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Vaccine passports anyone?

As the Philippines, relaxes protocols to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, it is interesting to note that other countries have not let down their guard. And the latter includes nations that have been quite successful in dealing with the pandemic. Many countries have also received the vaccines and have started inoculating their populations. These received the doses ahead of the Philippines and have now vaccinated a significant % of their population according to their respective prioritization schemes.

But even as countries have started vaccinations, the question remains whether a vaccinated individual can now move around or travel as if it were pre-pandemic conditions (the old normal). Here’s a nice article to read as the topic of unrestricted (or restricted, depending on your take) comes up in discussions including those leading to certain policies to be formulated by governments:

Fisher, M. (March 2, 2021) “Vaccine passports, Covid’s next political flashpoint,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/world/europe/passports-covid-vaccine.html [Last accessed: 3/4/2021]

On the Boeing 747

We deviate from our usual topics that are mostly about land transportation to something about air transportation:

Waldek, S. (February 10, 2021) “How the Boeing 747 Changed the Way Airplanes are Designed,” Architectural Digest, https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/how-boeing-747-changed-way-airplanes-designed?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=spotlight-nl&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=thematic_spotlight_021021_2&utm_medium=email&bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&hasha=cf6c402001bc473063a8744033fe9be3&hashb=ec2bb753c2e6299f5107823241955221da67bd1f&hashc=09f65c608bfb62050199733de500e3cd82827631b36d537ce8386d41a3bd1ff7&esrc=FYL_SEG_APR18&sourcecode=thematic_spotlight&utm_term=Thematic_Spotlight [Last accessed: 2/14/2021]

My first flight on the Boeing 747 was back in 1996 when I first traveled overseas to Tokyo. I was booked on a Northwest Airlines (NWA) flight and the airline used B747’s on the regular flights between Manila and Narita. Later, I was on another Northwest Airways, JAL and Korean Air B747’s for homecoming trips and a trip to Seoul. While in Japan, I usually took the Shinkansen for long distance domestic trips. I even had the chance to ride Pakistan Air’s B747 that was a half passenger, half freighter plane. The flight between Narita and Karachi in the 1990s had a stopover in Manila that meant cheap tickets between Manila and Narita (also because passenger demand for the airline was not as high since PAL, JAL and NWA were the airlines of choice between MNL and NRT. I was even upgraded to Business Class en route to Narita the only time I flew on PIA in 1998.

Here’s a model of a Delta B747-400 we got from one of our trips. Delta acquired Northwest and its flights to Asia.

On cultivating a culture of public transportation

There’s this recent article about cultivating a culture of transit (i.e., public transportation). We probably take this for granted despite most of us taking public transportation for our commutes. I would like to think such cultures exist with variations and uniqueness for various towns, cities, even countries. There is a uniqueness about the different paratransit modes that you might find around Southeast Asia, for example. These include Thailand’s Tuktuk and Songthaew, Indonesia’s Bajaj and Angkot, and the Philippines’ jeepney and tricycle.

A Philippine jeepney waiting for passengers at a terminal

 

Here is the article via Planetizen:

Gifford, D. (February 23, 2021) “Cultivating a Culture of Transit,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112361?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02252021&mc_cid=c3b203ffe6&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 2/26/2021]

Some takeaways from the article:

“What are the common factors for great transit? Well funded, frequent transit is one key to a successful transit system, and funding goes a long way to support transit culture. When a system is well funded, it is more frequent, more useful, more people use it, and it becomes part of the culture. Many of these systems are so popular they even have their own stores where riders and transit fans can purchase merchandise.”

and

“Improved service would cultivate a diverse culture of transit as more people rode. Just imagine a far reaching system with dedicated lanes that would not only be beneficial for commuters, when in office work resumes, but one that will improve life for daily riders who depend on it most.”

What is culture anyway? It refers to society, a way of life; including lifestyles, customs and traditions. Perhaps its worth mentioning that the jeepney and the tricycle (the conventional/older ones) are considered cultural icons. This did not happen overnight and probably involved romanticized concepts of anything about jeepneys and tricycles; including stories, true or fictional, about the people involved.

