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Curiosities of transport services in Metro Manila

March 2016


There are a few interesting observations we can make out of transport services in Metro Manila and chief among them is the poor quality of service that we can generalize among most if not all modes of public transport available to commuters. This poor quality of service of public transport is what drives many people to aspire to own and drive or ride their own vehicle. Already there has been a surge in motorcycle ownership in Metro Manila and its neighboring towns and cities (collectively Mega Manila) and car ownership is also on the rise. These trends have led to increased congestion along many roads. And we will probably not see a significant improvement until the mass transit projects have all been completed. These include the Line 2 Extension to Masinag, the MRT 7 along Commonwealth, the Line 1 Extension to Cavite, and yes, the capacity improvement of MRT 3. Hopefully, there will also be BRT lines along C-5 and Quezon Avenue to complement the rail transport projects.

The UV Express is actually a response to poor public transport services as it evolved out of the FX taxi services of the 1990s that later mixed with informal van and AUV services. These are actually a precursor of today’s ride sharing modes. Only, in those days when the FX service was born, you didn’t have tools like apps to facilitate your ride. People had to agree about the fares and the destinations from terminals like those in Cubao (Quezon City) and Crossing (Pasig/Mandaluyong).

But let us focus on three services that would not have been attractive if only services by their conventional counterparts were (very) satisfactory and if there was a comprehensive and efficient mass transit network in the metropolis. These are Uber, P2P buses and airport express buses.

Uber offers services much like that of the conventional taxi. Its advantages are mainly having recent model vehicles (not dilapidated ones), a better driver (this attribute is quite subjective), and an app-based system for availing services. Fares are generally more expensive than those for regular taxis. And there is a surge pricing for when congestion is really bad. It has a very good feedback mechanism that allows passengers to evaluate their drivers. However, this wouldn’t have been necessary if taxi drivers in general were more disciplined and courteous to their passengers.

P2P buses operated by Froehlich Tours offers services much like that of conventional buses. Its current advantages over conventional buses are that it operates express services, buses are new, well-maintained, and with drivers that appear to be more disciplined than the typical public utility bus driver. A friend’s take is that P2P’s are the bus equivalent of UV Express. It is not at all necessary if the quality of service of regular buses were much better than it is right now. And I am referring to the practically stop anywhere, recklessly driven and poorly maintained regular buses.

Premium airport buses have recently been introduced and these are operated by Air21, which is a freight forwarding company. It is a service that’s long overdue given the many difficult experiences of people to and from NAIA’s passenger terminals. While an airport limousine bus service should have been provided many, many years ago it also is a reflection of the poor quality of airport taxi services. Airport taxis are expensive and according to many stories circulating can be predatory.

What I am driving at, if it is not yet so obvious, is that many ‘new’ services are actually borne out of crappy services of conventional modes. There are many lessons to be learned here in and lest I be accused of neglecting other Philippine cities, I should mention that Metro Manila presents so many lessons to be learned by other rapidly growing and urbanizing areas in the country. At this time we can mention Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and perhaps Clark/Angeles as metropolitan areas to watch in terms of transport system development. Hopefully, there’s a kind of reverse psychology in their approaches to address their transport needs in that they avoid what has been done in Metro Manila. Surely, transport services in these other cities can do better than Metro Manila’s.


  1. Necessity is indeed the mother of innovation. However, most Filipinos have this tendency to make due with what they already have, thus, they usually see the need for innovation as something redundant and unnecessary. As some may say: “Why change something that works?” These people like to resist change because they [say] that it is not needed. But apparently, sure, these things may be working now, however, they usually fail to consider what could happen in a few years. People in this country seem to lack long-term vision for mostly everything. They usually wait until problems become very apparent and only then will they start to consider these proposed changes. And usually, it is already a little too late. (It also doesn’t help that some of these things usually involve people’s livelihoods. So change is basically a threat to their way of life, thus more resistance to change.)

