Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: February 2015

“No” to additional jeepneys?

I finally got a photo of a banner that I’ve seen on many jeepneys plying the Katipunan route. This appeared on jeepneys a couple of weeks ago and the message on it is clear: “No to more jeeps, to more traffic in Katipunan.” I became curious about this as I noticed that list of transport groups that had their names printed at the bottom of the tarpaulin. Noticeable is the absence of one group, Pasang Masda, among the list that includes, among others, LTOP, ALTODAP and the party list group 1-Utak, which used to have a seat in the Philippines House of Representatives.

2015-02-03 18.17.21Tarpaulin sign hanging at a wire fence at the Katipunan jeepney terminal under the Aurora Blvd. flyover.

Pasang Masda is supporting the Comet jitneys currently plying the North EDSA-Aurora Boulevard route (via Mindanao Ave., Congressional Ave., Luzon Ave. and Katipunan Ave.). In fact, the head of the group is reported to have bought a few units, likely convinced of it as a good investment. Is it? Only time will tell considering its route is not necessarily the best for it, overlapping with several jeepney routes including the UP-Katipunan route. Is the Comet a game changer? So far, it isn’t and that’s mainly because of its single roue that’s not exactly favorable for a demonstration of the vehicle’s capability and claimed advantage over the conventional jeepneys. A colleague even says that it seems the route approved for it doomed its operation in the first place. But that’s an entirely different story from the opposition to it that’s stated in the tarps at the Katipunan jeepney terminal and some of the jeepneys plying the route.

So, is it a “no” to more jeepneys because their numbers are really already excessive OR is it a “no” because the additional jeepneys are from other groups or those not affiliated or in league with the undersigned? It seems that the latter case applies here and this should be taken as an example of what to expect along the way as initiatives to phaseout or replace conventional jeepneys get going. It is a bit complicated due to mainly to the social aspects of a phaseout or replacement but it gets more complex with the personalities involved including and especially the leaderships of various transport groups.

Bullish about electric vehicles in the Philippines

We were invited to the opening of an electric vehicle assembly plant in Cavite recently. BEMAC Electric Transportation Philippines, Inc. formally opened their plant last February 11 at the Almazora compound at the Golden Mile Business Park in Carmona, Cavite. We were very impressed at the plant and learned that BEMAC is partnering with Almazora, a local company specialised and experienced in vehicle body assembly. I am sharing photos I took of the plant so readers can have an appreciation of what an assembly plant looks like.

2015-02-11 15.07.56BEMAC’s e-tricycle model, the 68VM, has a comfortable seating capacity for 6 passengers at the back with the driver the sole occupant of the front seat.

2015-02-11 15.10.09Batteries by Toshiba Japan

2015-02-11 15.10.54E-trike body parts

2015-02-11 15.11.20More parts

2015-02-11 15.11.33Assembly area for the drives

2015-02-11 15.11.53Axles stacked and waiting for assembly

2015-02-11 15.12.33A closer look at the drive assembly

2015-02-11 15.13.24Assembly line showing e-trikes in various stages of assembly

2015-02-11 15.13.32Another look at the assembly line

2015-02-11 15.14.06Assembly line showing the chassis of the e-trike and the body being assembled.

2015-02-11 15.15.48A view of the assembly line from the rear2015-02-11 16.29.11E-vehicle intended for goods transport

2015-02-11 16.50.21A closer look at the initial stages of assembly showing the e-trike chassis and body frame

2015-02-11 15.51.52A slide in BEMAC’s presentation shows its 68VM

BEMAC’s e-trike model is the best we’ve seen so far among e-trike models in the Philippines. It is supposed to have been tested under various conditions except actual (or simulated) operations that are closer to real-world conditions (i.e., operation as conventional tricycles in the country). It is claimed to be capable of running at a top speed of 80 kph and its motor can power the vehicle up steep slopes, which is a typical feature in many municipalities and cities in the Philippines. Details for BEMAC Philippines may be found in their website.

There will be an Electric Vehicle Summit on February 26-27, 2015. The 4th Philippine EV Summit will again be held at the Meralco Multi-Purpose Hall in Ortigas, Pasig City. The two-day summit organised by the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP) in partnership with Meralco and the Partnership for Clean Air (PCA) will feature an exhibit on the current electric vehicle models available in the Philippines, which I think is among if not the main highlight of the summit. There will also be several talks and panel discussions on e-vehicles including those on technology/R&D, industry, incentives and green communities. The program also mentions a lot about sustainable mobility, a term prolifically used by advocacy groups but not really one I’d attribute to e-vehicle proponents (One colleague made the observation before that not everyone is really into e-vehicles because of its environmental aspects.). I’m not sure all the top officials they invited will show up or give good talks. Past summits had good potentials as venues for serious discussions that could have led to fruitful outcomes. However, it seems that they fell short of these objectives and ended up with boring talks that to me often were reduced to lip service from government agencies especially on topics like incentives that will pave the way for the turning point for e-vehicles.

