyong, Pasig, Cainta and Antipolo as well as the avenue being most accessible to people coming from Taguig, Makati, San Juan and Manila. The Way of the Cross along Ortigas Avenue has been enhanced with the construction of stations along the route that can be used as guides, especially by those who are unfamiliar with the pilgrimage. That way is also wanting for pedestrian facilities and often sidewalks are ill-designed and may even have electric posts impeding the flow of traffic.

To me, the solution to such issues on walkability is quite clear and does not require more than common sense. Obstacles along walkways, for example, need to be removed to ensure that there will be space for walking and ensuring smooth traffic flow. The MMDA deserves a lot of credit for waging an aggressive campaign during the time of Bayani Fernando, when he implemented a “sidewalk clearing” program that effectively returned space to pedestrians that were taken from them by vendors and establishments. The latter mostly did so in violation of the building code that is quite common in most downtown areas. Electric posts also need to be relocated and such may be coordinated with power/utility companies who are responsible for their installation.

On the technical side, there is a need to revisit design guidelines, if any, pertaining to pedestrian facilities. The National Building Code actually has provisions for designing sidewalks but there are none, to my knowledge, about designing overpasses and underpasses. There are no criteria currently being used to determine, for example, the suitable locations for overpasses and to estimate their capacities based on the principles of traffic flow. This, considering that there are actually level of service (LOS) criteria for walkways and other facilities catering to pedestrians. These design guidelines should clearly incorporate safety and accessibility so that the resulting facilities will be for the inclusive use of all.

On the enforcement side, there is nothing new and no surprises that the recommendation would be to have firm, consistent and aggressive enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. For this I may sound like a broken record but it only goes to show that we have not progressed much in this aspect of traffic management. The ningas cogon approach must go and programs should also be directed against those impeding pedestrian flow (e.g., vendors setting up on overpasses) as well as those whose behavior endanger pedestrians (e.g., reckless, undisciplined drivers).

I am optimistic, though, that with the combined efforts of many advocates for road safety, we may eventually be able to improve walkability in most cities in this country. For one, there are already several LGUs who have programs with a vision for them to be a walkable city. Among these are Marikina and Makati in Metro Manila, and San Fernando in La Union. More will hopefully follow the examples of these cities and, who knows, one day perhaps we can walk safely wherever and whenever we wish to do so.

All roads lead to Antipolo

The title of this post is based on a saying referring to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage that is located in what is now the City of Antipolo in the Province of Rizal, to the east of Metro Manila. The saying is based on observations during May when the feast of Our Lady is celebrated the entire month. While people flock to the shrine throughout the year often to pray for safe travel, many devotees go up the city in the Sierra Madre range during Lent to pray the novena to Our Lady, hear Mass, or simply to partake of the other attractions of this city.

Antipolo has been a popular pilgrimage site since the Spanish Period ever since the reports of miracles performed through the image of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. These include her image being reportedly found among the Antipolo tree that is the basis for the name of the town that now is a highly urbanized city and capital to the Province of Rizal. Rizal, of course, is the name of the province that once was generally called Morong. One town of the province still bears that name and it, too, has a beautiful, picturesque church. The Shrine is often visited by those seeking safe travel, perhaps these days it has even become more popular due to the tremendous numbers of overseas foreign workers (OFWs) employed abroad. Antipolo is also allegedly the richest among the most popular shrines or churches in the Philippines, supposedly ahead of Quiapo (Black Nazarene), Cebu (Sto. Nino), Baclaran (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), Naga (Penafrancia) and Manaoag (Our Lady of Manaoag), though not necessarily in that order. I think I read about this in one of Ambeth Ocampos’ columns from the Inquirer.

The popularity of the Shrine is so much so that a road was built to directly connect it with Manila, particularly to Intramuros where the seat of government was at the time. This road is most probably along the corridor that is now Ortigas Avenue. Of course, in the Spanish Period, this would be a more general route that would have likely included many rough trails considering that the Ortigas we know now was only developed in the 1970’s. I witnessed this when we moved from Mandaluyong to Cainta in 1976, often seeing huge machines work their way along what is now Valle Verde to carve out a wider right of way for Ortigas Avenue.

