Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Cagayan Valley Roads – Part 2

To continue with Part 1 of my feature on Cagayan Valley Roads, the following photos were taken along the national roads from Nueva Vizcaya to Cagayan (Tuguegarao).

After Dalton Pass, motorists continue on winding mountain sections, often with little protection against flying off the road

Community in a valley in the mountains as seen from the national highway

The hills seem to be silent witnesses to intense logging in the past that has left us with a lot of barren hills and mountains. I could only imagine how these hills could have looked like if there were still trees.

Entering Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, I was a little disappointed that there was no grand arch like those marking boundaries in other cities or towns along national highways. Instead, there’s this sponsored sign on a gantry. Ahead, some of the chevron signs have been stolen, leaving only a few installed and empty posts.

Reverse curve section with concrete barriers to keep cars from going off-road and into the ravine on the right. These barriers, however, will be unable to stop larger vehicles.

I was both a bit surprised and delighted that tricycles used the shoulder (or is it parked?) and got out of the way of general traffic. I now forget the exact name of the place but this is somewhere in Bambang in Nueva Vizcaya and the tricycles here are not garapal users of the road.

There are many trucks traveling along the Pan-Philippine Highway as this is a major route for a lot of goods. Isabela province, for example, produces rice that is transported mainly to Central Luzon and Metro Manila.

This typical 2-lane concrete bridge is relatively new judging from the 20-ton limit indicated in the sign. Older bridges would have 15-ton limits.

The sign before the bridge allows motorists to assess distances to major towns along the highway: 8 km to Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, 13 km to Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, and 70 km to Santiago, Isabela. The two-lane bridge doesn’t have enough space for pedestrian use or breakdowns.

There are many straight, long sections like this between Bayombong and Bagabag.

I forget now but this section is also likely to be somewhere between Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya and Cordon, Isabela. Bagabag is close to the provincial and regional boundary with Banaue Province (Cordillera Autonomous Region) and there are signs pointing travelers to roads going to Baguio City and Lagawe.

I forget now but this section is also likely to be somewhere between Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya and Cordon, Isabela.

Calao Bridge in Santiago City, Isabela is an example of old school bridgework using steel trusses. It is similar to many other bridges including those still standing in the Visayas and Mindanao.

From Santiago City, we decided to take the alternate route using the Santiago-Tuguegarao Road. Our assessment was that this would be less congested compared to using the Cagayan Valley Road, which passes through more populous towns like Cauayan and Ilagan.

Arch announcing our arrival at Cabatuan, Isabela province along the Santiago-Tuguegarao Road.

Typical two-lane bridge in Isabela along the alternate route to the Cagayan Valley road. Our decision to take this road seemed to be a good one as traffic was very light and we could travel without worrying too much about tricycles or pedestrians.

There were rice fields on both sides of the road. The concrete pavement was satisfactory and allowed us to travel at high speeds. Fortunately, there were few communities and people living along the highway at the time.

I like seeing rice fields with the plants growing and the greenery indicating its is well-irrigated. This was taken in mid-February so I am pretty sure that since it was months before the wet season, the area had an abundant harvest.

Sunset in the Cordilleras

The light from the sunset presents travelers with surreal sights with the rice fields and the mountains often combining for picture-perfect moments. I took this with my Canon Ixy on-board a moving vehicle!

Another shot of the country side along the Santiago-Tuguegarao Road. This highway will actually pass through Kalinga province and there is a junction after Quezon town where travelers can turn left towards Tabuk, the capital town of Kalinga.

Crossing the Buntun Bridge after Enrile town brings the traveler to Tuguegarao. The bridge spans the width of the Cagayan River, the longest and largest river in the Philippines, which deserves to be called by its name during the Spanish period – Rio Grande de Cagayan.

Cagayan River is a wide body of water that is navigable and the source of fresh water for a lot of people in the Cagayan Valley. It stretches from Aparri to Dupax Del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya near the Nueva Ecija province and Pantabangan Dam. The river and its tributaries cover practically the entire valley of 4 provinces (Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya).

Reviewing these photos and trying to remember the places is like reliving the journey. I am sure there has been a lot of changes since I took these photos in February 2007. Perhaps there have been substantial developments along the highways and there are more people living in those communities we passed by. Perhaps, too, there is more vehicular traffic along these roads, a definite sign of progress in these areas. I just hope that there would be more and not less trees in those hills we passed along the way.

Scenes along EDSA

The following photos are just takes on EDSA during one of those trips from a meeting to go back to the university. The pictures show what we encounter everyday along what may be the busiest thoroughfare in the country. Of course, it goes without saying that similar scenes are also observed along other roads including expressways.

Visual noise – the billboards along EDSA remain to be a source of “visual noise” as some architects and planners refer to their proliferation. There are a huge concentration of these billboards in the Guadalupe area including LED screens that literally light up the road. Not a few people including MMDA Chairs have called for the removal of the billboards or at least regulating their content. With summer approaching fast, the models might have lesser clothing on them and become more of distractions for motorists and riders.

Motorcycle lane – the imposition/implementation of motorcycle lanes along EDSA has received mixed feedback from various sectors. Unlike Commonwealth, EDSA’s traffic is significantly higher and the latter has less lanes and so during peak periods, there is no choice for motorists but to use the motorcycle AND bus lanes. The result is a chaotic mix of vehicles jostling for road space especially along areas where bus stops are located.

