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Alternatives for the delivery of public transport services in the new normal

No, this is not a dissenting opinion on service contracting as proposed by a coalition of transport advocates. Rather, I write about other options or alternatives that can be taken on by the government in collaboration with the different sectors or players involved in transportation. Other options have not been discusses as extensively as would have been desired and ultimately weighed for application.

Allow me to rattle off a few options stated in the position paper by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP):

  1. Service contracting – which some groups have proposed and lobbied Congress for Php110 billion funding. This implies a government selecting a few among hundreds of bus operators and thousands of jeepney operators – a process that is bound to be controversial; whilst needing the mobilization of a performance audit and monitoring unit in a government agency. Economic literature is replete with studies that subsidy to producer (i.e., operator) produce bad outcomes over direct subsidy to consumers (i.e., commuter). In this regime, financial risks are borne by the government or authority.
  2. Fuel subsidy – the government was already implementing the Pantawid Pasada Program before ECQ. It incurred Php2.372 billion subsidies in 2019, up by 243% from Php0.977 billion in 2018. At the pump, the fuel subsidy equates to Php1.00/liter discount. Now, the DoTr is proposing a 30% subsidy which it estimates to be Php1,152/PUB and Php366/PUJ. These amounts are NOT commensurate to the theoretical drop in revenues at 50% load limit. Worse, free fuel leads to bad outcomes, as it would encourage higher fuel use and siphoning off to other modes.
  3. Free Fare – this proposal is intertwined with the service contracting model and may be counterproductive to the objective of social distancing. It is a policy that encourages unnecessary travel and crowding – which the distancing rule seeks to minimize. The government needs only to look on ridership on LRT/MRT on free-fare days against regular working days.
  4. Direct Subsidy to Commuter – in this scheme, the operator is allowed to increase its tariff by an amount sufficient to compensate for the 50% volume cut. However, the passenger only pays the same fare level that he paid before ECQ. The government pays the difference. When paired with the Automated Fare Collection System (which LTFRB has required under MC-2020-019 dated 14-May 2020), it is the most efficient method, and is immediately implementable. Subsidy is targeted, rather than all-encompassing. It promotes the wider adoption of AFCS on all public transport, not just on MRT/LRT. Senate Bill No.1417 seeks to fund, among others, for transportation vouchers; this could be disbursed rapidly via the AFCS card

 

Another idea is the purchase of new model jitneys to replace old jeepneys – this is an idea that I have posted and have discussed with former and current officials of the DOTC/DOTr before (matagal na itong idea na ito). You purchase say 1 modern jitney at 1.6million pesos/vehicle (note: other models are more expensive, exceeding 2M per unit) and replace the old, conventional jeepneys. It will not be free but payment for the vehicle will be deferred until after the transport crisis brought about by the pandemic clears out. The old jeepneys would be part of the collateral and perhaps still have some utility in them to be used for other purposes (freight?). Think about it. How much pork does your typical congressman and senator have? They could probably use this to modernize public transport in their respective constituencies!

It is important to have a lot of ideas out there instead of just one that is being pushed as the only option. In truth, there should be a combinations of solutions as there will not a be single one applicable and effective to all cases and situations. At this time, I am not sure that these options are being considered by the DOTr. The agency and the LTFRB are proceeding with rationalization and modernization simultaneously, at their own pace and at their own terms, taking advantage of the conditions and situations brought about by the pandemic. While it seems to be the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do rationalization and modernization, it might be immoral and inappropriate given the circumstances that doomed a lot of families who depend on public transport operations for their livelihood.

On mass transit and active transport

I recently gave a talk on transport in the new normal. There are a lot of materials that you can refer to if you want good visuals for a presentation. It helps to capture the attention and maybe the imagination of your audience, which in this case was varied. While I assume many to be in the physical, chemical & social sciences, and engineering, I knew that there were also people from media and those who were just interested in the topic. And so I made sure there were a lot of infographics mixed in with bullet points to drive the message clear about mass transit systems being the backbone of transport in highly urbanized cities, conventional transit like buses and jeepneys supplementing and complementing these, and active transport enabled and encouraged as a safe option for many.

I wasn’t able to include the following graphic shared by a friend advocating bicycle use especially for work and school trips. The following graphic comes from TUDelft, which is among the major universities in the forefront of research in transit and cycling. Clicking on the graphic will take you to their Facebook page and more links to their programs.