During the American Period, the trams operated by the Manila Electric Rail and Light Company (MERaLCo) included a line that went up to Antipolo. Those trams were the state of the art and representative of high technology in public transportation in those years after the turn of the century and a line to Antipolo reinforced the shrine’s importance to many people and the government’s recognition of this. The tram network, which was probably the most developed in Southeast Asia if not in Asia at the time, was destroyed during World War 2 and was never rebuilt for some reason. It is something that Metro Manila now continues to regret if only to postulate what might have beens and what could have beens if the network was revived after the war. Of course, this bit of history is related to the eventual rise of the jeepneys but that is another story for another post. Nevertheless, there still exists in Antipolo some remnants of the tram’s glory days and it is remembered as a road which is still called “daang bakal,” as the railways were fondly called then and now.

There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.

Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo simbahan, referring to the shrine.

There are now also Filcabs or AUV Express, shuttles offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownerships and operations do not make them serious competitors to the jeepneys during the merry month of May and the Lenten Holy Week.

There was an Antpolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.

In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.

National EST Strategy Update

The Third Draft (Draft Final Report) of the National Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST) Strategy (NESTS) formulation study for the Philippines has just been completed. The report is available online via the NESTS Web Portal on the NCTS website. The project is concluding in May 2011 after more than 2 years of developing strategies covering twelve (12) thematic areas as defined by the Aichi Statement of 2005.

The report articulating strategies, indicators and key result activities is written in general terms to allow for flexibility in the further development of strategies and action plans to realize EST. The document is envisioned to be a guide for both national agencies and local government units, as well as for other stakeholders such as non-government organizations (NGOs) and private entities seeking to take on EST as an advocacy.

The National EST Strategy will be formally launched on May 20, 2011.

Moving about in Singapore

I’m back in Singapore and enjoying going around the city using its efficient public transportation system and pedestrian facilities. I am quite at home with the system considering I lived in Japan for quite some time and commuted daily using the rail and bus systems there. It was in Japan where I had a first hand experience of what an efficient public transport system should be whether for long distance commuting (i.e., I knew some supercommuters in Japan who used the shinkansen to go to the office or laboratory every weekday although using the Tokaido Line to commute between Kanagawa to Tokyo qualifies as supercommuting.) or for short distance trips.

I was able to appreciate mobility in Japan considering the interconnectivity of transport modes and the ease by which one can use the system. Even the payment of fares was efficient as one had many options for paying fares and could use various cards including using either the Pasmo card issued by private railway companies or the Suica card issued by Japan Railways (JR). One only needed to load the cards with enough credits to be able to use the cards for not only transport fares but even for paying for items such as food and drinks. One can even personalize the card and it can be reloaded after a period of not being able to use the card.

Singapore is not so much different from Japan in terms of transport systems and if one considers the electronic road pricing (ERP) being applied throughout the state, may even be more advanced in applications of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). Moving around in Singapore is so easy considering its rail and bus systems. There are even a number of bus types plying routes around the system including articulated buses much like those used by Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems and double deckers like the ones in Hongkong and London. I haven’t noticed and am not aware if there are paratransit systems outside the human powered rickshaws I found near Bugis but which appears only during night-time, considering the city-state being compact and there seems no need for paratransit like the jeepneys, multicabs and tricycles in the Philippines, or the tuktuks in Thailand. There should be no need considering the strategic placing of bus stops and train stations throughout the city and the well planned pedestrian facilities that complement these mass transit modes.

I have always looked forward to having such a system realized in the Philippines whether its going to be in Metro Manila or another city. It is still a vision that has often been derailed what with the systems that have been constructed so far and the weak handling of issues pertaining to bus, jeepney and tricycle services in the Philippines. And some people even argue that “service” shouldn’t be a word to be used to describe public transport in the Philippines. Rationalization of public transport systems back home seems a distant vision considering the chaos surrounding the matter. We can only hope that our efforts will not go to naught and that we can realize an efficient system within our lifespans. Perhaps that will be our legacy for the coming generations, for them to have system that they can be proud of and not drool over when they experience such in other countries such as Singapore.