NMT lane-splitting – I was fortunate to be able to capture this scene where a man on bicycle splits the lane along EDSA. The lane here is actually part of the 2 outermost lanes designated for buses (yellow lanes). However, in the vicinity of intersections, private vehicles are tolerated to use the lanes as the turn into or off from EDSA. I don’t think there is good data on how many bicycles travel along EDSA (or sections of the highway) everyday. This would be an interesting statistic that could enable us to determine the demand for cycling along this highway.

PhP 21.5 B for electric tricycles

Another article came out today, this time from GMA News about the NEDA’s approval of a PhP 21.5 Billion project for electric tricycles. The approval of the project is said to be based on the evaluation of a feasibility study submitted by its proponent, the Department of Energy (DOE). I have not yet seen this FS and I am not aware of any formal studies in this regard that has been made public so I cannot make a fair comment with regards to what the NEDA had as reference materials in their assessment. I am aware of one private initiative where UP was involved but to my knowledge this has not been disseminated or shared by the Client to government agencies. Though caution is still very much necessary and desired when moving forward with this e-trike project (What would happen to spent batteries? Is there adequate technical support? Charging stations? Policies regarding phasing out conventional tricycles?), it is hoped that this will be one of those “tipping point” moments that will ultimately benefit the country.

The article on the e-trike is reproduced below:

MELAY GUANZON LAPEÑA, GMA News March 26, 2012 5:29pm

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) approved a P21.5-billion project to promote sustainable transportation and achieve energy efficiency.

The Market Transformation through Introduction of Energy Efficient Electric Tricycle (E-trike) Project will reduce fuel consumption of tricycles by 2.8 percent, equivalent to 560,926 oil barrels, NEDA said in a statement Monday.

“The project will distribute 100,000 E-trikes to tricycle operators on a lease-to-own arrangement, replacing their old gas-fed and two-stroke gasoline engine units. This way, we are also able to protect our environment,” according to NEDA, citing Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and NEDA board vice chair Cayetano W. Paderanga Jr.

“The electric tricycle is a specially designed, highly efficient tricycle that runs on a motor powered by a battery charged by electricity. E-trikes produce no noise, no tailpipe emissions, and represent an opportunity to make public transportation in the Philippines more environmentally conscious while improving the livelihood of tricycle drivers across the country,” reads the project description on the website of Asian Development Bank, which is financing part of the project through a P12.9-billion loan.

The project was proposed by the Department of Energy (DOE).

Additional financing will come from the Clean Technology Fund (P4.3 billion loan and P43 million grant), Clean Development Mechanism facility (P860 million), Philippine government counterpart funding (P3.397 billion).

Early this month, the DOE selected 10 winners in a nationwide contest for the best E-trike design on a theme of “Bright Now! Do Right, Be Bright.”

According to the DOE, the design is optimized to ensure structural integrity.

ADB explained that the project gives tricycle drivers the opportunity to lease or lease-to-own the E-trikes by paying less than 200 pesos a day, which translates to a higher take-home income.

“For example, a conventional tricycle needs between 5 and 7 liters of gasoline to travel approximately 100 kms, costing P250 to P350. To travel the same 100 kms, an E-trike will use between 3 kWh and 5 kWh of electricity, costing only P30 to P50. The 200 peso difference in fuel savings will help the driver pay for the cost of the E-trike,” ADB added.

The pilot project was launched in April 2011, with 20 E-trikes deployed in Mandaluyong City. The E-trikes use two different types of lithium ion battery technology—the 3 kWh and 6 kWh battery packs.

Models with the  3 kWh battery pack can run as far as 50 km on a single charge, and can be recharged to 80 percent in under 30 minutes at fast charging stations. Models using the 6 kWh battery pack can go up to 100km on a single overnight charge.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, who heads the Congressional Commission on Science, and Technology, and Engineering, lauded the E-trike project, saying the use of e-vehicles could lower air pollution levels and lessen the dependence on oil.

“Once thousands of E-trikes begin to be manufactured, many new jobs could be created. Working together, we can give Manila cleaner air, bluer skies, and a more livable environment,” Kunio Senga, director-general of ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, said in an earlier report.

The Quezon City government is preparing pilot test the E-trikes. According to a news release, the city has conducted an Eco-Driving Training for Quezon City Tricycle Operators and Drivers Associations (QC-TODA).

Discussed was the impact of good driving behavior, proper engine maintenance for lesser emissions and reduced maintenance cost as well as increased fuel saving for the current conventional tricycles operating in the city.

QC will be given 22,000 E-trikes over five years—the largest allocation among LGUs in Metro Manila—2,000 this year and 5,000 every other 4 years.

“The project is expected to complement the city government’s continuing effort to mitigate the ill effects of pollution on public health and safety. This would also pave the way for the gradual phase-out of conventional tricycles now plying city roads,” according to a statement by the Quezon City government.

Under Phase I of the project, 20,000 E-trikes will be distributed to operators in Metro Manila, Boracay, Puerto Princesa City, Cabanatuan City, and Davao City from 2012 to 2013.

Eighty thousand units will be distributed to operators in municipalities and cities that are still to be determined under Phase II (2013 to 2016).

