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On the future of the common auto repair shop

I saw this article on Wired about how high-tech vehicles are killing the auto repair shop. I have to agree with the observation. Perhaps it’s more imminent in the First World where newer model vehicles including electric and hybrid vehicles cannot just be repaired at a conventional auto repair shop. And they do have more of the newer vehicles as they have phased out the older ones that don’t comply with the higher standards that are now in place in terms of things like emissions and fuel consumption.

Marshall, A. (October 20, 2022) “High-Tech Cars Are Killing the Auto Repair Shop,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/high-tech-cars-killing-the-traditional-auto-repair-shop/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_content=WIR_daily_102122&utm_mailing=WIR_daily_102122&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=P4 [Last accessed: 10/22/2022]

To quote from the article:

“As the traditional auto repair shop disappears, so might the stereotype about the grizzled and grimy auto repair tech with a wrench in his hand. “These complexities have made it more difficult for a shop to operate if it’s not running properly—if it’s not properly funded, not properly insured, doesn’t have the correct tooling, doesn’t have the right insurance,” says Lucas Underwood, the North Carolina shop owner.”

In our case, there are still so many of the conventional vehicles operating including the locally fabricated ones using surplus engines. At least for the more basic repairs the neighborhood repair shops, the “talyers” as we call them, will survive for now and perhaps for a longer while than how it is in the First World. Even the backyard or self taught auto mechanics are trying to keep up with the electronics and many are honest enough to tell you to go to the ‘casa’ if they cannot repair your vehicle or perhaps the parts are not available at the typical auto supply shop.

On the impacts of bicycle use

I’ve probably read a lot of posts on social media advocating for bicycle use. Here is another article that provides us with evidence about the impacts of cycling on travel, emissions and health:

Timmer, J. (August 20, 2022) “Here’s What Happens When Countries Use Bikes to Fight Emissions,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/bike-more-curb-global-emissions/ [Last accessed: 8/24/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Globally, adopting a Danish level of bicycle use would reduce annual emissions of CO2 by 414 million metric tons, approximately equivalent to the UK’s emissions in 2015. Boosting that to a Dutch level would eliminate nearly 700 million metric tons, or most of the emissions from Germany in that year.

The researchers also noted that countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have much lower rates of obesity than their peer countries. Based on the known health risks there, they estimate that, globally, we’re already avoiding 170,000 deaths annually due to cycling. Expanding this globally, they found that Denmark-equivalent bicycle use would prevent 430,000 deaths per year. Dutch levels of cycling would prevent 780,000 deaths.

That said, the vulnerability of cyclists to cars poses its own lethal risks. But these aren’t anywhere close to outweighing the benefits from exercise and lower obesity. (They’d add about 90,000 and 160,000 additional deaths per year for the two levels of use.) And if fewer drivers are using cars, there’s a chance that those numbers would come in even lower.

It’s worth noting that these numbers almost certainly underestimate the benefits of shifting to bikes. Bicycles use far fewer resources to produce, and they last longer than most cars. Maintenance is likely to be far less resource-intensive as well. So simply focusing on the use of the bike omits a lot of things that would show up in a detailed life-cycle analysis.

The researchers are certainly correct that there are a lot of locations where weather makes cycling a less-than-ideal option—and the range of places where heat makes it a positively dangerous option is expanding in our changing climate.

But some of the other issues are less severe than they might appear at first. For example, the advent of bicycles with electric assist means that hilly locales aren’t necessarily the barrier they might have been a decade ago. And while a number of countries have large open spaces where cars will remain a necessity, the trend toward urbanization means that most people in those countries will live in places where cycling can be made an option.

So, the biggest barrier is likely to remain the social will to rethink transportation.”