 

Note the essential information relating bicycles and transit in the graphic. Do we have similar data in the Philippines (or at least for the National Capital Region)? I hope this stirs interest for research work. There are a lot of topics to take on including even data collection to capture the information required for substantial studies on cycling, transit and their relationship.

Whatever happened to those ‘enhanced’ pedestrian crossings?

Before the lockdowns, a lot of people seem to have become excited with what a private company did as part of their PR campaign (I’m certain about this because their ads feature these.). That is, they painted on the existing pedestrian crossings in Antipolo City along major roads such as Sumulong Highway and the Sumulong Memorial Circle. While coordination with the LGU was done, there seems to be none with the DPWH considering these are national roads and any matter concerning them are under the agency’s jurisdiction through their District Engineering Office. The following photos were taken prior to the lockdown and as you can see (if you were objective) there’s nothing really notable about them though they appear to enhance the existing crosswalks.

The artwork is practically invisible to motorists especially those on cars whose drivers’ eyes are lower than those driving SUVs, jeepneys, buses or trucks (i.e., larger and taller vehicles).

 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety. 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety and you can check on this by doing either a quick or even an extensive search for literature proving significant impact. I guess the key here is to also install other devices such as a speed table or rumble strips for motorists to feel that they are approaching a pedestrian crossing. Also, perhaps instead of just painting on the crosswalks, they could have painted so as to widen the crosswalk. Then they could have increased the visibility for pedestrian crossings. That said, they should also have used the standard paints for these facilities that make them visible at night and could have been more resistant to weathering. 

Why cycling or bicycles are good for the economy?

You saw that meme shared in social media where they say “why bicycles are bad for the economy”? There’s some humor there but it doesn’t necessarily convince many people to support cycling or biking over motor vehicle use.

Here goes one and note the logic:

“Cycling or bicycles are good for the economy because…it helps reduce car use/dependence. That means less dependence and expenses to fossil fuels. That means more money available to the household for more important stuff like food, homes and education.”

Can you come up with something like that?

Workers on bicycles crossing the Marcos Highway bridge from Marikina towards Quezon City.

PNR Espana Crossing

Prior to the lockdown, I was able to take a few photos of the PNR line crossing Espana Avenue in Manila. These now appear to be somewhat nostalgic as I am unsure when I can go around again without (or with reduced) fear of getting infected by COVID-19.

Commuter train crossing Espana Avenue towards the Espana Station of the PNR line

Crossing the PNR line towards UST, I got this photo of the PNR line showing the informal settlements along it

On the way back, I made sure I had the opportunity to take this photo of the PNR Espana Station

The PNR was supposed to have resumed operations, and implementing physical distancing and other measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. Here’s a photo they posted prior to the resumption of operations when Metro Manila went into GCQ status:

The photo shows where passengers may sit or stand inside a PNR train. I have yet to see a photo of the actual conditions inside the train.

On people’s apprehension to use public transport

Public transport supply issues aside, there is also an apprehension to use public transport in the Philippines because of the perception that using public transportation will expose you to COVID-19 and lead to an infection. So far, this is far from the truth, which is that if proper precautions or countermeasures are applied (including physical distancing), public transportation can be safer than taking a car to move about.

Here is an article from the US co-written by Janette Sadik-Khan, who presided over the complete streets transformation in New York City. Aside from explaining how public transport can be safe, COVID-19-wise, the authors state that one must be most worried about conditions in places they go to including their workplaces, markets and yes, homes.

Sadik-Khan, J. and Solomonow, S. (2020) “Fear of Public Transit Got Ahead of the Evidence,” The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/fear-transit-bad-cities/612979/ [Last accessed: 6/25/2020].

Several groups have already called for jeepneys to resume services. Unfortunately, DOTr and LTFRB have other plans to implement; opting for a hard-push of the modernization and rationalization programs of the government. As such, despite the demand for public transport, the latter’s unavailability meant that many commuters had to take private vehicles to go to their workplaces. That meant those who usually could leave their cars home or at least opt for public transport most days reverted to their vehicles (note: the number coding scheme is still suspended for Metro Manila). Tricycles could only carry one passenger each; effectively making them 3-wheeler taxis. While train and bus operations have resumed, both have limited passenger capacities due to the physical distancing requirements.