NEDA said the project aims to promote, establish and develop electric-vehicle support industries such as battery leasing, recycling and disposal, and motor supply chain and charging stations.

But the Electric Vehicle Alliance and the Partnership for Clean Air are questioning the project, saying its funds were reallocated from the renewable energy industry—originally stipulated in the Clean Technology Fund.

Greenpeace is also not happy with the project.

“Why are we rushing this project?” asked Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigner Francis Dela Cruz.

While E-trikes are not bad in terms of technology, Dela Cruz said
they are not necessarily good for the environment. “Hindi siya magiging source ng mobile pollution, but because you use power outlets to charge, you are just shifting to a stationary source of pollution—the fossil fuel-fired power plants,” he said.

In addition, the project-mechanism that involves LGUs as lenders make the project seem dubious to Greenpeace.

“Kaya bang magpautang at maningil? Baka magpapautang tapos hindi maniningil, ang magbabayad ang taong bayan,” Dela Cruz said, noting this will be unfair to taxpayers who don’t benefit from the project but may end up having to indirectly pay for it. — VS, GMA News

The Panay-Guimaras-Negros bridge: nice to have but is it necessary now?

An article came out of the Philippine Daily Inquirer about 19 congressmen backing a proposed 53-Billion Peso bridge project. The bridge is supposed to connect the main islands comprising Western Visayas namely Panay (which has 4 provinces – Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan and Antique), Guimaras and Negros (divided into two provinces – Negros Occidental and Oriental). The claim is that the bridge will generate traffic between the islands, leading to more economic activity. While this preliminary assessment is generally true, it is the magnitude of the traffic and the resulting benefits that is difficult to determine. In fact, it is very difficult to establish a likelihood for what are expected to be tremendous benefits given also the tremendous cost of the bridge. The price tag will require quite a stretch should the usual economic analysis of NPV, IRR and B/C Ration be applied to justify the project, even factoring in employment opportunities (after the project, what then becomes of the workers?)

Meanwhile, it is interesting to make a reality check about the constituencies of these same congressmen. Do they have health centers to serve their people? If so, are there medicines and other essential equipment or staff in these centers? These are just examples of what needs much and immediate attention other than constructing what may likely become a monument to folly. First things first! There are many other things that need to be prioritized other than sinking funds into this project.

From a purely civil engineering or architectural viewpoint, the bridge would definitely be a great project. It could be a showcase project for an emerging economy, a statement for a country wanting to be recognized among its more progressive neighbors like Thailand and Malaysia. Yet, considering many other things like recovery from the disasters that visit the nation every year (think Ondoy and Sendong) it is another one of those projects that I believe is nice to have but is unnecessary at this time. In fact, the cities in the islands of Panay and Negros would probably benefit more if their traffic and public transport systems are upgraded. But that’s just one opinion…

The article is reproduced below:

19 solons back P53-B bridge project


12:03 am | Sunday, March 25th, 2012

ILOILO CITY—Crossing party lines, 19 Visayas congressmen have asked President Aquino to prioritize the construction of a bridge network linking the islands of Panay, Negros and Guimaras.

The legislators, in a resolution, called on Mr. Aquino, the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the National Economic Development Authority to prioritize the construction of bridges connecting the islands in the government’s PPP program.

“The construction of trans-link bridges will open new economic opportunities, reduce transportation and business transaction costs, increase access to social services and boost tourism in the entire Western Visayas region,” according to the resolution.

The resolution was initiated by Iloilo City Rep. Jerry Treñas and was signed by 19 of the 21 legislators from Western Visayas and Negros Oriental.

Aside from Treñas, those who signed the resolution include Representatives Janette Garin (Iloilo), Augusto Syjuco (Iloilo), Arthur Defensor Jr. (Iloilo), Ferjenel Biron (Iloilo), Niel Tupas Jr. (Iloilo), Florencio Miraflores (Aklan), Paolo Javier (Antique) , Antonio Del Rosario (Capiz), Jane Castro (Capiz), JC Rahman Nava (Guimaras), Anthony Rolando Golez Jr. (Negros Occidental), Aflredo Marañon III (Negros Occidental), Alfredo Benitez (Negros Occidental), Jeffrey Ferrer (Negros Occidental), Mercedes Alvarez (Negros Occidental), Jocelyn Limkaichong (Negros Oriental), George Arnaiz (Negros Oriental) and Pryde Henry Teves (Negros Oriental).

Only the late Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo and Rep. Julio Ledesma IV, both of Negros Occidental, were not among the resolution’s coauthors.

House Resolution No. 2018 was read on Jan. 16 and was referred to the House committee on public works and highways.

Steel bridges

There have been various proposals and studies to construct the bridges over the years but none has led to an actual project because of the high estimated cost. In the past, however, the government used modular steel bridges for its various projects. The bridges, unlike concrete ones, are easier to build and less expensive.

A study of  Japan International Cooperation Agency  conducted in 1999 pegged the cost of the project at P53.661 billion with a total span of 23.19 kilometers.

This includes P14.173 billion for the construction of the 2.59-km Panay-Guimaras bridge and P39.488 billion for a 20.6-km bridge linking Guimaras and Negros islands.

In a separate DPWH study in 2010, the project cost was estimated at P28.496 billion covering 13.16 kilometers. This include 3.6 km for the Panay-Guimaras bridge at P9.438 billion and a 9.56-km bridge to connect Guimaras and Negros costing P19.08 billion.

