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On cultivating a culture of public transportation

There’s this recent article about cultivating a culture of transit (i.e., public transportation). We probably take this for granted despite most of us taking public transportation for our commutes. I would like to think such cultures exist with variations and uniqueness for various towns, cities, even countries. There is a uniqueness about the different paratransit modes that you might find around Southeast Asia, for example. These include Thailand’s Tuktuk and Songthaew, Indonesia’s Bajaj and Angkot, and the Philippines’ jeepney and tricycle.

A Philippine jeepney waiting for passengers at a terminal

 

Here is the article via Planetizen:

Gifford, D. (February 23, 2021) “Cultivating a Culture of Transit,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112361?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02252021&mc_cid=c3b203ffe6&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 2/26/2021]

Some takeaways from the article:

“What are the common factors for great transit? Well funded, frequent transit is one key to a successful transit system, and funding goes a long way to support transit culture. When a system is well funded, it is more frequent, more useful, more people use it, and it becomes part of the culture. Many of these systems are so popular they even have their own stores where riders and transit fans can purchase merchandise.”

and

“Improved service would cultivate a diverse culture of transit as more people rode. Just imagine a far reaching system with dedicated lanes that would not only be beneficial for commuters, when in office work resumes, but one that will improve life for daily riders who depend on it most.”

What is culture anyway? It refers to society, a way of life; including lifestyles, customs and traditions. Perhaps its worth mentioning that the jeepney and the tricycle (the conventional/older ones) are considered cultural icons. This did not happen overnight and probably involved romanticized concepts of anything about jeepneys and tricycles; including stories, true or fictional, about the people involved.

Questions: Can we develop and nurture a similar culture about bicycles?  And can it happen immediately?

On leaders and decision-makers taking public transport or bikes to commute

There has been clamor for our leaders and decision-makers, especially those in the transport and highway agencies, to take public transportation. This is for them to experience how most commuters fare for their daily grinds. And no, having an entourage including bodyguards or reserving your own train car does not count. Dapat pumila o maghintay sa kalye. Makipagsisikan o makipag-habulan sa bus, jeepney o van para makasakay. Many if not most of these officials have their own vehicles or are even driven (may tsuper o driver) to and from work. One even had the gall to transfer his department to where he comfortably resides so he won’t commute but that’s another story.

You see articles and posts about Dutch politicians and even royalty riding the bicycle to work.

The Dutch Prime Minister bikes to work

Then there are politicians regularly taking public transport while in office. Here is an article about the newly inaugurated POTUS, Joe Biden, who took the train for his regular commutes:

Igoe, K.J. (May 4,2020) “Where Did “Amtrak Joe,” Joe Biden’s Nickname, Come From?”, Marie Claire, https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a32363173/joe-biden-amtrak-joe-meaning/ [Last accessed 2/14/2021]

Do we have someone close to such an example? Commuting by private plane between your home in the Southern Philippines and your office in Manila surely won’t let one have an appreciation of the commuting experiences of typical Filipinos.

It’s not that simple: the math on vehicle sales and registration

I read the statement of a government official about vehicle sales, and the subsequent responses it got. He cited math and seemingly joked about not being good at it while trying to make sense of the numbers. It is not as easy as he supposes. And I think that is partly why we fail to address the transport problems. For one, we think it is just about road capacities. For another, it may be about public transport supply. These are not mutually exclusive but rather intertwined along with so many other factors.

Housing, for one, (i.e., its availability, affordability and location) is among the most important factors that affect or influence how we commute. I have been asking the question about housing affordability in CBDs such as Makati, Ortigas and BGC. Lucky for those who already reside at or near those places but most people working there have to contend with expensive mortgages, leases or rents. How much is a condo unit in BGC, for example? If you have a family of 4, you certainly can’t and won’t opt for a studio unit just because its near your workplace. It’s obvious here that you also would have to consider where your children will be going to school as well as the workplace location of your partner if he or she is also working. No schools for now but imagine how it was and would be once our children go back to physical school. Such facts of life seem lost to many pundits commenting or offering opinions about transportation.

