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Alternatives for the delivery of public transport services in the new normal

No, this is not a dissenting opinion on service contracting as proposed by a coalition of transport advocates. Rather, I write about other options or alternatives that can be taken on by the government in collaboration with the different sectors or players involved in transportation. Other options have not been discusses as extensively as would have been desired and ultimately weighed for application.

Allow me to rattle off a few options stated in the position paper by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP):

  1. Service contracting – which some groups have proposed and lobbied Congress for Php110 billion funding. This implies a government selecting a few among hundreds of bus operators and thousands of jeepney operators – a process that is bound to be controversial; whilst needing the mobilization of a performance audit and monitoring unit in a government agency. Economic literature is replete with studies that subsidy to producer (i.e., operator) produce bad outcomes over direct subsidy to consumers (i.e., commuter). In this regime, financial risks are borne by the government or authority.
  2. Fuel subsidy – the government was already implementing the Pantawid Pasada Program before ECQ. It incurred Php2.372 billion subsidies in 2019, up by 243% from Php0.977 billion in 2018. At the pump, the fuel subsidy equates to Php1.00/liter discount. Now, the DoTr is proposing a 30% subsidy which it estimates to be Php1,152/PUB and Php366/PUJ. These amounts are NOT commensurate to the theoretical drop in revenues at 50% load limit. Worse, free fuel leads to bad outcomes, as it would encourage higher fuel use and siphoning off to other modes.
  3. Free Fare – this proposal is intertwined with the service contracting model and may be counterproductive to the objective of social distancing. It is a policy that encourages unnecessary travel and crowding – which the distancing rule seeks to minimize. The government needs only to look on ridership on LRT/MRT on free-fare days against regular working days.
  4. Direct Subsidy to Commuter – in this scheme, the operator is allowed to increase its tariff by an amount sufficient to compensate for the 50% volume cut. However, the passenger only pays the same fare level that he paid before ECQ. The government pays the difference. When paired with the Automated Fare Collection System (which LTFRB has required under MC-2020-019 dated 14-May 2020), it is the most efficient method, and is immediately implementable. Subsidy is targeted, rather than all-encompassing. It promotes the wider adoption of AFCS on all public transport, not just on MRT/LRT. Senate Bill No.1417 seeks to fund, among others, for transportation vouchers; this could be disbursed rapidly via the AFCS card

 

Another idea is the purchase of new model jitneys to replace old jeepneys – this is an idea that I have posted and have discussed with former and current officials of the DOTC/DOTr before (matagal na itong idea na ito). You purchase say 1 modern jitney at 1.6million pesos/vehicle (note: other models are more expensive, exceeding 2M per unit) and replace the old, conventional jeepneys. It will not be free but payment for the vehicle will be deferred until after the transport crisis brought about by the pandemic clears out. The old jeepneys would be part of the collateral and perhaps still have some utility in them to be used for other purposes (freight?). Think about it. How much pork does your typical congressman and senator have? They could probably use this to modernize public transport in their respective constituencies!

It is important to have a lot of ideas out there instead of just one that is being pushed as the only option. In truth, there should be a combinations of solutions as there will not a be single one applicable and effective to all cases and situations. At this time, I am not sure that these options are being considered by the DOTr. The agency and the LTFRB are proceeding with rationalization and modernization simultaneously, at their own pace and at their own terms, taking advantage of the conditions and situations brought about by the pandemic. While it seems to be the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do rationalization and modernization, it might be immoral and inappropriate given the circumstances that doomed a lot of families who depend on public transport operations for their livelihood.

On mass transit and active transport

I recently gave a talk on transport in the new normal. There are a lot of materials that you can refer to if you want good visuals for a presentation. It helps to capture the attention and maybe the imagination of your audience, which in this case was varied. While I assume many to be in the physical, chemical & social sciences, and engineering, I knew that there were also people from media and those who were just interested in the topic. And so I made sure there were a lot of infographics mixed in with bullet points to drive the message clear about mass transit systems being the backbone of transport in highly urbanized cities, conventional transit like buses and jeepneys supplementing and complementing these, and active transport enabled and encouraged as a safe option for many.

I wasn’t able to include the following graphic shared by a friend advocating bicycle use especially for work and school trips. The following graphic comes from TUDelft, which is among the major universities in the forefront of research in transit and cycling. Clicking on the graphic will take you to their Facebook page and more links to their programs.

 

Note the essential information relating bicycles and transit in the graphic. Do we have similar data in the Philippines (or at least for the National Capital Region)? I hope this stirs interest for research work. There are a lot of topics to take on including even data collection to capture the information required for substantial studies on cycling, transit and their relationship.

Whatever happened to those ‘enhanced’ pedestrian crossings?

Before the lockdowns, a lot of people seem to have become excited with what a private company did as part of their PR campaign (I’m certain about this because their ads feature these.). That is, they painted on the existing pedestrian crossings in Antipolo City along major roads such as Sumulong Highway and the Sumulong Memorial Circle. While coordination with the LGU was done, there seems to be none with the DPWH considering these are national roads and any matter concerning them are under the agency’s jurisdiction through their District Engineering Office. The following photos were taken prior to the lockdown and as you can see (if you were objective) there’s nothing really notable about them though they appear to enhance the existing crosswalks.

The artwork is practically invisible to motorists especially those on cars whose drivers’ eyes are lower than those driving SUVs, jeepneys, buses or trucks (i.e., larger and taller vehicles).