The 13.16-km span is the shortest among the target areas for bridge construction.

Based on this projected length, a bridge will be constructed to connect Leganes town in Iloilo to Buenavista town in Guimaras. Another bridge will link San Lorenzo town in Guimaras to Pulupandan town in Negros Occidental.

‘More realizable’

Treñas said the projected cost in the DPWH study “makes the dream more realizable.”

The Visayan legislators pointed out in the resolution that the promotion of the project under the PPP is an integral part of the President’s socioeconomic program.

They said infrastructure and economic development projects should also be implemented beyond the capital.

“The National Capital Region receives the lion’s share of the national budget despite the Visayas islands having a population greater than that of Metro Manila,” said the resolution.

They said the archipelagic nature of the country “requires the development of a unified well-integrated economy which allows people and goods to be transported swiftly and efficiently.”

Treñas said they hoped that the national government could release funds for a comprehensive feasibility study that would pave the way for the approval and implementation of the project.

PNR Field Trip 2012

We took our students to a field visit to the Philippine National Railways (PNR) station and depot in Tutuban in Manila. It was a good experience for all of us who joined the trip as the PNR is currently in the process of upgrading their services with the acquisition of refurbished rolling stock and the resumption of services to Bicol. We were quite curious as to the current state of the PNR after what has been a long period of neglect from a government that is supposed to promote safe, efficient and affordable mass transit not just for the urban setting but for long distance travel as well.

The PNR station and office building at Tutuban – the old station is actually where the Tutuban is now located. Access to the Tutuban Station is through a gate and the surrounding area is not suitable for a main or central station. There is no station plaza and as we will see in another photo, the space including the platform will not be suitable should operations expand in the next few years. In fact, passengers entering the station are processed as if they are entering an office building. This is partly true as the building serves as head office for the PNR.

Train schedule for the PNR commuter line – service frequency is still low with headways of 30 minutes (a train every half hour). With the number of passengers steadily increasing, the current capacity of trains has already been exceeded. The PNR should resolve issues pertaining to conflicts along its tracks and deploy more trains and/or more cars.

Fare table for the resurrected Bicol Express – family and executive sleepers were supposed to start operation last March 16. We were told that the PNR hosted representatives of travel/tourist agencies to an exclusive initial run of the sleeper and recliner cars to Bicol and back. This was part of the promotion of rail services to travelers especially as the summer months are approaching.

Replica of old PNR train car – there were many photos and other memorabilia on display at the Tutuban station. Unfortunately, the security people seem quite iffy about people taking photos. They had to be told by our host PNR officials that we were visitors from the State University. I found this to be very odd and a definite turn off for people interested in the trains. Rail needs to be promoted and PNR security is not helping in this aspect.

Passengers queued at the Tutuban Station – there were very few seats in the waiting area and passengers who want to board the next train emanating from Tutuban had to stand in line from the gate where PNR staff and security process passengers. A better system should be established here including the introduction of ticketing machines and turnstiles to better serve passengers. It won’t hurt also to have an electronic information system for train schedules and announcements.

Maintenance cars – when our hosts led us to the platforms, the first things that caught my eyes were the maintenance cars. These have allowed the PNR to provide better maintenance work on their tracks, no longer relying solely on manual labor for inspection and other works. Behind the equipment are cars familiar to me and my colleagues – Japan Railways (JR) retired these cars from the Saikyo Line that served areas along a route connecting Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture.

Nostalgic – these cars were the very same cars we used to ride along JR East’s Saikyo Line, which now runs between Omiya in Saitama Prefecture and Osaki in Tokyo via Ikebukuro and Shinjuku. It was usually my choice for going to Tokyo from Saitama University if I was heading to Shinjuku or Shibuya. From the university, I ook a bus to Minami Yono Station where I can also see Shinkansen trains passing through the station. The latter were also headed to Omiya where the Shinkansen lines branch out to Nagano, Tohoku and Akita. The cars shown in the photos are donations from Japan and the PNR only paid for its transport.

Old and new – old cars of the PNR may also be found at the Tutuban depot like this old passenger coach at one of the platforms. We were not able to ask if the PNR had plans to preserve these old cars. In other countries, there are railway museums like the one near Omiya Station in Japan. I’m sure the PNR would not lack for museum pieces including the old locomotives on display at its gates.

Sparkling – The interiors of the commuter trains reflect the service upgrade for the PNR. The trains are clean and spacious (appropriate for the capacities required for commuter service).

Try-outs – our students and my colleagues try out the seats as we were ferried from the Tutuban platform to the depot where our hosts gave us a technical tour of the rolling stock and other facilities.

Grilled reminder – PNR coaches have their windows fitted with grills like this on the PNR commuter trains. Despite efforts to clear its right-of-way of informal settlers, there are still many along its route and these have often vandalized trains. In many instances, garbage and other items are thrown at the trains. These incidents have been significantly reduces but the PNR continues to experience such, necessitating the installation of grills. The coaches from Japan will not be operated until they are fitted with the same grills. Hopefully, the PNR ROW will be clear of informal settlers as well as other sources of impedance.

Control panel – the lead car of the train features this more modern panel for the train controls. Note also the grills on the windshield of the train to mitigate the impacts of stones or other items thrown at the train as it rolls along its tracks near communities that include informal settlers.

