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2) On the obstacles to the PNR operations
We have done studies before when studies on the PNR were not considered fashionable. People who did research on rail transport were more interested in Lines 1, 2 and 3, and dismissed the PNR as a lost cause. There were many transportation experts who ridiculed it and even taunted PNR about their poor service. And yet we did our studies because we had an appreciation of the importance of this line and how it could play a major role in commuting if given the resources to improve their facilities. It was shown that the line could be more advantageous for commuters particularly those traveling between the southern parts of Metro Manila and Makati and Manila. These would be both workers and students who will benefit from the shorter travel times and less expensive fares. The downside then (and still at the present time) was the long headways between trains. That is, you can only catch a train every 30 minutes.
This photo taken more than a decade ago show the typical conditions along many sections of the PNR. It is pretty much the same today and the agencies involved (DOTr and PNR) have done little to reduce the informal settlers along the line. No, they didn’t just appear now, and are throwing garbage, rocks and other debris on the trains. This was already happening years ago.
Fast forward to the present and they seem to be getting a lot more resources than the last 30+ years. A Philippine Railway Institute (PRI) has been created. New train sets have just been delivered and went into operation. Unfortunately, the new trains were met with rocks and other debris as they traveled along sections occupied by informal settlers. The incident damaging the new trains puts further emphasis on the need to the need to address the squatter problem along the PNR line. Should fences be built to protect the trains and passengers? Should people be relocated? I think both need to be done in order to secure the line and in preparation for service upgrades including more frequent train services (i.e., shorter intervals between trains). And we hope to see the DOTr and PNR working on this as they attempt to attract more passengers to use their trains.
I continue with my comments on current and persistent transport issues. This time, I focus on one of two hot topics – motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”.
1) On motorcycle taxis:
I am not a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that’s supposed to be evaluating the trial operations. I know one or two of the key members of the TWG and am surprised that they have not referred to the academe for studies that may have already been done about this mode of transport. I know there have been studies about it in UP and DLSU. Perhaps there are more from other universities in the country. Motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”, after all, are practically everywhere and would be hard to ignore. Surely, researchers and particularly students would be at least curious about their operations? Such is the case elsewhere and many studies on motorcycle taxis have been made in the region particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, where these modes also proliferate.
The terms “trial”, “experimental” or “pilot” are actually misleading because motorcycle taxis have been operating across the country for so many years now. They are supposed to be illegal and yet they serve a purpose in the areas where they are popular. What is often referred to as an informal transport mode is ‘formal’ to many people who are not being served by so-called formal modes including the tricycle. Of course, one can argue that these terms (i.e., trial, experimental and pilot) refer to the app that are supposed to enhance the existing habal-habal operations.
I would strongly endorse motorcycle taxis but companies need to be held accountable should there be fatal crashes involving their riders. They are supposed to have trained and accredited them. The companies should also have insurance coverage for riders and passengers. LGUs tolerant of these should be watchful and do their part in enforcing traffic rules and regulations pertaining to motorcycle operations in favor of safe riding. This is to reduce if not minimize the incidence of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis.
I think one of the problems with motorcycle taxis is not really their being a mode of choice but the behavior of their drivers. While companies like Angkas and Joyride conduct training sessions with their riders, many revert to reckless on-road behavior including executing risky maneuvers in order to overtake other vehicles on the road. This is actually a given with many ‘informal’ motorcycle taxis (i.e., those not affiliated with the recognized app companies). But then this is also an enforcement issue because we do have traffic rules and regulations that are poorly enforced by authorities. Thus, there is practically no deterrent to reckless riding except perhaps the prospect of being involved in a crash.
I will refrain to include the politics involved in the issue of motorcycle taxis. I will just write about this in another article.
Coming up soon: hot topic #2 – Obstacles to the PNR operations
There is a collage of two photos, one taken in 1975 and another in 2019, showing buses that managed to squeeze themselves into a jam. The 1975 photo was taken at the ramp of the overpass near Liwasang Bonifacio (Quiapo, Manila). There is a commentary describing the photo that attributes ‘monstrous daily traffic jams’ to the behavior of Filipino drivers. Special mention was made of public transport drivers and the photo showed proof of this. This was 1975 and motorization had not reached the levels we are at now so the
The problems pertaining to driver behavior persist today and probably even worsened along with the general conditions of traffic in Philippine roads. I say so since the volume of vehicular traffic has increased significantly from 1975 to the present and there are much more interactions among vehicles and people that have led to a deterioration of road safety as well. Traffic congestion and road crashes are asymptomatic of the root causes of most of our transport problems. And so far, it seems we have had little headway into the solutions. The photos speak for themselves in terms of how many people can easily put the blame on poor public transport services despite the fact that cars are hogging much of the road space. And what have authorities done in order to address the behavioral issues that lead to these incidents?
Someone joked that the guy in the 1975 photo who appeared to be posing in disbelief of what happened is a time traveler. The 2019 photo shows a similar guy with a similar pose though with more people around. Maybe he can tell us a thing or so about what’s wrong with transportation in the Philippines and provide insights to the solutions to the mess we have.
I end the year with commentaries on transport issues. I recently responded to a request for an interview. This time, it was not possible to do it in person so we corresponded through email. Here are my responses to the questions sent, which are mainly about the public utility vehicle modernization program of the government.
· Will old-school jeepneys finally disappear on Philippine roads before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends, barely three years from now? What is a more realistic timeline of jeepney modernization?
Old school jeepneys won’t disappear from Philippine roads. For one, the modernization program has slowed down a bit and even the DOTr and LTFRB have stated and admitted that it is not possible to have 100% modernization before the end of term of the current administration. It’s really difficult to put a timeline on this because of so many factors that are in play including social, political, institutional and economic ones. The technical aspects are not issues here as there are many models to choose from and suitable for replacing jeepneys in terms of capacity.