Questions: Can we develop and nurture a similar culture about bicycles?  And can it happen immediately?

On leaders and decision-makers taking public transport or bikes to commute

There has been clamor for our leaders and decision-makers, especially those in the transport and highway agencies, to take public transportation. This is for them to experience how most commuters fare for their daily grinds. And no, having an entourage including bodyguards or reserving your own train car does not count. Dapat pumila o maghintay sa kalye. Makipagsisikan o makipag-habulan sa bus, jeepney o van para makasakay. Many if not most of these officials have their own vehicles or are even driven (may tsuper o driver) to and from work. One even had the gall to transfer his department to where he comfortably resides so he won’t commute but that’s another story.

You see articles and posts about Dutch politicians and even royalty riding the bicycle to work.

The Dutch Prime Minister bikes to work

Then there are politicians regularly taking public transport while in office. Here is an article about the newly inaugurated POTUS, Joe Biden, who took the train for his regular commutes:

Igoe, K.J. (May 4,2020) “Where Did “Amtrak Joe,” Joe Biden’s Nickname, Come From?”, Marie Claire, https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a32363173/joe-biden-amtrak-joe-meaning/ [Last accessed 2/14/2021]

Do we have someone close to such an example? Commuting by private plane between your home in the Southern Philippines and your office in Manila surely won’t let one have an appreciation of the commuting experiences of typical Filipinos.

It’s not that simple: the math on vehicle sales and registration

I read the statement of a government official about vehicle sales, and the subsequent responses it got. He cited math and seemingly joked about not being good at it while trying to make sense of the numbers. It is not as easy as he supposes. And I think that is partly why we fail to address the transport problems. For one, we think it is just about road capacities. For another, it may be about public transport supply. These are not mutually exclusive but rather intertwined along with so many other factors.

Housing, for one, (i.e., its availability, affordability and location) is among the most important factors that affect or influence how we commute. I have been asking the question about housing affordability in CBDs such as Makati, Ortigas and BGC. Lucky for those who already reside at or near those places but most people working there have to contend with expensive mortgages, leases or rents. How much is a condo unit in BGC, for example? If you have a family of 4, you certainly can’t and won’t opt for a studio unit just because its near your workplace. It’s obvious here that you also would have to consider where your children will be going to school as well as the workplace location of your partner if he or she is also working. No schools for now but imagine how it was and would be once our children go back to physical school. Such facts of life seem lost to many pundits commenting or offering opinions about transportation.

I think to be fair this should also be framed from various perspectives. For example, those vehicle purchases don’t necessarily mean additional vehicles on certain roads. like what one MMDA official claims. These will be distributed across the network of roads, and these will be operating during certain times of the day. Some of these vehicles were purchased by new car owners. Others as replacements to older or unserviceable units (e.g., upgrades). It would be nice to see, for example, the stats from 2008, 2009 & 2010. Thousands of vehicles were doomed by Ondoy in the greater Metro Manila in 2009 resulting in their replacements late that year until 2010. Then there was the boom in sales in the following years as people ventured into TNCs (Uber and Grab). The recent surge in private car use and what seems to be strong sales of these vehicles in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is more out of necessity (why do you think people aren’t taking to cycling for their commutes as much as is desired?)

The question why people still prefer to purchase and use their own vehicles has not been answered in the most honest way because different people with their own agenda tend to paint different pictures of the car owner. In some cases, car owners are being portrayed as ‘evil’ while those taking the more environment-friendly modes as ‘good’. Again, it should be obvious that this is not a ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ discussion nor is it something that is black and white. We should pay (a lot of) attention to the grays, which can have so many different shades when it comes to transportation. No one really wins a “holier than thou” exercise where people on opposite sides tend to take hard line stances and close their minds to constructive ideas from either side.