Exit route – when our train reached the depot, we had to climb down from the train as there were no platforms in the area. For this, one had to climb down backwards and feel for the steps just below the doors.

Maintenance yard – one of the newer commuter trains from Korea undergoing maintenance work at the depot. The coaches on the right are also Japanese donations for refurbishing, and are fitted for long distance travel though not as comfortable as the recliners or sleeping cars. These are more for longer distance commutes like from Laguna to Manila, which are similar to commutes along the JR Tokaido Line.

Busy bees – with the resumption of Bicol Express services and the revitalized commuter line, the PNR’s maintenance staff have become more busy. There seems to be higher morale, too, as the long-neglected railway company gets a much needed proverbial “shot in the arm.”

Crash victim – one of the commuter trains was involved in a crash when a truck proceeded despite the warnings and the barriers indicating an approaching train. That effectively knocked out one train and will cost the PNR a lot to repair the train. There are still many issues pertaining to safety along rail crossings, and many motorists and pedestrians remain hardheaded (pasaway?). As the PNR increases its frequencies for both its commuter and provincial services the subject of safety will become more serious and one that needs much attention.

Briefing – colleagues ask our hosts about operations and other matters concerning the PNR today. Our students also had the opportunity to ask about employment possibilities at the PNR including what qualifications are needed for railwaymen.

From JR to PNR – those are more Japanese trains in the background. We were not really surprised about the conditions of the trains considering that JR does a great job maintaining their trains given their usage.

Recruitment pitch – our students had plenty of questions for our host including those about the trains and the history of the PNR. They were informed that the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) has a baccalaureate program in Railway Engineering and that our host taught courses there. When asked where the graduates go for employment, our host mentioned its difficult for them to get employment locally as railway engineers and that the program will soon terminated.

Noontime rush – back at Tutuban Station, we witnessed passengers alighting at the station and walking towards the exit. The number of passengers was significant considering the limited capacity of the trains and the fact that it was already noontime. There are probably more passengers during the morning and afternoon peak periods.

Driver’s seat – I took this photo when we boarded our train from Tutuban to Espana. Our hosts were very kind and generous to allow us to ride in the cockpit where all the action takes place. We also got a firsthand experience of what the driver had to go through (his hand was practically on the horn the whole time he was running the train) to earn a living.

All aboard! – the Espana Station platform after all passengers have boarded the train. One passenger seems to be talking to the security personnel at one of the doors. The DOTC and the PNR posts security staff on the trains to ensure safety and security on-board. Their presence is a deterrence against criminality including snatchers and con-men who prey on students and the inattentive.

Capacity – the train is filled with passengers, underlining the demand for more efficient public transport services in Metro Manila. This, despite the fact that trains have 30-minute headways. The PNR commuter line provides an inexpensive alternative to commuters.

Crossings – the junction at Espana Avenue in Manila is among the busiest given the road traffic along this major arterial. If the PNR will increase service frequencies (and therefore capacity), this will result in higher likelihoods for crashes involving trains. During our short ride from Tutuban to Espana, we already saw a lot of crossings along the railways that require much attention and safety devices.

Line diagram – like most trains, the PNR displays information on the stations along its commuter line. We visited their main station at Tutuban and rode a train from there to Espana. I can imagine that the stations listed in red would be express stations in the future but then conspicuously “blue” are Paco and Buendia Stations, which I believe should be major stops for the PNR.

Lane separators along Commonwealth

The MMDA and the DPWH are currently constructing what they term as lane separators along Commonwealth Avenue. These are concrete islands very similar in form to curbs, whose function is to delineate the outer lanes of Commonwealth. These will physically separate public utility vehicles from motorcycles and most private vehicles who generally use the middle and inner lanes. There are, however, early criticisms due to what is perceived as an increased risk for crashes due to the separators themselves. Some motorcycle groups have already expressed their apprehensions about the facilities that were supposed to protect them from aggressive PUVs. Meanwhile, one DPWH official was interviewed and proudly claimed the safety features of the separators including their being unmountable by large vehicles. From the height of the separators shown in the following photos, I am not so sure that these devices can stop trucks or buses, even jeepneys or cars from going over the other side.

Separation device – the lane separators are basically barriers separating the 3 outermost lanes of Commonwealth from the rest. Of these 3 lanes, 2 are designated for public transport (yellow lanes) and one for private vehicles. The lane immediately to the left of the separator is the motorcycle lane. Note the blue lane marking denoting the MC lane.

Service road – the separators practically create a service road along Commonwealth where PUVs and some private vehicles will travel along. Drivers and riders who intend to make right turns should shift towards the inner lanes through one of the relatively narrow slots along the separator line.

Small window of opportunity – vehicles turning from the University Avenue to Commonwealth must weave in traffic as many shift towards the nearest U-turn slot. The separators add another constraint to their movements. There is a similar narrow opening for vehicle turning towards the University Avenue from Philcoa but this can be quite tricky with the speeds of vehicles as well as the trajectories of those coming from the outer lanes of the mall to merge with the main flow along Commonwealth.

Under construction – tarpaulin sign and traffic cones mark the beginning of an area cordoned for the construction of the lane separators. The separators are supposed to be built along both directions of Commonwealth and may stretch all the way to Fairview. These should also aid traffic enforcers in apprehending PUVs traveling outside their designated lanes.