Again, there are precautions and countermeasures that can be applied in order to ensure the reduction or minimization of infection risks. Public transport providers need to follow these guideline to prevent infections that can be attributed to public transport use, and help people trust in using these modes over cars.

Partas bus terminal in Cubao

Prior to the lockdown, we were still able to conduct one fieldwork for a provincial bus terminal located in the Cubao district of Quezon City. We had previously conducted a study for the re-design of this terminal and the company again called on us for an update after they were not able to implement the previous study’s recommendations.

You can purchase your tickets at the terminal

Different model buses waiting for their boarding times

The passenger waiting lounge has indoor and outdoor seating.

The terminal has its own fuel pumps so buses need not go to a fuel station.

Bus parking slots are marked but there is little space between buses. The fishbone pattern parking allows for each bus’ door (front) to be accessible as shown in the second photo of this post.

Another view of the terminal’s bus slots. The ones further in the photo are actually across the street from the terminal.

Passengers lining up to purchase tickets at the terminal lobby. The boxes are consigned freight.

The air-conditioned passenger lounge includes shops for meals, refreshments or souvenirs.

Here are the bus slots across the street from the terminal. That’s an informal tricycle terminal on the left. While off-street, the tricycle terminal occupies what little sidewalk is there that is supposedly for pedestrian use.

Taxi passing along the street as tricycles maneuver from their terminal on the sidewalk.

Fuel tankers are allotted slots at the terminal as they deliver fuel for the terminal’s pumps.

Another private provincial bus terminal across from the Partas terminal. This one’s from the resurrected BLTBCo. (now DLTRBCo.) buses that ply routes to Region 5 (Bicol) and Region 8 (Eastern Visayas via ferry between Sorsogon and Leyte).

Line 2 train traveling atop Aurora Boulevard. The Partas terminal is on the left with cars parked on the sidewalk and curbside.

I think this was the last project when we did fieldwork for before the lockdowns. I wonder when we can do field work again. Transport and traffic are not the usual and the “new normal” in transportation is still evolving especially in Metro Manila.

On people’s reactions to the pandemic – more cars?

There is this article that argues that one result of the pandemic and the scare that it caused to a many is that people have resorted to car use during and after the lockdowns:

Vanderbilt, T. (2020) “People Are Buying Cars Because of the Pandemic. Cities May Change as a Result, Medium, https://gen.medium.com/people-are-buying-cars-because-of-the-pandemic-cities-may-change-as-a-result-e0657584f45e [Last accessed: 6/20/2020]

It was amusing for me to read the reference to cars as a sort of PPE but it comes as no surprise. It is psychologically like a suit of armor to some people and I guess this affects them the same way as some people’s personalities change when behind the wheel.

Whether this is true for the Philippines’ case we are now seeing somewhat but I say ‘somewhat’ because of the deficiencies in public transportation especially in Metro Manila. Government agencies in-charge of transportation seem to have found the perfect situation to roll out and push for both route rationalization and modernization. Major public transport routes have resumed operations but with buses instead of jeepneys. And slowly but somehow surely the “modern jeepneys” are being allowed but following the terms and conditions of the DOTr and the LTFRB.

On pandemic travel patterns and the future

Here is a recent article on travel patterns as influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bliss, L., Lin, J.C.F., and Patino, M. (2020) “Pandemic Travel Patterns Hint at Our Urban Future,” Bloomberg CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-coronavirus-transportation-data-cities-traffic-mobility/?sref=ViNyghXi [Last accessed 6/19/2020].

 

Are these travel patterns similar to those of our cities and municipalities in the Philippines? Or were there a different reactions or outcomes considering local factors including perhaps cultural aspects?

On the importance of public transportation post-pandemic

I am sharing another article from Todd Litman that appear yesterday:

Litman, T. (2020) “Lessons from Pandemics: Valuing Public Transportation,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/109584-lessons-pandemics-valuing-public-transportation?fbclid=IwAR2jduFuYoyf_MoksI2Th4UoWtQYMQVOdwHuiih8JM9NxMN5pT_e1lwhgDQ [Last accessed: 6/13/2020]

The article contains material derived from previous work by the author and provides a list (and links to) resources or references related to this topic.