Indeed, social will (as well as political will) is perhaps the biggest barrier in our country. Many people may not agree but the evidence for this is so clear and obvious  that one has to be naive or oblivious to not see it. How else will one explain people sticking to their cars and more readily shifting to motorcycles rather than the bicycle. Of course, there are other factors to be considered and the article actually cites wealth and geography as strong prerequisites in developing a cycling culture. We need to do much more to determine where interventions are needed including land use planning and land development as well as the provision of affordable housing closer to workplaces, schools, shops and other places of interest (Hello 10- or 15-minute cities!).

 

On university-community collaborations

I’m not a stranger to university-community collaborations. In fact, I even helped draft a proposal for the World Bank to support such collaborations, which I believe would be sustainable and therefore worthwhile to be pursued by potential partner universities and local government units. There are actually many such collaborations but most of these are probably informal with certain faculty members of universities (usually state universities or colleges) being involved in committees or moonlighting in projects implemented or funded by LGUs. I say informal because technically, the school is not involved in the project and it is only incidental that the person or persons involved are affiliated with the university or college.

Here is an article showing an example of university-community collaborations:

National Institute for Transportation and Communities (2022) “Transportation recovery after disasters: A collaborative university/community model,”  phys.org, https://phys.org/news/2022-08-recovery-disasters-collaborative-universitycommunity.html [Last accessed: 8/15/2022]

The authors wrote about actions that could be done “to build future economic resilience.” To quote from the article:

  • Increasing pre-disaster investment in resilient transportation infrastructure to reduce the cost of eventual recovery;

  • Improving business resilience practices for high-impact industrial sectors, through education and outreach;

  • Identifying structural barriers to adoption of resilient business practices, and promoting mitigation through recovery.

  • Mainstreaming disaster resilience into economic development by breaking the siloed approach to emergency management and economic development.

While these actions were framed for the community engaged by the University of Utah, they are general enough to be applicable to other communities as well.

I mentioned earlier about the need for formality. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) encourages and supports what are termed as Extension Works or Extension Projects by higher education institutions. These may be in various forms including committee work, advisory, capacity building/training, or even professional work/services provided to the province, city or municipality (even barangay). But there should be accountability here as well as the proper assignment or allocation of resources.

Just compensation is one of the more sensitive or tricky elements or items here as often, LGUs would like to get something for free or assume that certain services are free. They are not and time and effort should be compensated; just not the international rates you might expect for consulting work from the likes of World Bank or Asian Development Bank.

Here is where contracts (e.g., in the form of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)) can be useful to establish the terms of engagement that includes budgets for Personnel Services (PS), Equipment Outlay (EO) and Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE). The latter categories should be familiar with LGUs because these are standard items under which details are provided for their programs and projects. State universities and colleges are also familiar with these as standard government terminologies for budgets. Of course, that goes without saying that in certain engagements, there may be third parties such as donor or funding institutions that will should all, most, or part of the costs for collaborative work.

Free public transportation services?

We start August with an article share. Much has been said and written about public transportation being a basic right for people. And the experiences during this Covid-19 pandemic have shown us just how efficient and adequate public transportation can help make our lives better in terms of addressing our commuting or travel needs. Here is a very informative article that should make sense from the perspective of the general commuting public:

Konbie, N. (July 29, 2022) “The Case for Making Public Transit Free Everywhere,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/free-public-transit/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_content=WIR_Daily_072922&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_072922&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=P7 [Last accessed: 8/1/2022]

To quote:

“Free fares might not get everyone out of cars, but will convert some journeys, which benefits everyone in terms of carbon reduction and improving local air quality—and even helps drivers by calming traffic. Free fares won’t pull low-income people out of poverty, but will keep money in their pockets and ensure everyone can travel when they need to. Ditching fares comes at a cost, but there are savings to be had by not investing in expensive ticketing systems and wider logistical and societal benefits…
Public transport should be considered a human right, alongside access to health and education.”