Hopefully, this year’s talks would be more interesting and engaging considering the plenary set-up where people farther from the front tend to have meetings and discussions of their own. E-vehicles have a great potential in improving air quality in a country like the Philippines. There is also the promise of less noise and, more important to many especially operators and drivers, better revenues than translate to increased incomes to those dependent on it for their livelihood. We look forward especially to the transformation of the tricycle sector from the current conventional trikes to the more modern and environment-friendly models such as those by BEMAC.

The old railway station at Hinulugang Taktak

The Antipolo City Government recently re-opened the Hinulugang Taktak park to the general public. The National Park and its famous waterfalls have seen better days and is part of Antipolo lore, immortalized in songs and stories about the pilgrimage city. It has been rehabilitated with various initiatives the past few years and with the water again flowing strongly compared to the trickles of dirty water over a decade ago.

Somewhat lost in the promotion of Hinulugang Taktak is a piece of transport history. I am referring to the old railway station located near the gate to the national park. The most convenient and probably most comfortable way to Antipolo and its two main attractions, the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage and Hinulugang Taktak, many decades ago was by railway. Roads and road transport was not as good as today’s. There were no highways like Ortigas or Sumulong. There were no aircon buses, no jeepneys (yet) and cars and motorcycles were not affordable to most people.

IMG10125-20150214-1335Old sign? There is no formal historical marker for the former railway station at Hinulugang Taktak. I think the National Historical Commission of the Philippines should recognize this as a local if not national heritage site.

IMG10130-20150214-1338Trees notwithstanding, this is the view from what used to be the platform of the railway station.

IMG10132-20150214-1339An old drinking fountain that’s probably survived the passing of time and witnessed a lot about the old railway station and Hinulugang Taktak.

IMG10133-20150214-1339What’s left of the former railway station structure are the platform and columns.

IMG10134-20150214-1340Taktak Road was the old Daang Bakal or railroad. Much have changed since the glory days of rail with a line that connected Antipolo with Manila.

IMG10135-20150214-1341The view from the old entrance to Hinulugang Taktak in what also looked like the old railway station’s ticket office gives people (passengers?) a glimpse of the waterfalls.

IMG10136-20150214-1341The old entrance to Hinulugang Taktak.

Someone asked me before if I thought it was possible for old railway lines to be revived. I replied honestly that I thought it was possible but immensely difficult. For one, a lot has changed in the lands on and along which the old railways used to be. The old Daang Bakal, for one, now passes through private residential subdivisions and industries and is now comprised of busy roads. While nothing is impossible, to rehabilitate the old railways will be a great challenge in the financial and social sense. It would be nice to see realized but requires so much from so many people, agencies and local governments who need to commit to such a project. And it requires leadership and a talent for convincing people that it is the right thing to do and that it needs to be done.

The need for basic transport infrastructure

The need for basic transport infrastructure cannot be emphasized more when we see photos or reports on makeshift bridges and very rough roads that many people use for travel between their homes and the places where they work, attend school or to go to markets to sell or purchase items like food. Many people living in rural areas continue to be in poverty because they lack the infrastructure required for them to be productive. Nevermind that most wealth and productivity is in urban areas. Are we encouraging people who don’t have to be in cities to flock to the cities? And who will be left in the farms? To fish? To produce the food that is so vital for everyone? This is actually a delicate system that hangs in the balance if we cannot support rural development as well as we have urban development.

2014-05-20 12.58.43A hanging bridge in Tarlac is basically the only way for people to travel across this river, which swells during the wet season. The span is suspended from two columns at either ends of the bridge where there are makeshift stairs for people to climb unto and off the bridge.

2014-05-20 13.18.51Another view, this time from one end of the hanging bridge shows a crude structure made out of steel cable, reinforcing bars and whatever wood they could use as planks and hand rails. It looks flimsy but they make do with it out of need. We learned that in times when the bridge was destroyed by typhoons, they would rebuild it with little help from the government.