    How about a relevant experience? You see, I’m currently away from Metro Manila and I’ll be working at Clark, Pampanga for a few months. After a month of staying here, I can’t help but see that this place will be like Manila if everything will be left unchecked. Why? The reliance on paratransit** and basically the lack of some proper transportation options. Though I do commend them for the C. Point terminal which makes things much more organized than in Manila, I can’t still help but think that this will be a problem in the future. It is still pretty much following the same path as Manila and I think it should be nipped in the bud before its roots reaches deep. We have to deal it with one way or another. I may be implying that we take away some of these people’s livelihoods but how else do we go about addressing this problem with this kind of transport? As with what happened in Manila, sure, we can start implementing lots of new systems, but people seem silent about what do we do with the old one. To address the elephant in the room, what do we have to do about paratransit? I like to see change as “out with the old, in with the new, if the two can’t go hand in hand.” And given this, I think we should gradually phase out the old one. The sooner we start, the easier and the better. But then again, we are not implementing anything to phase out the old one are we?

    (As for Clark, some companies actually have shuttle services which pick people up at different locations at specific times. Probably a great help for reducing vehicle usage. But still, a fixed bus service would probably be needed now because the place is indeed booming and this will indeed be a problem in the future. Maybe a Mabalacat-Angeles bus route would help? There is already a San Fernando-Clark bus route anyways so that basically makes Clark the center point of “Metro Pampanga”. This is probably good given that the said area (Clark) is receiving huge investments from both public and private sectors. As for the Jeeps, they could always act as feeder lines of course. But then again, di malayong batuhin nung mga jeep yung mga bus kapag magkaroon man niyan. Typical Filipino mentality. We should probably get it over with while its still early right? Really don’t want it to be like Manila, which I see as a lost cause already. Let’s not have Clark go down the same road.)

    Are you aware of any studies about the future of “Metro Pampanga”? If yes, can you share it? If not and if none may exist, uhm… Would you be able to do some studies on it? Probably imposing, I know, but this is something that can be big. If it was my field and I had the time and resources, I’d do it because this surely has huge promise. But sadly, I’m not and I don’t. Just throwing it in here just in case. =)

    **For paratransit, I’m using the definition here:

    (And just in case you are not aware about, read this:
    The link is about how there is an existing fight for free access to most research papers behind paywalls. as with the link above, it is indeed now possible to bypass these paywalls. Are you okay with free and accessible knowledge? =D)

    • d0ctrine says:

      A lot of people do wonder what goes in the minds of DOTC and LTFRB people as they continue to avoid addressing the issues with jeepneys, UV express and buses head-on. It is an issue since the 1970s when studies recommended for their phasing out and/or rationalization in terms of what was defined as a hierarchy for public transport modes. Unfortunately, the rail transit lines proposed back then that were supposed to be the backbone of what could have been an efficient-enough network took very, very slowly to materialize and it didn’t help that various policies and their interpretations within the DOTC and LTFRB hierarchies have led to what we have now.

      UP’s transport center did studies for Clark Development Corp 6 years ago and I recall that this included recommendations for scheduled bus transport services within the free port. CDC seems to have deferred from acting on those recommendations, instead talking with jeepney groups and companies with shuttle buses to provide the necessary services inside Clark. Demand has been steadily growing though especially as BPOs are locating inside the free port and it probably is a matter of time before CDC finally considers UP’s recommendations. BCDA is moving forward in its plans for a Clark Green City. The master plan, which includes a transport component is supposed to have been done by foreign consultant. Those should be available from BCDA for anyone interested in what they plan to have there.

      • After thinking about it for a while, I have to say that I may have been wrong about the elimination of jeeps. Because rather than the jeep itself as the problem, it seems what really needs to be addressed is the underlying system it is built upon: This ‘any place, any time’ system of transportation. (This is probably the same case with city buses.) Because just being able to notice it now, I think a proper large capacity mass transit system probably needs these three things: Fixed routes, fixed stops, and fixed schedules, in cumulative order. These three things are probably needed so that we can easily organize the system and also easily gather data about passenger mobility and then make changes accordingly. I realized it just earlier upon passing by a group of jeeps clustered together near Dau terminal so early in the morning in a Sunday. These jeeps are waiting for passengers coming from provincial buses though they may actually not be there. Waste of time and space. But still though, the system we have now is surely ‘convenient’ and I cannot deny that in some ways. It is very dynamic in the sense that, as said before, it offers transportation at any time and any place. However, it is only convenient only up to a point because the problem with being too dynamic is it also becomes too unpredictable. And as we try to scale larger and larger, the benefit of this ‘convenience’ starts to disappear because of this unpredictability.

