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Build, build, build, and the cost of pursuing legacies among our leaders

Much has been written about the current administration’s Build, Build, Build program including it being billed as a “Golden Age of Infrastructure”. Many infrastructure projects though can be classified as “nice to have but not necessary”. They might become necessary in the future but then there are other projects that are more urgently needed now and need to be prioritised given the limited resources that we have. A good example of these “nice to have” projects would be the bridges proposed to connect Panay, Negros, Cebu and Bohol islands. The reality is that it is quite easy to manipulate studies in order to obtain results to support the construction of these bridges including justifying loans that will bring us deeper into unnecessary (for now) debt. You get more bang for the buck if you build instead mass transit systems and transform transportation in major cities of these same islands to favour active transport rather than be dependent on cars. Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod and other highly urbanised cities now require better public transportation and people-oriented systems. That’s where money should go and that will have a bigger impact from now to the long-term. The government’s infrastructure build-up is linked to the new tax scheme (TRAIN) but also requires a lot of borrowing from various entities including one country that has been documented to take full advantage (i.e., very disadvantageous to the borrower) of countries taking out loans from them (you know which one – China). Do we really want to get mired in such debt?

We all are in the lookout for opportunities that would probably give us something we will be remembered for. This is not limited to the leaders of our country, whether they be politicians or department heads or even district engineers, who perhaps want to be remembered for something they built, or, something they contributed in making a reality. Perhaps this can be in the form of a mass transit line, an expressway, or an iconic bridge? Perhaps for others it is in the form of a nuclear power plant or even a space program. We all have that dream project we want to be associated with.

Why are certain good people not critical of the government’s disastrous war on drugs or the proliferation of what appears to be government sponsored fake news and propaganda? It’s simple. Many of these “good” people are benefitting from the very same government particularly in pursuit of their own legacies (which are their main agenda). If you were an engineer, planner or scientist in government and your projects were funded one way or another, would you dare bite the proverbial hand that feeds you? “Complicit” seems to be a word used by the more hardline among us in terms of the socio-political-economic situation we are in now. But we have to remember that during the regime of Marcos, this was also the situation. The so-called best and the brightest were all employed by the administration back then including prominent names in industry and the academe, who perhaps enjoyed the privileges, perks and funding support for their programs and projects. Never mind martial law and its outcomes.

That is why history and its understanding is important. So we may learn from it and not relive the wrongs made in the past. We are not good in history or its application. Perhaps we only know how to memorise. And memory has its limits. That is among the costs of our current predicament. We withhold history, and memory, in exchange for what we think would be our legacies. At what cost? At what price? Human rights, freedoms, justice, financial stability, and dignity are just a few we can mention. Perhaps the biggest loss will be our humanity as we have become de-sensitized to the well-being of others.

On the negative social impacts of ridesharing/ridesourcing

I have shared a few articles before about the impacts of ridesharing/ridesourcing to taxi drivers. In the Philippines, taxis where ridesharing/ridesourcing services are available are plenty are supposed to have experienced a significant drop in their business. Yet, there has been little improvement in taxi services in Metro Manila. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) have not put pressure on taxis to improve so operators and drivers are pretty much the same in terms of practices and service quality. Here is a recent article that appeared on Wired about New York taxi drivers:

Katz, M. (2018) “Why are New York taxi drivers killing themselves?”, wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/why-are-new-york-taxi-drivers-committing-suicide/?CNDID=37243643&mbid=nl_032918_daily_list1_p4 (Last accessed 3/30/2018).

Admittedly, the set-up for New York taxis is quite different from those in the Philippines. The medallions referred to in the article are limited and carries with it prestige and perhaps honour, considering the commitment and pride attached to them. Franchises in the Philippines are quite different and drivers will usually work for multiple operators/employers. Those who own their taxis are not so many and can be flexible in the way they conduct their business. Perhaps a significant number of drivers have even left the taxi business and now drive for TNCs like Grab and Uber.

With Uber’s sale of their business in Southeast Asia to main rival Grab, it seems now that there is suddenly and practically a monopoly of the ridesharing/ridesourcing business. Upstarts have not had a significant share of the market and by all indications will not get a bigger share in the near future. I still think that there should be pressure for taxi services to be improved and a good chance for people to shift back to taxis. But this requires effort on both sides (regulator and operator). I still mention examples of taxi operators in Cebu and Iloilo who appear to be unscathed by the entry of ridesharing/ridesourcing in those cities. Good quality taxi services will promote itself and will be patronised by commuters.

