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What if Ondoy happened today?

September 2017
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With the news of the devastation of Houston by Hurricane Harvey comes articles about transportation in that city. An interesting articles is this one:

Davies, A. (2017) “Hurricane Harvey Destroys Up to a Million Cars in Car-Dependent Houston“. Wired.com.  September 3, 2017. https://www.wired.com/story/harvey-houston-cars-ruined?mbid=nl_090317_daily&CNDID=%%CUST_ID%% (Last accessed 9/4/2017).

The article reminded me of a very personal experience back in 2009 when Typhoon Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) submerged much of Metro Manila and its adjoining provinces in what was believed to be at least 100-year floods. Greater Metro Manila or Mega Manila is not too dependent on private cars for transportation with an estimated 70% of trips taking public transport (about 30% use private vehicles including motorcycles and taxis). Much of this public transportation, however, is road-based and so the floods did much to affect transportation in the area for the weeks after Ondoy. Car-owners rebounded quite quickly and car sales surged afterwards with many people purchasing SUVs in response to the likelihood of floods.

But what if Ondoy happened today? What if people were as unprepared as in 2009? Perhaps the damage would have been even greater than back in 2009. Mega Manila has become more dependent on cars since then with the current estimates of private vehicle mode shares at around 35%. The increase includes not only taxis and motorcycles, which have enjoyed steep increases in the past decade, but also ridesharing services (i.e., Uber and Grab).

Uber and Grab vehicles are predominantly comprised of vehicles purchased for the main purpose of being driven for income instead of the original concept of ridesharing where the vehicles are already owned and operated only during the free times of their owners (i.e., they provide services only on a part-time basis). Their proliferation and popularity means a lot more vehicles could have been damaged by Ondoy and that the owners of these vehicles likely would not have recovered from the loss even despite their auto insurance coverages.

Metro Manila and other Philippine cities under the threat of similar severe weather systems such as typhoons should build resilient transportation systems. Not surprisingly, among the more resilient modes of transport are non-motorized such as walking and cycling. Pedicabs where almost immediately back on service in Tacloban after Yolanda practically destroyed that city. But then again, an efficient public transport system is also necessary and buses and trains may provide relief from flooded cities. Maybe, a proposed subway system can also contribute if it includes the construction of subterranean drainage systems similar to that of Tokyo’s. These are not easy to develop or build with infrastructure costing much over the long term. However, Metro Manila needs to start building them now as these won’t get cheaper in the future.


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