· What are the bumps on road to jeepney modernization?
As mentioned earlier, there are many factors in play here. Economic/financial-related bumps pertain mainly to vehicle prices. The new models are quite pricey but it should be understood that this is also because the new ones are compliant with certain standards including technical and environmental ones that most ‘formally’ manufactured vehicles must pass unlike so-called customized local road vehicles (CLRV) like the conventional jeepneys. The financial package is not affordable to typical jeepney operators/drivers. The cost of a modern jitney (the technical term for these vehicle types) is close to an SUV and revenues may not be able to cover the combination of down payment, monthly payments, and operations & maintenance costs of the vehicle.
· Should local government units dictate the pace of jeepney modernization, not national agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board? Why?
I think the word “dictate” may be too strong a term to use. Instead, I prefer the word “manage”. After all, LGUs are supposed to capacitate themselves to be able to rationalize and manage public transport operations. That is why the DOTr and the LTFRB are requiring them to formulate and submit for evaluation and approval Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP). Though the deadline was supposed to be 2020, the agencies have relaxed this deadline after few submissions from LGUs. Few because there were only a few who were capable or could afford consultants to prepare the plans for the LGUs. These plans should be comprehensive covering all modes of public transport including tricycles and pedicabs that are already under the LGUs. Buses, jeepneys, vans and taxis are still under the LTFRB. Plans may also contain future transport systems that are being aspired for by LGUs such as rail-based mass transit systems and other such as monorail or AGT.
· Transport groups like PISTON are against drivers and operators merging into cooperatives. Is consolidation into cooperatives unworkable? Why?
I think consolidation into cooperatives is workable and should be given a chance. Unfortunately, there are still few examples of successful transport cooperatives. And the success also depends on the routes served by their vehicles. And that is why there is also a need to rationalize transport routes in order to ensure that these are indeed viable (i.e., profitable) for drivers and operators.
Another angle here is more political in nature. Note that while PISTON and other like-minded transport groups oppose cooperativism, there are others that have embraced it and even went corporate to some extent. Perhaps there is a fear of a loss in power that the leaders of these opposition transport groups have wielded for a long time? Perhaps there’s a fear that success of cooperatives means the drivers and operators will turn to cooperativism and leave those transport groups? Surely there are pros and cons to this and groups should not stop being critical of initiatives, government-led or not, that will affect them. This should be constructive rather than the rant variety but government should also learn to accept these rather than dismiss them or be offended by them as is often the case.
More comments in the next year!
One of the advantages of having mass transit access to a major venue is that mass transit can carry more people than any other modes of transport to and from the venue. In the recent U2 concert held at the National Stadium in Singapore, we experienced first hand how a mass transit system is able to serve the surge in the demand to and from the Stadium Station of the SMRT’s Orange Line.
People filing towards the station – most people calmly I say most because there were some who apparently were not so familiar with the ways in Singapore and tried to muscle their way into the crowd. Maybe its like that in their own countries?
It was just like rush hour conditions at the station. Only, people weren’t going to work but home from the concert
Previous to this, I had similar experiences when I was residing in Japan. One time it was a surge in demand due to the popular fireworks display at Yamashita Park in Yokohama covered by three of JR Stations and the end station of the old Tokyu Toyoko Line. There was no Minato Mirai Line at the time that terminated at the park so people had only the JR Sakuragicho, JR Kannai and JR Ishikawacho Stations and the Tokyu Sakuragicho Station.
This is the weakness of the Philippine Arena, which can only be accessed via the NLEX and by road transport. The result for the larger capacity stadium’s hosting of a U2 concert resulted in horrendous traffic jams and hellish travel times for attendees. Friends stated that whatever high that they got from the concert was steadily depleted by their commutes to their homes. This will not improve even with Manila-Clark railway line because the line will be along the other side of the tollway. It won’t make sense for a branch to be constructed for the arena given the intermittent demand for the events it typically hosts in a year. But there can be a road transport connection to the nearest rail stations to at least alleviate the car traffic generated by the venue.
A common sight along Philippine roads are overloaded public utility vehicles. It may be indicative of how difficult it is to get a ride because such is usually the case when there is a lack of public transport vehicles during peak periods (i.e., when transport demand is greater than the supply of vehicles). That lack maybe due to simply not enough vehicles to address the demand or that there is enough on paper and operating but they are not able to make the return trips fast enough. The first case means demand has grown but the number and capacity of vehicles have not kept pace with the demand. The second means that technically there are enough vehicles (franchises) but the traffic conditions along the route have worsened and has resulted in vehicles not being able to travel fast enough to cover the demand.
Jeepney with 6 passengers hanging by the back. All look like they are laborers or workers (construction?) but it is not uncommon to see students in their school uniform similarly dangling from jeepneys especially during the peak hours when its difficulty to get a ride.
Sabit is actually illegal and, if enforcers are strict, will incur apprehension and a ticket. Many local enforcers including those of the MMDA though are lax about this especially during peak periods. Jeepney drivers are more cautious when they know that Land Transportation Office (LTO) enforcement units are on watch as these are usually strict about passengers dangling from the vehicles. Newer jeepney/jitney models basically eliminated sabit as the doors are now on the right side of the jeepney instead of the back and there are no spaces or features to hold and step on to in the new models. It is for good as this is an unsafe situation for the passengers and there are reckless jeepney drivers who tend to exacerbate the situation by deliberately maneuvering the jeepney as if he wants passengers to fall off the vehicle. To those looking for a thrill (or death wish as a friend calls it), it is an exhilarating experience. But in most cases, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.
“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.
And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:
- Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
- It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
- People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
- People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
- Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.
To be continued…