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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…
I have been inserting topics on complete streets in the undergraduate and graduate courses I teach at university. Some students have also been researching on best practices and designs that they are supposed to apply to real world situations in Philippine cities. The results are still generally mixed but I like how my undergraduate students are able to grasp the concepts and apply them in the short time they have been ‘exposed’ to the concept. I thought my graduate students, most of them practicing engineers, found it more challenging to unlearn many of the things about street design they have learned from their schools including UP and DLSU, which I thought would have the more progressive programs in Civil Engineering.
Here are a couple of helpful articles that explain the business (economic) case for bike lanes. After all, the most persuasive arguments to convince LGUs to take on bike lanes will always be economics or business. That’s also how you can probably convince the business sector to pitch in and lobby for more active transport facilities especially in the downtown areas.
Jaffe, E. (2015) The Complete Business Case for Converting Street Parking Into Bike Lanes, http://www.citylab.com, https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Bicycling_and_the_Economy-Econ_Impact_Studies_web.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2RDPGy52R27zmpOAFVbiEWGZtMSjyr1Z3Kf56oPVoPI6LUfdreDWpBM5E [Last accessed: 11/1/2018]
Flusche, D. (2012) Bicycling Means Business, The economic benefits of bicycle infrastructure, http://www.bikeleague.org, https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/Bicycling_and_the_Economy-Econ_Impact_Studies_web.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2RDPGy52R27zmpOAFVbiEWGZtMSjyr1Z3Kf56oPVoPI6LUfdreDWpBM5E [Last accessed: 11/2/2018]
One issue often brought up by opponents of bike lanes is that there are few references for bike lane design and operations in the country. Perhaps the only really comprehensive example is Marikina City though I know for a fact that the last three of their mayors (yes, including the incumbent) is not so keen about their bikeways. In fact, one mayor tried to dissolve the city’s bikeways office only to relent and allow it to exist but under one of its departments. Iloilo City is supposed to have some bike lanes but it is still more like a landscape architecture experiment than a fully functional system (sorry my katilingbans and panggas). And so we look to the more comprehensive experiences abroad for evidences of viability and success. The bottomline here is that I would rather ask how it can succeed here than state why it will not.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?