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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.

UPSE Discussion Paper on Martial Law and the Philippine Economy

To those who were looking for references on the Philippine economy during the Martial Law years, look no further than a recent discussion paper from the UP School of Economics (UPSE). To quote from their social media post:

UPSE Discussion Paper No. 2021-07 (November 2021)
📌Title: Martial law and the Philippine economy
🖊Authors: Emmanuel S. de Dios, Maria Socorro Gochoco-Bautista, Jan Carlo Punongbayan
📄Abstract: Part of a proposed anthology, this article provides a concise review of the economic performance during the period of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1985) from a comparative historical perspective. We examine the external events and internal policy responses that made possible the high growth in the early years of martial law and show that these are integral to explaining the decline and ultimate collapse of the economy in 1984-1985. The macroeconomic, trade, and debt policies pursued by the Marcos regime—particularly its failure to shift the country onto a sustainable growth path—are explained in the context of the regime’s larger political-economic programme of holding on to power and seeking rents.
📖 Read the full paper here: https://econ.upd.edu.ph/dp/index.php/dp/article/view/1543/1027

https://econ.upd.edu.ph/dp/index.php/dp/article/view/1543/1027

Why is this relevant to transportation in the country? Economic performance and policies during that period strongly influenced if not practically dictated infrastructure development during the period. Add politics to the mix and you get what ultimately affected future administrations in terms of debt servicing and other financial or fiscal issues that needed to be addressed due to the debt incurred during that period.

We should learn from this and hopefully not repeat it. Unfortunately, the fiscal discipline and reforms during the previous administration appear to have been abandoned and the current spending and borrowing spree will likely handicap future administrations. Are there bad debts around? Probably! And so there will likely be a need to do some due diligence during the transition to a new administration after the elections this year.

On the role of women in transportation

I found this podcast on “Advancing the Role of Women in Transportation” on the AASHTO thread:

This reminded me of the Women in Transport Leadership (WiTL) group that friends formed a few years ago. They are active in promoting the role and relevance of women in transport as well as equity in transportation.

On “universal basic mobility”

You’ve probably heard or read about the concept of “universal basic income.” The concept has been discussed and implemented or attempted in some countries including those that have successfully tinkered with their social welfare systems. Here is an article that presents and discusses the idea of universal basic mobility:

Descant, S. (December 22, 2021) “‘Universal Basic Mobility’ Speaks to a City’s Values,” Government Technology, https://www.govtech.com/fs/universal-basic-mobility-speaks-to-a-citys-values [Last accessed: 12/24/2021]

It was in graduate school back in the 1990s when I first encountered the concept of the ‘transportation poor’ and ‘transport poverty’. While the term suggests people who are generally in the low income classes, the actual definition of transport poverty is more complicated and comprehensive than that. While sustainable transport and its current versions have always discussed the more fad issues on public transport, low carbon transport, active transport, etc., specific engagements on the more rad topic of equity in transportation have not been as common. Perhaps this current issue and discussions on the government’s “no vaccination, no ride” policy will open doors for equity to be out in the open?

On transport equity

To start the year 2022, I’m sharing another article by Todd Litman. I thought this was a timely one as this is basically about transport equity and the results despite competent planners and perhaps good intentions.

Litman, T. (December 21, 2022) “Good Planners: Bad Outcomes. How Structural Biases Can Lead to Unfair and Inefficient Results,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/115621-good-planners-bad-outcomes-how-structural-biases-can-lead-unfair-and-inefficient?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12232021&mc_cid=35d4ce69aa&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 12/27/2021]

There should be similar studies for the Philippine case. We need to understand and correct bad practices including those related to an over-reliance to what is referred to as “old school” practices (i.e., “nakasanayan na”, “ginagawa na noon pa”, and so on), which is what young engineers and planners are taught by the “old boys” in certain agencies as an initiation of sorts if not part of their ‘continuous orientation’ at these offices.

Cities and Automobile Dependence: What Have We Learned?

We end the year with an article from Todd Litman via Planetizen. The topic is something that we really need to ponder on as we or if we are to move towards more sustainable transportation for our cities and municipalities. The experiences during this Covid-19 pandemic should have provided us glimpses of how it could be if we put active and public transport above automobile dependence or car-centricity.

Source: Cities and Automobile Dependence: What Have We Learned?

The main article may be found here (in proper citation for academic/researchers reading this):

Newman, P. and Kenworthy, J. (2021) Gasoline Consumption and Cities Revisited: What Have We Learnt?. Current Urban Studies, 9, 532-553. doi: 10.4236/cus.2021.93032.