The term “buwis buhay” comes to mind every time I look at these photos and others I have taken of rural roads in Tarlac and other parts of the country. People, especially children and those working hard to care for their families, should not have to risk lives or limbs just so they could go to work or school. Farmers and fishermen should be provided efficient access to markets so as to encourage them to continue in their contribution to food production. And perhaps we should think twice about building expensive white elephants for vainglorious attempts at mega structures especially when we still have a lot to accomplish in basic transport infrastructure.

University of the Philippines Diliman Bikeways Flyer (2005)

Searching for material on the proposed bikeways network at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus, I came across a draft of a flyer. The flyer was intended for use in consultations with stakeholders including members of the UP Diliman community (e.g., staff, students, faculty and residents). I recall that there was also a committee established for the purpose of planning and implementing the UP Diliman Bikeways. Unfortunately, the network was not fully realised and took a few years before a major component was implemented but under a different project – the UP Diliman Model Traffic Safety Zone project.

The UP Diliman Bikeways Flyers 2005

A copy of the flyer in PDF may be found here:

The UP Diliman Bikeways Flyers 2005

At present, UP Diliman is again considering the bikeways network proposal and has initiated some studies towards determining its feasibility including what routes would be most viable. Incidentally, our students in one of the engineering elective courses offered by the Institute of Civil Engineering is currently surveying candidate routes and they should be finished with this task by middle of March. It would be interesting to see which “corridors” can be proposed as the next components of the network to be realised.

Resurrected bus companies

I posted something recently on an old bus line plying routes between Rizal and Metro Manila. I mentioned there about bus companies somehow being resurrected many years after what I thought were my last sightings of their buses. Of course, it is known that some bus companies have closed shop for one reason or another including what was a government-owned and operated Metro Manila Transit Corporation that used to operate the popular Love Bus. One of the major causes for bus companies folding up is labor problems. Among those that reportedly succumbed to this were Philippine Rabbit, Pantranco and BLTB Co. A few years ago, however, we was surprised to see a familiar bus along the South Luzon Expressway but upon closer look, we found that it wasn’t the old BLTB Co. that was written in the livery but DLTB Co.

BLTB Co. stood for Batangas, Laguna, Tayabas Bus Co. The name alludes to the provinces served by their buses including Tayabas, which eventually became Quezon and Aurora provinces. Their terminal was landmark along EDSA in Pasay City. It is still there along the southbound side and near the junction with Tramo. That will be just beside the left turn overpass from EDSA to Tramo and towards NAIA.

IMG10097-20150211-1255The livery on this bus is very familiar to many who rode on the old BLTB Co. buses many years ago. Was this deliberate from the owner/operator who obviously wanted to use this to their advantage? People are still familiar with the BLTBCo logo and brand so seeing these buses evoke memories of long distance travel back in the day.

There were few large bus companies in the old days. Among them were Victory Liner, Dangwa, Philippine Rabbit, Pantranco and BLTB Co. Victory, Dangwa and Philippine Rabbit served routes to the north of Manila while Pantranco plied both northern and southern routes. The latter company eventually split into Pantranco and Philtranco, with the northern routes under Pantranco (whose terminal was along Quezon Avenue where Fisher Mall now is located) and the southern routes under Philtranco (terminal is still there along EDSA in Pasay City). Pantranco is no more but Philtranco survives despite the current competition from many other bus companies plying routes south of Metro Manila.

Dangwa’s terminal was in what is still now being referred to as Dangwa in Manila, where you can get all the flowers you’ll need for all occassions. It was, after all, the “bagsakan” of flowers from the north, particularly from Baguio City. Victory’s old terminal is still the one in Pasay though it now has a couple in Cubao. It has expanded its points of destination and is perhaps the largest firm now operating north of Metro Manila.

The Philippine Rabbit Bus Co.’s terminal was at the northbound side of EDSA in the Balintawak area. It has a curious story about it; the stuff of urban legends. The name of the bus company is supposed to be Philippine Rapid Transit (another and real bus company). One time they asked their new buses to be painted, the instructions were misunderstood. “Rapid” sounded like “Rabbit” and that stuck to this day. They also had a labor problem and did not operate for a while until they resolved these issues with their drivers and conductors.

Bridges too far (from being practical)

I am always amused whenever I read or hear news about big bridge projects being proposed by politicians in the Philippines. There is no lack of interest in these types of projects considering the many islands comprising the country. However, at this time and with the urgent demand for other transport infrastructure like access roads (farm to market, tourism, etc.), public transport systems, airports and ports, bridge projects of the “mega”-scale can be considered more as follies than smart investments.