Of course, service quality is a major concern here in the Philippines but isn’t it everywhere else? The question of sustainability should be a rather complex one considering we haven’t truly understood and translated the benefits that can be obtained from providing high quality public transport services vs. being car-oriented. Congestion pricing, for example, could very well provide the funds to improve, upgrade and maintain desirable public transport services (i.e., desirable from the perspective of most commuters and not just the lower and middle income people who more regularly or likely to take public transport than other modes of transport).

What do you think?

On the benefits of developing and investing in active and public transportation

Here is another quick share of an article with a very relevant and timely topic – the business case for multimodal transport planning:

Litman, T. (July 2022) “The Business Case for Multimodal Transportation Planning,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/117697-business-case-multimodal-transportation-planning?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-07142022&mc_cid=03c159ebcf&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 7/15/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Conventional planning tends to undervalue non-auto mode improvements by assuming that each additional mile of their travel can reduce, at best, one vehicle mile traveled. In fact, in many situations they can leverage much larger reductions in vehicle travel, meaning that each additional mile of walking, bicycling, or public transit can reduce more than one vehicle mile … As a result, walking, bicycling and public transit improvements can provide much larger vehicle travel reductions and benefits than is commonly recognized.”

There is a box referred to in the preceding quote. I will not reproduce it here so I leave it up to the reader to go to the original article by Litman to find out how active and public transport can leverage additional travel reductions. Understanding these and the extend by which we can be independent of car-use (referring to non-car travel demand) will allow for a better appreciation, travel-wise and economics or business-wise, of the advantages of developing and investing in active and public transportation infrastructure and services.

Flashback: Transport Infrastructure Framework Plan for the Philippines

I was reading an article yesterday about the outgoing NEDA Director General stating that Philippines needing a long term strategy for infrastructure development that will address the shortcomings or gaps due to unsolicited proposals. There was already something like this drafted almost a decade ago and under the auspices of the returning NEDA DG. Unfortunately, while NEDA accepted the Final Report of the study, they never adopted it as a policy that could also be imposed on agencies like the DOTr (still DOTC back then) and the DPWH. So for a sort of Throwback Thursday and on the last day of the Duterte Administration, I am sharing the promotional video produced for the framework plan that was supported by The World Bank.

The study was conducted by Cambridge Systematics (not related to Cambridge Analytics as far as I know) and was implemented at the same time as the JICA Dream Plan study for Mega Manila. I recall there is also a video on the latter and it listed all the infrastructure projects needed to address the transport problems of the Greater Capital Region. The Infra Framework Plan for the country mentions the various infrastructure projects ongoing and proposed for the Philippines but focuses on the soft side (i.e., strategies) including the reforms and institutional set-up that need to be in place for everything to come together and produce the desired outcomes in the long term. Sadly, strategies and plans are not well appreciated despite their being essential as foundations. While the Build, Build, Build mantra of the outgoing administration is worth praising for attempting to do the catch-up needed in as far as certain transport infrastructure is concerned, it falls short of what are necessary and to be prioritized. Instead, it ended up accommodating projects that are “nice to have” but should not be prioritized considering our limited resources and the undesirable foreign debt racked up by government. Hopefully, the returning NEDA DG and other officials will be able to steer the country clear of the current and future crises that may end up bringing more hardships on Filipinos.

On bicycle economics in the Philippines

I am sharing this link to a newly minted reference that should be useful to policy or decision-makers (yes, that includes politicians) in justifying bicycle facilities including bike lanes around the country.

https://www.freiheit.org/philippines/bikenomics-assessing-value-cycling-philippines

There’s been a dearth in local references and this should suffice for now pending more in-depth studies on the benefits of cycling and related-facilities and programs in the Philippines. Note that while the reference mentions certain calculations and unit costs, it would be better to have the actual numbers from the various LGUs that have constructed bike lanes and facilities, and implementing bike programs and projects. Quezon City and Mandaue City, for example, should have the numbers that can serve as initial data for compiling and eventual publication of unit costs per type or design of bike lanes or bikeways. LGUs and national government should gather, process and make use of such data in aid of bike facilities and infrastructure development that will attract people away from private motor vehicle use while reinforcing both active and public transport mode shares.