 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety. 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety and you can check on this by doing either a quick or even an extensive search for literature proving significant impact. I guess the key here is to also install other devices such as a speed table or rumble strips for motorists to feel that they are approaching a pedestrian crossing. Also, perhaps instead of just painting on the crosswalks, they could have painted so as to widen the crosswalk. Then they could have increased the visibility for pedestrian crossings. That said, they should also have used the standard paints for these facilities that make them visible at night and could have been more resistant to weathering. 

Why cycling or bicycles are good for the economy?

You saw that meme shared in social media where they say “why bicycles are bad for the economy”? There’s some humor there but it doesn’t necessarily convince many people to support cycling or biking over motor vehicle use.

Here goes one and note the logic:

“Cycling or bicycles are good for the economy because…it helps reduce car use/dependence. That means less dependence and expenses to fossil fuels. That means more money available to the household for more important stuff like food, homes and education.”

Can you come up with something like that?

Workers on bicycles crossing the Marcos Highway bridge from Marikina towards Quezon City.

On the importance of public transportation post-pandemic

I am sharing another article from Todd Litman that appear yesterday:

Litman, T. (2020) “Lessons from Pandemics: Valuing Public Transportation,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/109584-lessons-pandemics-valuing-public-transportation?fbclid=IwAR2jduFuYoyf_MoksI2Th4UoWtQYMQVOdwHuiih8JM9NxMN5pT_e1lwhgDQ [Last accessed: 6/13/2020]

The article contains material derived from previous work by the author and provides a list (and links to) resources or references related to this topic.

Traffic is back to “normal”

Traveling to the office last Monday, I could not help but notice the long lines of cars along Ortigas Avenue’s westbound lanes and Katipunan’s southbound lanes. Without adequate public transportation, people have few options for their commutes. Walking from home to workplaces is feasible only for those who live relatively near their workplace (perhaps up to 5km distance?). Cycling may be considered but not everyone can bike beyond 5km, what more for 10km+ commutes. And for both cases, there are just so many obstacles (and I’m not just fault-finding here) like a lack of sidewalks and bike paths to ensure safe walking and cycling.

Traffic congestion along Felix Avenue in Cainta towards Cainta Junction (with Ortigas Avenue Extension) – these are mostly outbound traffic likely coming from the residential subdivisions along Felix Avenue and heading to workplaces in Pasig, Mandaluyong, Makati and Taguig. They will likely take Ortigas Avenue to connect with other major roads such as C-5 and EDSA to get to their destinations.

 

The DOTr and the LTFRB have released guidelines for safety and the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Yet, they have moved quite so slowly to bring back public transportation to address the demand for it and to be able to discourage or restrict car usage in the “business-as-usual” or “old normal” sense. Public transportation is critical if we are to transform transportation during this transition from the lockdowns. Granted, the government probably wants to use the situation to effect its modernization plans but it is one thing to take advantage of the opportunity and another to be an opportunist considering the vulnerabilities of the transport sector after it endured 3 months of shutdown. The moral and right thing to do is to bring back public transport and give incentives for it to thrive and perhaps transform or upgrade by themselves rather than force the situation at the expense of commuters.

COVID-19 Infection Risk Assessment of Transport Modes

I posted about the work we have been doing to assess the infection risk (i.e., spread of COVID-19) for various modes of transport considering the transition of many areas including the National Capital Region (NCR) to the General Community Quarantine (GCQ). The work was undertaken through the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is under the umbrella of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS). Here is the outcome in the form of an “Infection Risk Classification of Transport Modes or Vehicle Types” developed by a core group of public transportation and road safety specialists among its members:

Note again that this is the product of a rapid assessment using the mentioned criteria and factors. It is a qualitative assessment and a quantitative one, given the data, would obviously been preferred. Moreover, this is an assessment for risk of infection rather than for road safety. In the “old normal”, for example, cycling and motorcycle use may have a higher risk in traffic given traffic mix, human behavior and lack of facilities to make these modes safe.

On urban planning resources or references for the pandemic

I am posting for reference this article compiling helpful references for urban planning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the references listed are based on the US experience and I am sure there is already a wealth of information coming from other countries as well including those that have been successful in mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

Brasuell, J. (2020) “Urban Planning Resources for COVID-19”, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/109238?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05142020&mc_cid=2e155996b6&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/16/2020]

 

On the DOTr Guidelines for Public Transport – Layouts for Distancing

Here again, for reference, are the guidelines issued by the DOTr in relation to the transition from ECQ to GCQ and beyond (immediate rather than far future). The following images show the physical distancing prescribed for road transport.

The last image for the tricycle is something that should have been allowed at least for a limited number of tricycles during the ECQ period. That could have eased transport woes for many people especially those who had to walk long distances in order to get their supplies. Some LGUs like Davao were able to issue Executive Orders to that effect that the IATF did not contend (or is Davao a special case?). Now, we see a lot of LGUs issuing EO’s and ordinances allowing public utility tricycles to operate again but limiting their numbers through odd-even schemes. Perhaps the same should be applied to pedicabs or padyak (non-motorized 3-wheelers), too.

On the DOTr Guidelines for Public Transport – Aviation Sector

Here are the guidelines for the Aviation Sector. My only comment here is that many people are anxious about when they can travel again, particularly to other parts of the country mainly for business or to go home (e.g., many students have been stranded in the cities where they go to school and away from their hometowns). Part of this anxiety is the thinking that airfares will increase significantly as airlines are forced to reduce capacities for their aircraft to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Gone, probably, are the discount fares like the Piso fare promos.

Related to this, I have received emails from 4 airlines I frequently used – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Japan Airlines. All provided updates on their respective efforts to ensure the future air travel will be safe, health-wise. As for the airport terminals, that’s another story…