Among the projects I have heard or read about are bridges connecting:

  • Cebu and Bohol
  • Cebu and Negros (Negros Oriental)
  • Panay (Iloilo) and Negros (Negros Occidental)
  • Panay (Iloilo), Guimaras and Negros (Negros Occidental)
  • Batangas and Mindoro

There is also a bridge proposed to cross the Pangil Bay in Mindanao that has been part of many conversations pertaining to development in Northern Mindanao. These bridges are entirely different in terms of scale and traffic from, say, the proposed third bridge connecting Cebu and Mactan Islands or even the more basic bridges that should have been built many years ago in order for people in rural areas to have direct and safe access to schools, hospitals and workplaces. We see so many images and viral videos of children crossing swollen rivers using make-shift foot bridges, boating or even just walking or swimming across the rivers. Shouldn’t our leaders prioritize these instead of mega bridge projects?

I still have the same questions as before for the proponents of these bridges:

  • Are these bridges economically and financially viable?
  • What would be the traffic for these bridges?
  • Would the money spent for any of these bridges be better allocated for other infrastructure projects in their constituencies?

The first and second questions are often easily answered but it can be argued that traffic forecasts and estimated benefits can be drastically and dramatically increased just so a project is justified. The third one is usually the testy question that, when combined with the first two could be very difficult to answer and explain. Many cities and provinces in the country lack basic transport infrastructure as well as infra for social services (e.g., schools, health centers, hospitals, etc.). And even with health centers, hospitals and schools being built, their facilities and human resources are often less than satisfactory or adequate for the people they are supposed to serve and benefit. These should be on the top of priorities rather than mega bridge projects whose potential benefits will take years, if ever, to actually realize.

Enforcing bus lanes along Commonwealth Avenue

Commonwealth Avenue always seems to be the subject of road safety or traffic discipline initiatives every now and again. Quezon City together with partners in other government agencies like the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) have embarked on another program aimed at reducing the occurrence of road crashes and other incidents along this busy corridor. It actually reminds me of the “traffic discipline zone” designation of Commonwealth not a decade ago and before public transport lanes were physically allocated along the highway.

They are failing miserably if I am to base success on observations of the behavior of drivers of  public transport vehicles alone along this major highway. They get away with a lot of reckless driving including suddenly switching lanes, speeding, and tailgating. There are also cases where vehicles and pedestrians cross the wide highway at points that are prone to crashes. I am not aware of a lot of apprehensions being made of these reckless drivers along Commonwealth except perhaps at the foot of the Tandang Sora flyover where MMDA enforcers seem to be congregating on most days armed with one of two of the agency’s speed guns. But then it seems “business as usual” for the same drivers and riders along the rest of Commonwealth so the initiatives are not effective deterrents against irresponsible road use.

2015-02-01 09.39.02You can always see buses on the wrong side of the road along Commonwealth Avenue especially along the section between Fairview Market and Regalado. They do this to get ahead of other buses and then bully their way to make a stop or turn right at an intersection.

2015-02-01 09.39.15This bus in particular was weaving in traffic, bullying smaller vehicles to give way as it raced other buses along Commonwealth Avenue. Such behavior among public transport drivers is one of the major ingredients for road crashes.

It’s been a year now since the tragic crash involving an out of line provincial bus in the Cordillera. That was partly the result of poor monitoring and enforcement by the LTFRB. While the major reason for the crash was reckless driving (i.e., the driver was allegedly speeding at a critical section of the highway), this could have been avoided if the bus wasn’t operating in the first place. The very same policies along Commonwealth apply to these provincial buses and fatal crashes could’ve been avoided or minimised if the LTFRB can just exercise its mandate effectively.

On jaywalking, overpasses and informal terminals

I had some errands last December and decided to take public transport instead of taking our car and wasting time parking the vehicle. There was significantly less traffic at that time of the year because schools already on Christmas break and everyone else seemed to be on the slow side of the holiday mode (read: not in shopping mode). I needed to cross the wide road that is Quezon Avenue and there was a sign where I usually crossed that it was now prohibited to cross there. I had to take the overpass to get to the other side and to the jeepney stop to board one to get back to the university.

The overpass at the Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. intersection is under-utilized. I base this on the several times I’ve used the overpass. Most people prefer to cross at road level, taking advantage of the traffic signal cycle that allows for gaps in the traffic for pedestrians to cross safely. Of course, there are those who cross any time and seem to tempt fate by their behaviour. They seem to tempt also the MMDA traffic enforcers assigned in the area but from what I have observed, enforcement of the “no jaywalking” policy is usually lax or non-existent. People regularly cross at ground level in plain view of traffic enforcers.