Lessons on housing we need to talk about

There’s this recent article on housing that presents and discusses lessons from Singapore housing that

Fischer, R. (February 2, 2021) “Singapore Housing Lessons for the Biden Administration,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112077?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02082021&mc_cid=4fac9821d0&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 2/15/2021]

I’m not an expert on housing but I’ve experienced living in Singapore. Here’s a photo of the wife as she walked ahead of me on our way to the MRT station near our place back in 2012. One of the factors we considered when we chose this place for our residence was its proximity to the orange line station that meant only one ride (no transfers) between our home station and the station closest to the wife’s office. We could also take the train to the nearest mall if we didn’t feel like walking 15 minutes.

To quote from the article:

“…the secret to Singapore’s success is that their housing projects are carefully designed to support mixed-incomes, beautiful green spaces, and access to high-quality public transportation that conveniently links residents to education and community centers. And last but not least, couple all that with the famous Singapore hawker centers (food courts) where all income classes and ethnicities meet, socialize, and dine on Singapore’s famously delicious and affordable cuisine.”

On arches as border references or landmarks

Many people take it for granted when you talk about locations or places and the cities or towns where they are located. When ask where a certain place is, people may reply in the general though sometimes in the specific. When you ask where Robinsons Galeria is, the usual reply may be Ortigas Center or, more specifically, “sa kanto ng EDSA at Ortigas Ave.” The mall is actually 

Where does Antipolo start and Taytay end? To many, the Tikling Junction might be the easy reference or landmark for this. It is usually assumed that you’re already in Antipolo as you start climbing from Tikling. The stretch from Tikling to the boundary with Antipolo is actually still part of Bgy. Dolores, Taytay. Here is Antipolo’s welcome arch along Ortigas Avenue Extension:

 

“Tayo na sa Antipolo” is the city’s old tagline that you can find in a song relating its attractions


It may be somewhat unimportant or trivial for many but political delineations are subjects of many disputes among local government units. Cainta, Taytay and Pasig, for example, continue to dispute areas along the Manggahan floodway. Pasig, Marikina and Cainta are also wrestling about areas along Marcos Highway (e.g., Robinsons Metro East is Pasig but Sta. Lucia Mall is Cainta. Across from the two is Marikina territory. And the three lobbied to get the Line 2 Station to be associated with either of them (as of this writing, it seems Marikina’s got it and the station may have the alternate name “Marikina Station” to the original “Emerald Station”). The Feliz Mall is technically in Pasig though people seem to associate it with Marikina.  Line 2 Santolan Station is Pasig’s. And do you know that along Sumulong Highway, Antipolo and Marikina are split by a barangay of Cainta? There are many other cases across the country that have these issues that have not been resolved or needs to be resolved especially as there are implications to elections in those areas, particularly at the local level.

On teaching children how to ride a bicycle

After some hesitation, we finally decided it was time to remove the training wheels from our daughter’s bicycle. She’s enjoyed biking whether we walked alongside or were on our bikes, and she was already tall enough to stick out her legs to regain balance if the bike tilted to one side or the other. So we thought it was probably time to remove the training wheels so she will learn to bike on 2 wheels.

She’s a fast learner and after I pushed her a few times, she could already pedal ahead and straight. The turns took some time as she immediately stuck out a leg when she thought she would fall upon making a turn. The confidence grew and the following day she was already turning while keeping her balance. She now cycles every afternoon but we still forbid her to go by herself and beyond our eyesights. So we usually have one adult or our high-schooler to bike with her. Sometimes, her grandfather, who cycles at 78, also shadows her and gives her pointers.

The view as I followed her along one street in our neighborhood.

I always tell her to take the lane and not wander to the middle of the road or the edge of it. Our main worry is always the motor vehicles that tend to speed as if no one else is using the road. Some motorcycle riders are reckless and so are many car drivers. It is as if they were not driving/riding in a residential area. So we always remind our little one to position herself where she can maneuver to avoid these vehicles. And we always remind her to be aware of her surroundings as being alert will help keep her away from danger.