Temporary displacement – motorcycles use the another lane as the construction of the separators use up the space of the motorcycle lane. Riders have become accustomed to using the lane from the time they were first implemented along Commonwealth.

Now you see it, now you don’t – the motorcycle lane along Commonwealth northbound leads into the stairs of a pedestrian overpass. This necessitates motorcycles to shift towards the lane to their left. The rightmost lanes are for public transport.

Respect and discipline – Motorcycles now typically use the lane designated for them and fewer vehicles encroach along these lanes for most part of Commonwealth where there are no weaving due to the U-turn slots. The separator will further lessen vehicle intrusions (and lane changing) as PUVs will be confined within the outer lanes courtesy of the separators.

The jury will definitely be out for the concrete lane separators currently being constructed along Commonwealth. It is still early for a fair assessment but many motorists are already pointing out the separators as increasing the risks for crashes. Surely, the MMDA and the DPWH carefully thought this out before its implementation and have the best intentions in favor of road safety. However, even the best intentions can still result in unintended consequences. Hopefully, this is not another case of the latter.

Pet peeve – still on deplaning at NAIA T3

I was waiting for the boarding call for my flight and took the photo below of passengers deplaning via the stairs at the aft door and the air bridge. These were loaded unto the waiting buses, which ferried them to the terminal building.

For all those buses with their drivers, fuel and emissions, wouldn’t it have been more cost efficient to just operate the airbridge and let the passengers use this facility rather than have them take the stairs (and without assistance for the elderly and those with babies or small children)? From an environmental perspective, wouldn’t use of the air bridge make more sense in terms of reducing carbon footprints as well as fuel consumption?

A tale of transport costs for a commuter

When I was in high school, the minimum fare was 1 peso and my daily afternoon commute from school cost me an average of 3 pesos per day. If we didn’t have to go to school for extra-curricular activities on a Saturday, that meant I usually spend 15 pesos per week or about 60 pesos per month. I remember that my parents paid 200 pesos for the school service, which only covered the morning trips from home to school. This brought my monthly transport cost total to 260 pesos and this was back in the 1980’s. At the time my weekly allowance was 100 pesos (~400/month); more than enough for my lunch and snacks, and which allowed me to save some money that I usually deposited in my savings account. Of course, my actual total allowance was 600 pesos per month factoring in the amount my parents paid for the school service. These figures meant transport accounted for 43.33% of what was my income back then (15% if the school service component was not included).

At university in the early 1990’s, my allowance was up to 300 pesos per week. Transport fares, however, increased with a minimum fare of 2 pesos (for the first 4 kilometers) and my two rides one way to the university cost me a total of 5 pesos per trip. This could easily be multiplied by two if I was able to get an easy ride home from Katipunan but traffic was already worsening at the time and I, together with a few friends who had similar commutes, often found myself going to Cubao where the terminal was so I could get a sure ride home. This meant I had to shell out an additional 6 pesos on certain days. I estimate that my weekly total could average around 80 pesos, bringing my monthly average up to 320 pesos. That translates to 26.67% of what can be considered as my monthly income at the time.

By the time I was in graduate school in the mid 1990s, commuting in Metro Manila was a whole different animal with congestion along my route really becoming terrible. It was so terrible that the conditions then resulted in the birth of what was called FX services. The then newly introduced Asian Utility Vehicles (AUV), particularly the Toyota Tamaraw FX’s, that originally were registered as regular taxis started contracting passengers (illegally) in order to maximize their fares. It was actually the other way around as passengers who were exasperated at the very long queues in Cubao decided to contract FX taxis as groups and offering the drivers fares they just couldn’t refuse given that their being taxis allowed for flexible travel routes bypassing congested roads. By the time, the going rate was 10 pesos per passenger for an FX taxi starting from Cubao and ending at Cainta Junction. I was among the people willing to pay for this luxury, considering it saved me a lot of time and the ride then was comfortable due to the airconditioning on these vehicles. Perhaps it was also my way of applying what I understood from my transport economics lessons from my Japanese professor back then.

My daily commute during my grad school days cost me around 30 pesos for a total of about 200 pesos per week counting Saturdays and other side trips during the week. This to me was quite acceptable considering I had a scholarship grant at the time that gave me 3,000 pesos per month excluding other allowances that covered research expenses. The significant increase in my income was actually just enough to retain the percentage I spend for transport. Due to the corresponding increase in my transport costs, the percentage I spent for transport remained at 26.67%!

Taking post grad studies in Japan a few years later, I estimate that my average monthly transport costs amounted to around 20,000 yen (I traveled practically everyday using trains and buses.) This didn’t include the very occasional taxi on late nights when trains and buses were no longer available from the city center to the dormitory. My monthly allowance though was a very generous 185,000 yen so transport only accounted for 10.81% of my monthly income. This meant I had money available for a comfortable life abroad after accounting for my needs (e.g., food and shelter) and factoring in savings towards my estimated disposable income at the time.

The above examples are illustrations of how much transport costs become significant considerations in our typical expenses. Transport costs like the fares I paid when I was a student ate up a significant part of what was considered my income at different times. My case can probably be considered as fortunate since my parents were able to provide for me during my high school and university days, and I was able to get generous scholarships during my grad and post grad schooling. It is not the same for may others who would have to shell out more to be able to travel between home and school and do not have the choice, given limited resources (i.e., allowances), to select transport with a higher level or quality of service. There are those who have to walk (and even swim) to and from school simply because they have no other means.