        As for another thought about not needing to eliminate jeeps: Is one bus and 3-4 jeeps that coordinate with each other any different? What is stopping us from making a rapid transit system utilizing jeeps? Is it not possible? We can probably implement a system like that. But for that to work though, we really do need fixed stops. For the moment, these stops do exist, however, they are also virtually non-existent. I think we really first need to fix the attitude of people when it comes to transit stops.

        For this, we will really need the help of authorities. Nevertheless, we must also learn to correct ourselves and each other. Self-policing is very important and it is something that we really lack in this country. We can’t expect the authorities to always implement order all the time. As some people say, they really can’t do it alone. But to reiterate again, we will need the help of authorities for this one. There are just too many assholes in the country so even if you try to do good, you’ll usually, if not always, be disappointed and just be left in the dust. And if we really need to start a good thing, we need a collective. Though yes, advocate pa rin natin dapat sa sarili ang pagbabago. Pero ang problema kasi, self-discipline only works if everyone will also do the same. Kung gagawin mo mag-isa wala mangyayari eh. Kapag ginawa mo yung tama sa atin, ikaw yung mapeperwisyo at mamomroblema. At yung gumawa nung mali? Nagantimplaan pa dahil naging masmadali yung buhay niya. Punished for following the rules, rewarded for breaking them. We really need to build up this collective and the authorities’ actions will be the kindling for a bigger fire.

        Given the problem with the lack of self-discipline, I’ve been entertaining this idea on how to go on about it. I like to call it a ‘pila initiative’ and this is with Metro Manila in mind. What needs to be done is basically have authorities man the vehicle stops and focus more on passenger crowd control rather than just only bus control. I like to believe that buses go to where there are passengers rather than the other way around because, hey, pasahero nagbabayad at pera lang and habol nung bus, as bad as it sounds. So kung kalat-kalat yung pasahero, kalat-kalt rin yung bus. Given these, why not make people go to proper stops and make them queue up properly? Help them avoid pushing each other and cutting each other in line. You know, implement some order? If a bus comes, make them unload BEFORE the queue and make them load AFTER the queue. Kapag may nag-attempt na sumingit, hulihin nila, hindi yung sisitahin or sasabihan lang nila. Punish these assholes. But not neccesarily arrest them or fine them. Prone to corruption eh. Dapat minor inconvenience lang. Yun kasi yata ang pinakamagandang deterrent para sa Filipino yata eh. Yung mababaw lang para kahit sino man sila, alam nila na may parusa talaga sa kanila. Maybe detain these people for 10-30 minutes? Mababaw? Yes. Hassle? Sobra. And siguro, as time goes by, masasanay rin sila at makikita natin na yung mga nakapila na yung sisita dun sa mga pasaway. Di malayo na magkakaroon tayo ng parang TopGearPH pero para sa pasahero. Ewan ko na lang kung hindi maging deterrent yun.

        As for the BCDA and Clark, with regards to depending on jeeps and shuttle services, what you’ve said is still the case. Luckily, my company has shuttle services and it is, well, okay. Still better than Manila. And upon searching more about this Clark green city master plan, it seems all is well and good. However, I can’t seem but help think that this is just another posh business district so all problems will be at the edges of it, which they seem to not consider. Even with good transportation plans inside the district, if they fail to consider and help improve these edges like Mabalacat, Dau, or Angeles, it would probably still be like Metro Manila. Just look at the Fort, Taguig. which is under the BCDA also. If they won’t be inclusive with their plans, the problems will reach this ‘ideal’ city from the overflowing problems of the edges. Just look at it this way: Where do you think will the majority of the people that will work in this green district live? Within the district itself? I doubt that. Too expensive for the majority. Dun sila titira sa gilid niyan, as what usually happens. If they fail to do anything about it now, they will not be able to do anything in the future. Metro Manila all over again.

        Ah, but still though, all these are just personal thoughts and ideas. I don’t actually really know what to do about this. I’m just hoping that someone may pick up my thoughts, hoping that this may be a spark for another’s idea. It was just recently that I’ve started to break away from this state of passiveness and I really still don’t know how to go on about it as I’m still developing my foothold. But thanks for accommodating these rough ideas though. Do correct me if I made some mistaken assumptions or anything. =)

      • d0ctrine says:

        Just when it seems to be a logical or common sense solution, it turns out to be something of a puzzle. I guess that’s why many people tried their hand at DOTC and LTFRB to solve the transport mess but ended up with little to show. This after what critics of the current regime claim as low hanging fruits from the previous regime that the current one passed on. It’s like a reality show with a title “So you think you can govern”.