I think we should teach our children to bike at an early age. It is a very useful skill to learn and nurture, whether its for recreation, exercise or transport. She already knows how to swim, which was and still her preference over cycling. Our daughter was already biking (with training wheels) at 4 but it took some time for her to grow (she was really small for her age then) and gain strength. She just turned 7, and we think she can now out-pedal us if we didn’t ask her to slow down. 🙂 I think its time to get another bike, too, as the wife’s also returned to cycling in order to shadow our daughter. I’m usually left to run after them…

On the need for more public spaces

Here’s a quick share of an article discussing the pandemic’s exposing the need for more public spaces:

Ionescu, D. (February 5, 2021) “The Pandemic Revealed Public Space as ‘Essential Infrastructure'”, Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112044?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02082021&mc_cid=4fac9821d0&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 2/9/2021]

Quezon City is lucky to have the Quezon Memorial Circle, Parks and Wildlife and the University of the Philippines Diliman campus but it needs more public spaces given its size. UP should not technically be regarded as a public space as it is a school first and just happens to be blessed with a spacious campus. Pictured above is its academic oval with the Sunken Garden to the right.

Public spaces include parks and other open spaces that serve as breathing spaces or lungs for our cities and municipalities. A lot of people complained about being cramped up during the lockdowns and are now going out (others quite recklessly) even with the specter of Covid-19 still about us. In many old towns around the country, there are plazas and of course fields where people can go to while maintaining safe physical distancing. We certainly lack for these especially in highly urbanized cities. Rizal Park and its surrounding areas including Intramuros are not sufficient for dense Manila. In Taguig, you see a lot of people taking walks or exercising along the C5 service road. Its good that they actually have a linear park in Lower Bicutan and maybe parts of BGC where people can “decompress” from their cramped conditions where they reside but again, these may not be enough. Cities and municipalities need to allocate or build more public spaces. These should be deliberate developments to create such spaces (even small playgrounds scattered around a city would be a good start) for everyone’s well-being.

Afterthoughts on ridesharing

Ridesharing/ride-hailing companies like to claim that they are helping solve transport problems. However, their disruptions seem too good to be true in a growing number of cases including those in London and California where studies have shown anomalous practices of companies particularly Uber. Grab is now the dominant company in the Philippines after Uber sold its business to Grab. Other upstarts have had little impact on Grab’s market share. The only ones perhaps that have had some success taking business from Grab are the motorcycle taxi app companies like Angkas and Joyride. Motorcycle taxis are actually quite popular though they have been informal (and illegal). Habal-habal operations though have been tolerated in many cities and towns with authorities usually turning a blind eye to their operations.

They have thrived in large cities and have practically displaced taxi companies in these cities. I would not go deep into the social impacts but there are already a lot of negatives including the growing evidence that they are taking people away from public transport in general. Their operations seem promising at the start as the original concept was to use underutilized vehicles that otherwise would have been parked for most of the day, and offering work and income opportunities to people who had the free time (e.g., home-based people who may have a few hours to spare to drive/transport other people to their destinations). The latter were assumed to be part-timers with their vehicles available for providing transport services on demand. The vehicle used might be a spare one. And I use the word ‘spare’ here as it is assumed there might be another ‘main’ vehicle that is used by another person in the family who is a full-time job who drives to work. I don’t buy that romanticized claim that one main objective of these rideshare companies is to break the monopoly of taxi companies. They ended up being the taxis with all those cars now roaming city streets for passengers (and fares).

I mention here a very recent article citing an MIT study:

Green Car Congress (February 2021) “MIT study finds Uber & Lyft increase congestion, decrease transit ridership and don’t affect vehicle ownership,” Green Car Congress, https://www.greencarcongress.com/2021/02/20210204-tncs.html [Last accessed: 2/5/2021]

There is also a published paper in 2019 that is from the perspective of TNVS drivers in Metro Manila:

Mirandilla, C.S. and Regidor, J.R.F. (2019) “Assessment of Transportation Network Vehicle Services from the Drivers’ Perspective,” Journal of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Volume 13, Pages 2369-2389, https://doi.org/10.11175/easts.13.2369

In the paper, their findings include the following:

“It was found that TNVS have greater impact in traffic flow compared to other modes of transportation while delivering inferior productivity. The study also found that full-time driver-operators have very high risks of financial losses, and they have lower than minimum wage income when depreciation costs and maintenance costs are considered.”