I think to be fair this should also be framed from various perspectives. For example, those vehicle purchases don’t necessarily mean additional vehicles on certain roads. like what one MMDA official claims. These will be distributed across the network of roads, and these will be operating during certain times of the day. Some of these vehicles were purchased by new car owners. Others as replacements to older or unserviceable units (e.g., upgrades). It would be nice to see, for example, the stats from 2008, 2009 & 2010. Thousands of vehicles were doomed by Ondoy in the greater Metro Manila in 2009 resulting in their replacements late that year until 2010. Then there was the boom in sales in the following years as people ventured into TNCs (Uber and Grab). The recent surge in private car use and what seems to be strong sales of these vehicles in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is more out of necessity (why do you think people aren’t taking to cycling for their commutes as much as is desired?)

The question why people still prefer to purchase and use their own vehicles has not been answered in the most honest way because different people with their own agenda tend to paint different pictures of the car owner. In some cases, car owners are being portrayed as ‘evil’ while those taking the more environment-friendly modes as ‘good’. Again, it should be obvious that this is not a ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ discussion nor is it something that is black and white. We should pay (a lot of) attention to the grays, which can have so many different shades when it comes to transportation. No one really wins a “holier than thou” exercise where people on opposite sides tend to take hard line stances and close their minds to constructive ideas from either side.

On teaching children how to ride a bicycle

After some hesitation, we finally decided it was time to remove the training wheels from our daughter’s bicycle. She’s enjoyed biking whether we walked alongside or were on our bikes, and she was already tall enough to stick out her legs to regain balance if the bike tilted to one side or the other. So we thought it was probably time to remove the training wheels so she will learn to bike on 2 wheels.

She’s a fast learner and after I pushed her a few times, she could already pedal ahead and straight. The turns took some time as she immediately stuck out a leg when she thought she would fall upon making a turn. The confidence grew and the following day she was already turning while keeping her balance. She now cycles every afternoon but we still forbid her to go by herself and beyond our eyesights. So we usually have one adult or our high-schooler to bike with her. Sometimes, her grandfather, who cycles at 78, also shadows her and gives her pointers.

The view as I followed her along one street in our neighborhood.

I always tell her to take the lane and not wander to the middle of the road or the edge of it. Our main worry is always the motor vehicles that tend to speed as if no one else is using the road. Some motorcycle riders are reckless and so are many car drivers. It is as if they were not driving/riding in a residential area. So we always remind our little one to position herself where she can maneuver to avoid these vehicles. And we always remind her to be aware of her surroundings as being alert will help keep her away from danger.

I think we should teach our children to bike at an early age. It is a very useful skill to learn and nurture, whether its for recreation, exercise or transport. She already knows how to swim, which was and still her preference over cycling. Our daughter was already biking (with training wheels) at 4 but it took some time for her to grow (she was really small for her age then) and gain strength. She just turned 7, and we think she can now out-pedal us if we didn’t ask her to slow down. 🙂 I think its time to get another bike, too, as the wife’s also returned to cycling in order to shadow our daughter. I’m usually left to run after them…

Afterthoughts on ridesharing

Ridesharing/ride-hailing companies like to claim that they are helping solve transport problems. However, their disruptions seem too good to be true in a growing number of cases including those in London and California where studies have shown anomalous practices of companies particularly Uber. Grab is now the dominant company in the Philippines after Uber sold its business to Grab. Other upstarts have had little impact on Grab’s market share. The only ones perhaps that have had some success taking business from Grab are the motorcycle taxi app companies like Angkas and Joyride. Motorcycle taxis are actually quite popular though they have been informal (and illegal). Habal-habal operations though have been tolerated in many cities and towns with authorities usually turning a blind eye to their operations.