      • It is not that I’m downplaying the problem but there is surely a logical solution to this ‘puzzle’. Some may say that it may be just common sense, but sadly, common sense is actually not that common. To those that attempted to fix the problems before, to be honest, they usually fail to see transportation as a system meaning they usually never attack it as such. They only address symptom after symptom without really identifying its effects on the problem as a whole. Many actions taken seem to forget that problems like traffic has a tendency to cascade so a solution on one location will have an effect on those around them. Given this, the need to consider and coordinate with different government bodies and institutions is actually of utmost importance. Maybe that is why they usually just fall short of solving these problems as these problems from these other places start to encroach on their solutions. It is just like they have no foresight whatsoever. Yet, I highly doubt that as they surely have access to an array of different plans and studies. Though they probably just tend to ignore these things until the problems become so apparent that they are forced to do something about it. So in a way, I’m guessing that most decisions, if not all, are usually politically motivated?

        As on these being low hanging fruits, well, I think they’ve really been right for the picking for a long long time. Ang problema, papitik-pitik lang lagi yung pagkuha nila tapos antagal nung sunod na hakbang kung meron man. Kaya ang nangyayari, nalalamog at nabubulok lang yung prutas kaya kailangan itanim uli at babalik na naman sa simula. Pero wala naman sana problema yung papitik-pitik eh. Pero dapat nga, dire-diretso yung gawa talaga. Dapat may follow-through ika nga. For example, yung HPG sa EDSA. That was actually a good plan. It tries to address the fundamental problem of road discipline. Pero, using an analogy, parang pinagalitan at pinalo nila yung bata pero hindi naman sinabi ng maayos kung anong dapat na option nila sa susunod. Same arbitrary rules, same arbitrary system. So anong nangyari pagkatapos nila mawala? Balik na naman sa dati. This lack of follow-through is another very huge problem.

        Lastly, as for “You Think You Can [x]”, at least in the real show, they are prepared, innovative, and they aim to really please the audience/judges. Ours however probably don’t care. They also just consult experts a little for formalities and then they just improvise with their buddies. And when they get called out on it, they only blame the experts or some other person altogether, even if it wasn’t these people that recommended the unimpressive actions. The show just plain sucks. Will not recommend for another season. Maybe the experts should start to call out these contestants so they’ll be put in their place. 😉

      • d0ctrine says:

        A colleague commented in a forum that we have weak institutions as far as transport is concerned. He was referring to agencies like the DOTC, DPWH, LTO, LTFRB, PPA, and even NEDA and MMDA. This probably has a lot to do with their staff but also because the heads, often political appointees, may not be the people for the job they were appointed to, applied or lobbied for. That certainly is the case with DOTC and its attached agencies whose officials from Secretary down to Asst Secretary level are practically all appointees. Little capacity building has been done and many technical staff have been resigning or retiring since the 1990s an have not been replaced by competent/able people. From an HR perspective that’s practically bleeding that has not been stopped. Trips abroad for staff to attend this and that seminar or training program were basically junkets that have not translated into anything that has gone towards solving problems. People who get appointed to DOTC posts should at least do their homework first and read up on all those studies that have been done in the past in order for them to learn what needs to be implemented in terms of infra and for us to do some serious catch up to improve transport for most people.

        In the case of DPWH, it is a different kind of animal. Only the secretary is replaced and Undersecretaries and Asst Secretaries are all career officials. The thing with this agency though is that they already have a certain culture within it that you need a strong or good enough secretary to lead the organization and institute reforms throughout. That seems to be the case for the current secretary and I hope this continues for the agency. Otherwise, DPWH will just go back to its ways. But that’s not to say there aren’t bad apples still in the agency. Many of them are actually in the district level; some exile there and just waiting to come back if and when a new secretary is appointed.

        Nowadays, the current candidates for President and Vice President are basically stating what people want to hear and to me they haven’t done their homeworks to come up with at least a framework for improving transport in the country. A former DOTC secretary was even listing projects he said he will implement if he becomes president but the list is of projects he failed to implement when he was secretary. That alone has a lot to say about this candidate. The others are just stating the obvious and providing lip service.

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