I relate my personal experiences as I try to understand the plight of many commuters who have to bear the provisional fare hikes that the LTFRB approved today. This is in part a reaction to the clamor of public transport groups for transport fare increase in relation to the alarming increase in fuel costs. Unfortunately, there is little difference between transport during my time as a student and transport today. In fact, we still are very dependent on tricycles and jeepneys where buses and perhaps rail transport is the more appropriate modes for travel.

Perhaps our continued dependence on transport that is too dependent on fossil fuels whose prices are susceptible to many factors makes us quite vulnerable not just to price changes but also to the whims of a public transport system that has been proven to be inefficient and ineffective. It goes without saying that we need to have the necessary public transport infrastructure built in order for commuters to once and for all be relieved of the constant threats of oil price hikes and fare increases. Too long have been the delays for rail lines and BRTs, and it is costing us billions of pesos that could have instead already paid for these systems that we are hesitant to put up. Only then will we be liberated from those who claim to be concerned about the welfare of commuters but fail to deliver safe and efficient transport services as they put revenue first contrary to their commitments when they got their franchises.

Decoupling transport and fossil fuels in the Philippines

An article appearing in the Business World today caught my attention as it provided, to me, a very good argument to support initiatives to wean transport away from its dependence on fossil fuels. Being a supporter of the initiatives for alternative energy to power public transport, especially the electric jeepneys, I can appreciate the discussions pertaining to urban transport. The DOTC, LGUs and the current dispensation should take heed of the main points in the article and focus attention and resources to building the transport infrastructure that our cities so badly need and that have been delayed for so long that we are often forced into short term (and short sighted) remedies (the FX or UV Express services come to mind).

The author is a former Dean of the School of Economics of the University of the Philippines Diliman and is well respected for his articulate views on practically everything connected to his field of expertise. His piece on urban transport in the Philippines includes mention of what many of our leaders already know but are afraid to touch due probably to its socio-political, and therefore painful, implications. I reproduce below the entire article as it appeared on the March 19, 2012 issue of Business World’s online edition. My sincere apologies for any copyright infringements that I might have committed.

The right thing is doing nothing

The clamor from public transport groups, mass organizations, a few politicians, media columnists, and — surprisingly — even some academics to reduce the VAT on oil products has now become so insistent that the government may just be tempted to cave in.

Doing so would be a big mistake.

It is hard to justify on first principles just why or how a solution to high oil prices should involve a reduction of the VAT on fuel. The VAT, after all, is based on the idea that all consumption must be uniformly taxed — that is, taxed at the same rate. Without good reason, the tax system should not itself be responsible for making some goods more or less expensive than others. Hence, if without taxes the price of a can of corned beef was, say,twice that of a bar of bath soap, then it should still be worth twice as much after a 12% tax is imposed on each. (Note that the ratio of X to Y is the same as the ratio of X(1.12)to Y(1.12).) That relationship is unchanged whether the uniform VAT is set at 5, 10, or 12%, as long as the rate is the same across all goods. (My colleague Ben Diokno has even seriously proposed that the VAT rate be raised to 15 percent in lieu of high income taxes — although he has curiously been reported as supporting a cut in the VAT on fuel.)

To argue that the VAT rate should be reduced for some products but not for others is to privilege the consumption of those products. But why should gasoline and diesel in themselves be more vital to consume than other goods? Why is a peso spent on fuel socially more important than, say, the peso a family spends on electricity or water? Or the toll paid by a bus using the NLEx? Or what a student pays for a cheap sandwich? Or a professional’s hard-won savings to purchase a laptop? Or more meritorious than a farmer’s purchase of fertiliser, pesticides, and farm tools? What entitles petroleum products to this special treatment?

If the answer given is that petroleum products are “consumed by the poor,” that’s not exactly true either. It is vehicle owners, both private and commercial, who consume petroleum-based fuel — and few of them are poor. Indeed, if the government were to cut the VAT on fuel, it would help not only jeepney — and bus — operators but also owners of BMWs, Benzes, Pajeros, and Fortuners. The effect would be to privilege heavier users of auto fuel — poor or not.

Tax-tinkering is fraught with danger, and its deleterious effects should by now be evident in our experience with an already existing fuel subsidy (which everyone seems to have forgotten), namely, the decades-old privilege given to diesel fuel. For starters, note that there is no inherent physical reason that diesel should be cheaper than gasoline. Indeed, from a pure cost perspective, diesel is more costly to refine, so that before any taxes, it is likely to be more expensive than gasoline. In the US and the UK, for example, where the two fuels are taxed uniformly, diesel is more expensive than gasoline; in Germany and Canada they cost virtually the same. So if only the 12% VAT were applied to both — say, at landed cost — gasoline would probably still be cheaper than diesel.

It is not the VAT but the lower specific tax on diesel — at only one-third of that applied to gasoline — that makes the latter more expensive by more than 20%. This low tax, which has been in place since time out of mind, was always meant as a concession to public transport, the predominant user of auto diesel.