Is the concept of induced demand a hard sell?

Here’s a quick share of an article on ‘induced demand’ particularly why it appears to be a hard sell:

Blumgart, J. (February 28, 2022) “Why the concept of induced demand is a hard sell,” Governing, https://www.governing.com/now/why-the-concept-of-induced-demand-is-a-hard-sell [Last accessed: 3/8/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Transportation experts say that the way to defeat induced demand, and actually ease traffic, would be to price roadways through tolls and congestion fees. But such alternatives are not popular. It’s hard to imagine running a political campaign on such a promise, as opposed to pledging an answer that looks free and easy… “Highway expansion is an attractive project regardless of your political orientation or what the state of the economy is,” says Thigpen. “There’s always a good argument for why we should be expanding highways. We need more jobs, or we need to unlock economic opportunity. There’s always a good political argument in favor of that.”

That last statement there relating highway or road expansion to politics is relevant everywhere. In our case in the Philippines, politicians are perceived to be very conservative and the type to use road projects as accomplishments. They are not as progressive as politicians abroad who may have the backgrounds and/or advocacies relating to sustainable transport to pursue the more difficult programs and projects needed improve the transport system. Instead, most are content with projects that they can put their name on and claim as hard accomplishments. Many of their constituents appear to agree. And agencies like the DPWH are only too happy to support this never-ending road construction and widening projects with the length of roads and the number of lanes added being their metrics for success. Of course, these (e.g., understanding and how to address induced demand, performance metrics, etc.) need to change if we really want to transform our transportation system towards something more efficient for everyone’s benefit.

Traffic along EDSA? Can we still widen this road? No, we can’t so we need something better than being dependent on cars. Incidentally, MMDA is planning to bring back motorcycle lanes along EDSA. Currently there are also bike lanes along either side of this road; a product of the pandemic that is now under threat of being removed.
Morning rush traffic along Commonwealth Avenue prior to the MRT 7 construction. What used to be 10 lanes per direction has been reduced but we still don’t know if Line 7’s eventual operation will make a dent on this congestion.

Paper: Estimation of Transportation Energy Demand of the Philippines Using A Bottom-up Approach

Our paper from a conference last year is finally published in an open access journal. The paper is on the “Estimation of Transportation Energy Demand of the Philippines Using A Bottom-up Approach.” Here is the abstract of the paper:

“In the years 2000–2016, the sector with the largest share of total final energy consumption in the Philippines is transportation with an average share of 34.2%. The study aims to estimate the baseline transportation energy demand of road, maritime, air and rail transportation modes in 2016 using a bottom-up approach. Through a bottom-up approach and utilizing available transportation activity and fuel economy/energy efficiency data from secondary sources coupled with primary road transportation activity and fuel economy and railway operations survey data, the baseline transportation energy demand of the Philippines is estimated to be 12,956.1 ktoe in 2016. A comprehensive estimation of transportation energy demand of the country using bottom-up methodologies with more detailed transportation activity and vehicle fleet of the different transportation modes is implemented. Finally, the collection and keeping of certain data that are critical in the estimation of the transportation energy demand are recommended.”

Here is the link to the paper, which is published in the Asian Transport Studies, Vol. 8, 2022: https://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S2185-5560(22)00004-9

Article on evaluating transport equity

Here is another quick share of an article on transportation equity:

Litman, T. (February 2, 2022) “Evaluating Transportation Equity: ITE Quickbite,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/news/2022/02/116058-evaluating-transportation-equity-ite-quickbite [Last accessed: 2/4/2022]

Transportation equity is a very relevant, very timely topic as people in the Philippines are just beginning to understand and weigh the advantages of having more efficient transport in the forms of active and public transport over private vehicles.