IMG10030-20150115-0922A vendor set-up at the corner of the pedestrian overpass at the Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. intersection. Obviously, there are few pedestrians using this overpass as most prefer to cross at ground level.

IMG10033-20150115-0923More vendors on the overpass – fortunately, there were few pedestrians using the overpass at the time. Its not the same for other overpasses that are crowded due in part to vendors occupying much of the facility.

IMG10034-20150115-0923The stairs for many overpasses around Metro Manila are a bit on the steep side. That’s generally not okay with senior citizens, children or persons with disabilities.

There is an informal, on-street jeepney terminal right at the foot of the overpass. If you are in a hurry, its best to try to board a jeepney on the second lane as they are more likely to proceed when the approach is given a green light. From my experience, it takes about 2-3 cycles before the “queued” jeepneys finally cross the intersection. It takes that time to at least have several passengers for the jeepneys before it proceeds to cross the intersection. Most passengers here are transferring from jeepneys plying routes along Araneta Ave. There shouldn’t be an informal terminal here and jeepneys occupy 1-2 lanes of the road at a critical point – the intersection approach. This means intersection capacity is significantly affected and many vehicles could not proceed as they are blocked by the jeepneys. Special mention is made of vehicles wanting to make a right turn but have to go through this “gauntlet” of public utility vehicles. Again, there are MMDA enforcers in the area but it seems the jeepneys and the barkers hold sway and likely with the blessing of enforcers. Such situations are commonplace in Metro Manila and many other cities, and contribute to traffic congestion and other problems commuters regularly encounter.

Legit or kabit?

Traveling one morning from Antipolo, I spotted a bus with a familiar company name – EMBC. The last time I saw these buses operating as public transport was when I was in college, and I thought that the company folded up after losing money. However, I have seen some of their buses being used as shuttle services. It seems that the company has been revived but how is a bit unclear. EMBC stands for Eastern Metropolitan Bus Corporation, which was an old company that served the towns of Rizal along with the Antipolo Bus Co., G-Liner and CERT buses during the 1970’s and 1980’s. EMBC buses competed with the Antipolo Buses with their routes overlapping between Tikling Junction in Taytay, Rizal and Divisoria via Ortigas Avenue, E. Rodriguez Ave. (C-5), Pasig Blvd., Shaw Blvd., and Aurora Blvd. These two had overlapping routes with G-Liner and CERT, which plied the Taytay/Cainta to Quiapo route via the same Ortigas Ave. Extension.

IMG09778-20141210-0850The back of the EMBC bus states that it is run by RRCG Transport with a route connecting Siniloan, Laguna and Ayala Avenue-PICC (it probably turns around at the PICC, where Gil Puyat/Buendia Ave. terminates).

IMG09779-20141210-0854Closer inspection reveals that the bus is operated by Jasper Jean, another bus company that is better known for its Fairview-Alabang services.

EMBC is an old company and one that has been dormant if not extinct for quite some time. Was its franchise resurrected like what allegedly happened to another old bus company, BLTBCo. a few years ago? In this latter case, certain LTFRB officials were supposed to have been axed as they were allegedly behind the revival or “resurrection” of the franchise. I think it is not a “resurrection” case as I have also seen what looked like legitimate EMBC buses with information on the bus body showing EMBC as the operator of the bus unit. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to take a photo of such examples. Thus, it is likely that the bus in the photo above is a case of “kabit.”

The concept of “kabit” (literally “connect” in English) in public transportation is not a new one. It has been used (and abused) in many cases) where the existing franchise holder(s) along a specific route could not deploy the number of vehicles necessary to address the demand for transport. In such cases, the franchisee (an operator) enlists other entities to provide the vehicles. And so there is an agreement among the formal franchise holder/operator and the “kabit” entities outside the contract between the government and the franchisee.

This is one reason why it is not necessarily the main company (franchise holder) that can be the guilty party in an incident involving one bus. However, the penalties (e.g., suspension and fines) are imposed on the franchisee and not necessarily to the “kabit” operators. The latter’s vehicles in turn continue to operate despite the suspension being technically applicable to ALL vehicles bearing the company’s name. Such are among the many issues concerning “kabit” and perhaps also among the strongest arguments to put a stop to this practice that is detrimental to the interests of people taking these buses.