Caught (up) in traffic

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First call for papers for the TSSP 2017 conference

The first call for papers for the 24th Annual Conference of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines came out last Wednesday, Feb. 15:

first-call-for-papers-13feb2017

Mobilizing sustainable transport for development

The United Nations (UN) has recently published a new report on “Mobilizing sustainable transport for development” authored by a High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport formed by the UN. The report and other resources may be found at the following website:

Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport

This is under the UN’s Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. You can check out the other materials at the website. The UN has many initiatives on sustainable transport and has been very active in promoting or advocating for sustainable transport for a long time now. It is through the UN Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD), for example, that the Philippines and other ASEAN countries were able to formulate their national EST strategies. The new report continues on the UN’s commitment to promote sustainable transport to improve people’s lives around the world.

Better indicators than GDP

A friend shared this article on social media:

Five measures of growth that are better than GDP

The article explains in clear and simple terms five better indicators of growth and development than what is regarded as the conventional and traditional measure that is gross domestic product (GDP). There is an analogy in the article using speed, a parameter in traffic, to explain how GDP is insufficient in describing growth in a more complete manner. For example, in the Philippines, the significant increase in GDP over the last 6 years has been mentioned as proof of economic growth. While this is true, many people could not appreciate this growth since there is the perception is that it is not inclusive. That is, economic development is not felt by many who are in the lower income classes.

Speed, indeed, is not enough to describe the transport situation along a road considering that there are other metrics needed to have a more complete picture of transport and traffic conditions. I will talk about this in another posting soon.

Are Filipinos willing to pay for good public transportation?

There is a nice article that appeared last April 1, 2016. I hope it is not an April Fool’s type of an article.

Why is the U.S. unwilling to pay for good public transportation?

Reading the article reminded me of a lot of similar concerns surrounding public transport projects currently being constructed and those in the proposal and pipeline stages in Philippine cities. It seems though that there are still many people who have little appreciation of the benefits of modern public transport systems. Aside from Metro Manila and perhaps Cebu City, there is little clamor for modern mass transit systems. People tend to take commuting for granted with modes that they have grown up with like buses, jeepneys and tricycles until they start to experience first-hand the pains of traveling using inferior transport on severely congested roads. But even then, most seem to take it in stride and carry on, carrying their crosses in a state of purgatory that seems to have no end in sight.

EASTS 2015 – Cebu City, September 11-13, 2015

The 11th International Conference of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS 2015) will be held in Cebu City this September 11-13, 2015. For information on the conference and program, check out their website here:

http://www.easts2015.com/

You can also download a brochure about EASTS here:

EASTS brochure2014-2015a

The conference is hosted by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is the local affiliate of the EASTS. More information on the TSSP are found below:

TSSP brochure_inside TSSP brochure_cover-back

Running out of answers? How about congestion pricing?

A lot of people ask me about solutions to transport and traffic problems. Some are very general like the question “How do we solve traffic congestion in Metro Manila?” and others are more specific like “How do we solve congestion along EDSA?” These questions are becoming quite tricky because, for one, we are running out of answers of the ‘short term’ kind. All these ‘stop-gap’ or ‘band aid’ measures will only provide short-term relief and we have used many of them already including vehicle restraint measures we are very familiar with like the number coding and truck ban schemes currently implemented in the metropolis.

The general answer and likely an inconvenient truth is that we can’t solve congestion. It is here to stay and is a given considering the continued growth experienced throughout the country. Accepting this phenomenon of congestion, we can proceed towards managing it and work towards alleviating it. Denying that there is a problem or dismissing such as an issue requiring urgent action sets a dangerous course towards unsuitable responses or worse, inaction on the part of the government.

Like cholesterol, there is good congestion and bad congestion. Good traffic congestion is when it is predictable in occurrence and period. For example, the morning rush hour is termed so because it used to last only about an hour or so. Congestion occurring between 7:30 – 8:30 AM is okay but between 6:30 – 11:30 AM is undesirable. The cases between those two vary in acceptability based on the tolerance levels of commuters. In Metro Manila, for example, many people probably have been conditioned to think that 2-hour congestion is okay but more than that is severe. This is actually related to travel times or the time it takes to travel between, say, one’s home and workplace.

And so, are there better options other than a return to the “Odd-Even” scheme? There are actually many other options but they are more complicated to the point that many are unpalatable to people who are in a hurry to get a solution our traffic mess. Note that this is to get out of a hole that’s deep enough already but they still managed to dig deeper the last 5 years. Among these solutions would be congestion pricing.

Singapore offers a successful model for this where tolls vary according to the levels of congestion for these roads. There is a base rate for peak periods when congestion is most likely or expected. The government determines the desirable speed ranges along roads as a basis for congestion charges. Along urban streets, that range may be between 20 – 30 km/h. If speeds reduce to below 20 km/h (i.e., congested) then charges or tolls increase. If speeds increased to above 30 km/h, the rates decrease. The image below is screen capture from a presentation made by an official of Singapore’s Land Transportation Authority (LTA).

ERP

Note the item on the scheme being ‘equitable’ that is very essential in understanding how road space must be shared among users and that there is an option to use public transport instead. This scheme, of course, will require a lot of consultations but the technical part should not be worrisome given the wealth of talent at universities, private sector and government agencies who can be involved in the analysis and simulations. Important here also is to determine or institute where the money collected from congestion pricing will go. Logic tells us that this should go to public transportation infrastructure and services. In Singapore, a big part of the funds collected from ERP goes to mass transit including their SMRT trains and buses. Funds help build, operate and maintain their trains and buses. The city-state already has a good public transport system that is subsidized by congestion charges and this system is able to attract people from using their cars especially during the weekdays when transport is used for work and school trips. That way, people who don’t really need to own and use their cars are discouraged from doing so (Note: This works together with Singapore’s restrictive car ownership policies.).