They have thrived in large cities and have practically displaced taxi companies in these cities. I would not go deep into the social impacts but there are already a lot of negatives including the growing evidence that they are taking people away from public transport in general. Their operations seem promising at the start as the original concept was to use underutilized vehicles that otherwise would have been parked for most of the day, and offering work and income opportunities to people who had the free time (e.g., home-based people who may have a few hours to spare to drive/transport other people to their destinations). The latter were assumed to be part-timers with their vehicles available for providing transport services on demand. The vehicle used might be a spare one. And I use the word ‘spare’ here as it is assumed there might be another ‘main’ vehicle that is used by another person in the family who is a full-time job who drives to work. I don’t buy that romanticized claim that one main objective of these rideshare companies is to break the monopoly of taxi companies. They ended up being the taxis with all those cars now roaming city streets for passengers (and fares).

I mention here a very recent article citing an MIT study:

Green Car Congress (February 2021) “MIT study finds Uber & Lyft increase congestion, decrease transit ridership and don’t affect vehicle ownership,” Green Car Congress, https://www.greencarcongress.com/2021/02/20210204-tncs.html [Last accessed: 2/5/2021]

There is also a published paper in 2019 that is from the perspective of TNVS drivers in Metro Manila:

Mirandilla, C.S. and Regidor, J.R.F. (2019) “Assessment of Transportation Network Vehicle Services from the Drivers’ Perspective,” Journal of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Volume 13, Pages 2369-2389, https://doi.org/10.11175/easts.13.2369

In the paper, their findings include the following:

“It was found that TNVS have greater impact in traffic flow compared to other modes of transportation while delivering inferior productivity. The study also found that full-time driver-operators have very high risks of financial losses, and they have lower than minimum wage income when depreciation costs and maintenance costs are considered.”

On planning our cities from a child’s perspective

Wouldn’t it be interesting to find how children would plan their cities? No, this is not the lego building kind of exercise but something closer to actual planning exercises where children not only act as planners but stakeholders themselves. We always say they are the future and that know that they will inherit whatever good or bad we are doing now, and yet they have little say in that future. Perhaps we should heed what they think our cities require?

Ergler, C. (January 4, 2021) “Young children are intuitive urban planners — we would all benefit from living in their ‘care-full’ cities”, The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/young-children-are-intuitive-urban-planners-we-would-all-benefit-from-living-in-their-care-full-cities-151365 [Last accessed: 1/15/2021]

On housing and transport

I am always amused about discussions and posts about transport and traffic where people appear to isolate the traffic as what needs to be solved, and where people criticize the latter and state that it is a transport and not a traffic problem. Both do not have the complete picture if that is what we want to start with. Land use, land development and the choices people make based on various other factors (including preferences) are among the other ingredients of the proverbial soup or dish that need to be included in the discussion. Remember land use and transport interaction? That’s very essential in understanding the big picture (macro) before even going into the details at the micro level. Why are there many car users or those who prefer to use private modes over public transport modes? Why do people prefer motorized over non-motorized modes? Maybe because people live far from their workplaces and schools? Why is that? Maybe because of housing affordability and other factors influencing choices or preferences?

Here’s a nice recent article on housing and transportation to enrich the discourse on this topic:

Litman, T. [January 7, 2021] “Housing First; Cars Last”, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/111790?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-01112021&mc_cid=2985a82f48&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [last accessed: 1/13/2021]

What to look forward to Philippine transportation in 2021

I usually wrote a year-ender for transport but somehow never got to it. I’ve spent much of the break working on projects that have been extended due to the pandemic’s impacts on their implementation. Two of these projects are being implemented in Zamboanga City where we are lucky to have hard-working counterparts and a very cooperative city government. I think given what have transpired in 2020, there’s much to expect in 2021. I also want to be hopeful and optimistic about the outlook for this year. So positive thoughts for now. Here are things to look forward to in 2021:

  1. More bike lanes around the country – these include the bike lanes to be constructed using the billions of pesos allocated for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Is there a plan? None yet unless you count the sketch mapping exercise people have been doing. Sure, the DPWH came up with guidelines for bike lanes designs but these are a work in progress at best if compared to the existing guidelines from countries that have built and maintained bike facilities for a very long time now (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, even Singapore).
  2. Construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu – this is a much delayed project (more than a decade in the making already) that needs to be implemented already. This year might just be the year? We certainly hope so. That EDSA carousel is still far from being the BRT the Philippines need to be a model system for its cities. I still think Cebu can be a better model for other cities than Metro Manila. And so a BRT success there has a better chance of being replicated in other cities that need a mass transit system now.
  3. More rationalized public transport routes in major cities – by ‘rationalized’ I am not limiting this to the government’s original rationalization program but also to the other reforms that are being introduced this year including service contracting. Whether the latter will work wonders, we’ll get a better idea of it this year. Will services be better? Will drivers improve the way they drive? Will this be cost-effective in the long run? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, with some of those answers hopefully coming this year.
  4. Full scale construction of the Metro Manila subway – would you believe that there’s actually little work done for this project aside from the preparatory and PR work that have been the focus the past few years. It seemed like they’ve been doing realignments and groundbreakings every year. Meanwhile, they haven’t even started tunneling yet. To be honest, I don’t think there will be an operational subway by 2022. I’ve seen subways being built in Tokyo, Singapore and Vietnam, and you can’t do even a demo project in 1.5 years time.
  5. More air travel – as the vaccines are delivered and administered, there should be a feeling of more safety and confidence for people to travel again. Much inter-island trips are actually done via air travel. Airlines have lost a lot in the last year and are certainly going to come up with nice deals (I already saw a lot of promos from various airlines that I usually book for my flights – PAL, Cebu Pac, JAL and SIA.) Hotels and resorts, too, are welcoming tourists with great deals. So perhaps it will be a rebound year for tourism and…air travel.
  6. More rail transport in general – hopefully this year will be the year when the Line 2 extension becomes operational. Meanwhile, other projects like the PNR and Line 3 rehabs, the Line 1 extension, and Manila-Clark railway line construction continues. Perhaps this year will also see the construction of Mindanao Railways.

What do you think are things to look forward to in Philippine transportation in 2021?

On cycling fatalities and the way forward

I’ve read a few articles and social media posts about how its become more dangerous or risky for cyclists during the pandemic. The statistics and observations show that there is an increase in the number of cyclists. I am not even considering here the recreational ones (and I have observed that there are a lot more of them). I focus rather on those who use bicycles to commute between their homes and workplaces; or those who cycle to market or do their groceries. The danger lies mainly from motorists who have little or no regard for cyclists and pedestrians; choosing to hog the roads for themselves. And there seem to be more of these motorists these days, too, as people owning cars have opted to use these instead of taking public transportation.

Here’s a recent article about safety in the US. Those stats and assessments can be replicated here given the availability of data on kilometers traveled and crashes that are usually employed for risk assessments.

Marquis, E. (December 22, 2020) “Cars have killed almost 700 cyclists in 2020,” Jalopnik.com, https://jalopnik.com/cars-have-killed-almost-700-bicyclists-in-2020-1845934793

The only solution for our case really is to put up protected bike lanes. Local standards or guidelines need to evolve and the people behind these should be of progressive thinking rather than relying on “what has been done” or “what they have been doing”. That attitude will only give us poorly planned and designed infrastructure for cycling and walking. The coming year offers some opportunities for active transportation as the DOTr and the DPWH (plus the MMDA in the case of Metro Manila, and perhaps the LGUs where applicable) are supposed to implement major projects intending to produce the bike lanes and walkways for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Davao. The budget is in the billions of pesos so much is expected about these projects. Will they become models for other Philippine cities and municipalities to follow? Or will these be like going through the motions just to appease those calling for active transport facilities?

On the burdens of car dependence

Here is a quick share today. This is another excellent article from Todd Litman who makes a great argument for why planning should move away from its being car-centric and contribute towards a significant reduction in society’s dependence on cars.

Litman, T. (December 15, 2020) “Automobile Dependency: An Unequal Burden,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/111535?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12212020&mc_cid=e746a044a3&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 .

Much have been said and written about this topic in many platforms including social media but in many of these, I noticed that the discussion often deteriorated into hating or shaming exercises rather than be convincing, constructive arguments for reforms in planning and behavior and preference changes in transport modes. Litman is always very fair and comprehensive and employs evidence or facts in his articles that should be clear for most people to understand. I say ‘most people’ here because there are still many who are among those considered as “fact-resistant”. Happy reading!