And where has this discriminatory policy taken us? First, it has only deepened the country’s reliance on diesel fuel. It has discouraged any search for or shift to alternative fuels on the part of public transport. On the contrary, it has enticed an increasing number of private vehicle owners to shift to diesel fuel themselves. The latter, of course, is a completely unforeseen consequence and embarrassingly gives the same “pro-poor” diesel tax privilege to a jeepney driver and a Mercedes Benz owner. It’s basic Slutsky: cheapen something in relative terms and you divert consumption towards that thing. Similarly, lowering the VAT on fuel will do nothing but deepen the country’s dependence on all petroleum fuels.

The second effect is more pernicious. Cheap diesel — combined with the lax franchising of everything from buses to jeeps to pedicabs — has created an overcrowded and über-fragmented urban transport sector. A 2007 World Bank volume reports that Manila had 13,375 public transport vehicles per million people, compared to only 1,890 for Bangkok and 1,807 for Hong Kong. (Guess where the public is better served.) Philippine public transport today is dominated by numerous and fragmented small operators kept alive only by artificially cheap fuel.

Transport groups routinely blame high fuel prices for their woes. Under-appreciated is the fact that their own uncontrolled proliferation — which leads to cutthroat competition, congestion, and dangerous road rage and warfare — is the main reason for their low incomes. This proliferation of bit-players has itself been unwittingly brought about by the policy of subsidized fuel (diesel). Ultimately, however, this kind-hearted approach has only hurt the poor by depriving them of cheap, clean, and efficient transport. For just as large developers will be discouraged by squatters occupying a property, the transport sector’s preemption by an inefficient and fragmented small sector precludes the entry of firms with larger capacities and more efficient technologies, all of which could have led to better service.

Lowering the VAT on fuel addresses none of these problems. On the contrary, it would only perpetuate them. The country is better served by confronting the real problems of urban transport. Government time, imagination, and effort are better directed at encouraging higher capitalization in the transport sector, larger capacities, more fuel-efficient technologies, and less reliance on imported fuels whose prices are volatile. The initiative to field large numbers of natural gas-powered and electric buses is a promising start. Unlike the transport sector, the power industry weaned itself from imported oil many decades ago, and electric power now is largely sourced domestically and therefore largely immune to the price-gyrations of world oil markets. Using more electricity for transport is the more effective way to insulate the country from the speculative activity that characterizes world oil markets. The same goes for natural gas, which is something the country itself produces.

The sooner the petroleum dependency of public transport can be reduced, the better it will be for the country-including its poor. For that, the most urgent and bold actions are clearly warranted. But as for the demand to reduce the VAT rate on petroleum products-effectively undermining and distorting hard-won legislation for the sake of a temporary exigency-the best response is clearly inaction. And if there are those who choose to call this indolence, indifference, or “Noynoying” (the latest meme), if some critics cannot see the difference between a placebo and real medicine, between palliatives and real reforms-then the president would do well to pay them no heed.

He should simply-igNoy them.

Emmanuel S. de Dios is the treasurer of the Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis and a Professor at the UP School of Economics. For comments and inquiries, please email us at

Indeed, Filipinos deserve better transport services. In most cases, the proliferation of informal modes where they are no longer suitable (e.g., tricycles dominating urban transport in many cities, jeepneys plying long distance routes, etc.) is actually a disservice with many operators no longer committed to providing safe and efficient service. For most, the livelihood aspect of transport has become so deeply rooted in the sector that our leaders have tended to turn a blind eye to the excesses and abuses such operators impose upon the riding public. The result? Filipinos will continue to aspire for their own vehicles (these days this vehicle would be the affordable motorcycle) because of the low quality of service of our public transport modes, eventually contributing to the worsening congestion we experience in our daily commutes. Meanwhile, we continue to envy the transport systems in the major cities of our neighbors like those in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. We are eons behind Singapore but soon, even Vietnam will probably overtake us in terms of public transport systems once they start building what they are currently planning for Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. How long must we all suffer before our leaders are moved to finally address this problem head-on and not be satisfied with remedies.

Update on the Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. underpass

Passed by the construction site of the Quezon Ave. underpass at its intersection with Araneta Ave. last week and took a few more photos showing the progress of work for the underpass. Fortunately, we were riding a bus and our seats provided a good view of the underpass. Following are photos taken last March 12, 2012.

Heavy equipment along the ramp on the eastbound direction of Quezon Ave.

Both directions of the underpass have been paved and the median island is under construction.

Backhoe at unpaved section of the underpass. The design reminds me of the underpass section along the same Quezon Ave. at its junction with Agham Road. Visible from the photo are braces/anchors embedded into the sides of the walls to reinforce these and prevent collapse.

The underpass will have 3 lanes per direction that should be able to handle significant through traffic along the arterial.

The section past Araneta Ave. is practically complete and retains essentially retains 3 lanes on each side of the original Quezon Ave. Upstream of the junction, there are only 2 lanes available on eaither side of the at-grade section of Quezon Ave.

While traffic along the eastbound (to Quezon City) direction is practically free-flowing due to the wide section of the highway downstream, the westbound (to Manila) section is congested.

Construction materials and workers’ bunkers at the east end of the underpass.

The congestion along the westbound direction extends from the intersection to way past the underpass’ east end. On a bad day, it takes a significant time for travelers to be able to cross Araneta Ave. and towards Manila.