Would it be possible to have congestion pricing for Metro Manila or other cities in the Philippines? Yes, it is and but entails a lot of serious effort for it to work the right way. We can probably start by identifying major roads whose volumes we want regulated, installing sensors for monitoring traffic conditions and tagging vehicles and requiring most if not all vehicles to have transponders for motorists to be charges accordingly. However, there should be an attractive and efficient public transport option for this program to work. Unfortunately, we don’t have such along most roads. Perhaps an experiment or simulation can be undertaken once the LRT 2 extension is completed and operational? That corridor of Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard, I believe is a good candidate for congestion pricing.

With the sophisticated software that are now available, it is possible to conduct studies that would employ modelling and simulation to determine the potential impacts of congestion pricing on traffic. It should have a significant impact on congestion reduction even without mass transit systems such as Singapore’s. However, without good public transport, it would be punishing for people who are currently using their own vehicles to avoid taking public transport. I used the term ‘punishing’ because congestion pricing will be a back breaker for people who purchased vehicles to improve their commutes (i.e., they likely were not satisfied with taking public transportation). These are the working people and part of the small middle class whose transport needs should be addressed with urgency.

On logistics in the Philippines

I am not a logistics expert and will not pretend to be one. I have, however, been involved in several projects that included logistics as a major study component. These include a nationwide study on inter-regional passenger and freight flow and another for freight forwarders affected by vehicle restraint policies in Metro Manila.  A more recent engagement has allowed me to take a look at logistics in the country from other perspectives including that of national agencies seeking to improve goods movement in the country and development agencies that have committed to help the country to do just that. There are local issues and there are regional ones. The regional ones often involve the need for infrastructure such as maritime ports and airports, highways and bridges, and other facilities such as those for storage and refrigeration.

For an archipelago like the Philippines, logistics is a bit more challenging than in countries whose territories are not separated by bodies of water. There is no lack for good practices though as there are other archipelagos that could provide good examples for connecting the islands such as Japan and the United Kingdom. Nearby, we share similar challenges with Indonesia and to a certain extent Malaysia. Of course, availability of resources is always an issue and particularly for the prioritization of infrastructure to be constructed aside from those that need to be maintained. The DOTC along with its attached agencies like the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are in the frontline when it comes to airports and ports planning, development, and maintenance are concerned. However, the DPWH plays a vital role for highways and bridges and the connections for these ports and airports including what is termed as “last-mile” connectivity that is often passed on as a responsibility of local governments. This is likely due to local roads often providing the connection between national roads (under the DPWH) and ports and airports. It is a good thing that the current DPWH has committed to a convergence program regarding national and local roads that has benefited a lot of sectors and industries like tourism and agriculture.

Rail transport is not mentioned here because there is practically none even for what remains of the once relatively extensive PNR main lines. The local issues are not simpler and can be a bit more complicated than the regional ones. The complications are usually due to more petty circumstances that may involve politics and local power plays. The basic ingredients though are related to traffic congestion and the damage to roads and bridges attributed to trucks.

Many cities and municipalities have implemented truck bans along their major roads. These are usually one or two routes in the smaller cities and towns, usually passing through the “bayan,” “poblacion” or central business district (CBD). These roads are usually national roads (e.g., McArthur Highway and the Pan Philippine Highway pass through many towns). As such, there are cases where bypass roads are constructed to alleviate congestion along these roads as well as to try to preserve the pavements in the town proper. Such traffic schemes targeting heavy vehicles are not new and are also a way to address the issue on overloading that is common in trucking in the Philippines. The bypass roads, however, generally invite development and unplanned development have often made these alternate routes more congested than the original ones.

Manila did a “power play” recently by implementing a more aggressive truck ban. This led to more severe congestion around the Port of Manila and a lot of delays that have cost a lot of money in part due to the limited alternative routes in the city and most roads are already constricted. The costs have repercussions on the economy in general as the movement of goods are affected by the impasse in Manila. Whether this was for more political or practical reasons is difficult to say because the mayor and vice mayor have invoked the very common issues of traffic congestion, road safety and pavement maintenance that got the attention, sentiment and agreement of a lot of people. Many of these people though do not understand the impacts of inefficient goods movement and likely are concerned only about passenger transportation.

More recently, a lot of containers were shipped from the Port of Manila to Subic. These are supposedly “overstaying” shipments or those that have not been claimed for a long time or have some issues regarding their release. This should ease congestion somehow but there remain the problems of shipping or logistics companies regarding freight transport in general that needs to be addressed. Both Subic and Batangas ports have been mentioned in many formal studies over the past few years including a more recent one supported by JICA. Still, there is a lot of hesitation if not confusion or uncertainty on how to go about with shifting goods movement to these ports, which are regarded to be underutilized. There are good roads connecting these ports with cities and towns but these might not be enough in the long run.

Perhaps there is a need to reconsider regional rail transport again especially for the islands of Luzon and Mindanao where long distance rail may have a tremendous impact for transporting goods over long distances. Of course, there are also issues pertaining to other ports and airports in the country including those in Mindanao (e.g., Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Phividec, Gen. Santos, etc.) and Visayas (e.g., Cebu, Iloilo, Tacloban, etc.). The RORO ports are among those that need attention as they are directly involve road transport aside from the ferries that carry them over the waters. These nautical highways are vital for goods movement around the country and require both national agencies and local governments cooperating for these facilities and services to function efficiently.