TSSP 2017 Conference

The Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP) holds its 24th Annual Conference tomorrow, July 21, 2017. It will be held at the National Center for Transportation Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City. More than a hundred participants are expected to attend this 1-day affair.

The final program for the conference may be found in the following link:

http://ncts.upd.edu.ph/tssp/index.php/2017/07/17/tssp-conference-program/

The theme for this year’s conference is “Improving Quality of Life in Urban and Rural Areas Through Inclusive Transportation.” This is also the theme for the panel discussion in the morning. The afternoon will feature four parallel technical sessions where 18 papers will be presented.

The keynote lecture will be delivered at the start of the conference by Prof. Tetsuo Yai of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who is also the current President of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS) under whose umbrella the TSSP is part of. TSSP is a founding member of EASTS and actually preceded EASTS by a year.

Public transport’s importance to a city

I found an “old” article on public transportation and its importance to cities:

Public Transport is Worth Way More to a City Than you Might Think, [by Eric Jaffe in http://www.citylab.com, August 14, 2013]

While much attention has been on walking and cycling, which are essential modes of transport, I believe public transport has an even much more value especially given the land use in many cities. This is particularly true in the Philippines where land use planning is basically a term since implementation is generally weak. This is very much evident in the case of residential development and the limited choices for transport. Many people, for example, reside in the periphery of Metro Manila and its surrounding areas. They often commute over long distances and incur long travel times due to congestion roads. Mass transit infrastructure could have made commutes faster, saving precious time that translates into economic value.

New ruralism, anyone?

I found this interesting article that tackles what to me is a new concept although it shouldn’t be. The concept of new ruralism to me is somewhat going back to the basics. While urbanization seems to be an unstoppable force, there is still the need to preserve rural areas and also the way of life as well as the industries that we need to sustain urban living. Food production, for example, is something that is being advocated or promoted in urban areas but hasn’t really caught on. Farming seems to have lost a lot of people as it is perceived as backward and yet it is essential.

New Ruralism: Solutions for Struggling Small Towns [by Jared Green in The Dirt, June 14, 2017]

What do you think about this concept of new ruralism? Is it something that’s also applicable to the Philippines or is will it be just a fad?

On low income cyclists

There are two articles that I want to share here. These are quite interesting for me as they tackle something not usually written about when it comes to cycling. The “invisible biker” referred to in one of the articles is the typical low-income cyclist. These are those who can be seen regularly using their bicycles to commute to and from their workplaces; likely to save hard-earned money for more important items such as food and shelter (rent?). They do not use fancy bicycles like those nice, branded mountain, road or fat bikes that you see being used by recreational bikers or weekend cyclists. They most likely use second-hand bikes like those surplus bicycles from Japan, or perhaps old BMX’s that have been modified to make it a bit more comfortable for the long commutes.

Quednau, R. (2017) The Invisible Bike Riders, Strong Towns, http://www.strongtowns.org, May 2.

Koeppel, D. (2015) How Low-Income Cyclists Go Unnoticed, Bicycling, http://www.bicycling.com, November 9.

I think these are the bike riders that we should be providing safe bikeways for. They are the ones who most often use bicycles for their trips and are at risk of being hit by motor vehicles.

Pavement distress along C-5 due to the truck lane policy

I frequently use Circumferential Road 5 (C-5), which is known by many names according to the MMDA, the DPWH and the LGUs it passes through. One thing I always notice is the deteriorating or deteriorated pavement, particularly along the lane designated for use by trucks. The MMDA had instituted and implements a policy requiring large trucks to use one lane of C-5 during times when the truck ban is lifted (10:00 AM to 4:00 PM). Smaller trucks are allowed to use other lanes.

The result has been a long platoon of large trucks along the designated lane of C-5 and this concentration of load on the highway has caused faster pavement deterioration for that lane. This is especially evident when the pavement surface is of asphalt concrete. Flexible as it is, the concentration of load has led to obvious pavement deformation as shown in the following photo.

For Portland cement Concrete pavement (PCCP) cases, I would presume that there is also significant damage and the distresses (e.g., cracks) can be linked to this concentration of load. This situation and the conditions for loading likely have detrimental implications on maintenance costs for C-5 and is probably an unintended consequence of the MMDA’s policy. It would be interesting to quantify the impacts of this truck lane policy, whether it has contributed to improve traffic flow along the major thoroughfare, and whether the maintenance costs have risen (and by how much) from the time the policy was implemented.