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On vulnerability to crashes

A beloved aunt was hit by a jeepney as she walked to church yesterday. She was walking on a local road that didn’t have any pedestrian sidewalks because this was in a residential neighborhood with very low vehicular traffic. She sustained serious injuries and was brought to the hospital by the jeepney driver (good thing he did not flee as many likely would have done) and people who witnessed the incident. She is now in critical condition, unconscious and would likely have a very difficult time recovering considering her advanced age if she pulls through. Senior citizens involved in accidents, whether domestic or crashes like this, and who have sustained injuries like hers (i.e., fractured bones and damaged). Her prognosis is not so good and a cousin says it will take a miracle for her to recover from this very traumatic incident.

Many of us do not care about road safety and do not concern ourselves with making an environment that’s safe for all users. That is, until we or someone close to us become victims of crashes. What do we do about this? Do we become instant advocates of road safety? Do we suddenly look for initiatives that we can be a part of? Do we do the talk circuit and find opportunities to share our experiences and give our two centavos worth of advice? Did we really have to wait for these things to happen before we become active in promoting and realizing road safety? Or do we start now and become proactive whether or not we think we ourselves are vulnerable? We are all vulnerable road users. We are all potential victims or participants in crashes. And so we should all be involved in making or enabling a safer environment for everyone.

Metro Manila public transport – addition is good but we need subtraction, too

The company providing the P2P bus services is very enthusiastic (aggressive?) in promoting their services especially via social media. Satisfied commuters have also shared their experiences and a lot of photos about the buses and their commutes through social and mainstream media. I have read some articles carried by the likes of Rappler and Inquirer as well as blogs relating about the buses features, what people liked about the service and their suggestions on how to further improve and expand services. These have provided commuters with a taste of how good public transport could be in terms of quality of service.

The operations and the operator seems to have the blessings of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and not just the present administration but from the previous one when the P2P services started. The fact that they have expanded services further these past few months is a testament to their popularity and the demand for high quality public transport services in Metro Manila. I personally believe that the next step is to give these buses exclusive lanes along their routes. Such would allow for buses to travel faster and providing a significant decrease in the travel times of commuters. Current operations, despite having non-stop runs between origin and destination, run in mixed traffic so their impacts in terms of travel times are diminished. Also, with exclusive lanes, they can probably consider adding a few stops between the route ends and be able to simulate bus rapid transit (BRT) services of which there seems to be little appreciation so far in the Philippines.

While the new buses and routes are very welcome and provide attractive options for commuting, there is still a need to address what is perceived as an over-supply of buses, jeepneys and UV express vehicles in Metro Manila. The attractiveness and higher service quality of P2P buses can pave the way for reducing the numbers of buses, for example, along EDSA. A similar strategy of introducing high quality bus services along other corridors and then reducing bus, jeepney and UV express units there can be implemented but will require much in terms of political will. The latter is important when dealing with operators and drivers of displaced vehicles, who may oppose such transport reforms and probably throw in legal impediments including those pertaining to franchising. Whether such opposition can be addressed by emergency powers or not remains to be seen but hopefully, even without such powers, the government can engage the transport sector to effect reforms and improve public transport (and ultimately commuting in general) not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.

Extreme commutes on a jeepney

I chanced upon this overloaded jeepney along Sumulong Highway. I counted eight people hanging behind the vehicle including the conductor. This is actually illegal and not just at present but always. The practice of hanging behind a jeepney is obviously unsafe and there is a high risk of people falling off. It would be a miracle not to have major injuries if one falls from the vehicle, and there is a high likelihood of fatality especially of a falling passenger gets hit by another vehicle trailing the jeepney.

img_3087

‘Sabit’ or hanging on for a jeepney ride is more a necessity and males usually do this in order to get a ride home or to work. On many occasions, you will see men or boys in their office or school uniforms in the morning, braving it just so they won’t be late for work of school. While it is illegal, authorities seem to apprehend overloaded jeepneys from time to time (or according to some, just for show). I guess they, too, understand how difficult it is to get a ride and how this somehow allows people to get to their destinations. Surprisingly and despite reckless behavior among drivers, there seem to be few untoward incidents reported. Hopefully, public transport will improve so that people will not have to do such extreme commuting.

Is Antipolo ripe for high capacity and premium transit services?

About 5 years ago, I wrote about transport in Antipolo in another blog. The article was more about this old city being a major destination attracting people for pilgrimage (Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) and tourism (e.g.,  Hinulugang Taktak). I am quoting from that article from 5 years ago and adding a few comments here and there. Note that for most of the article, nothing much has changed except perhaps that the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is now underway.

“There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.”

I didn’t mention there that another backdoor was via Marcos Highway if one were coming directly from Tanay instead of through Teresa. This route is now popular and traffic has been steadily increasing due in part to some additional attractions in that part of Antipolo and Tanay.

“Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo Simbahan, referring to the shrine.”

There are also UV Express and shuttle vans (legitimate vans for hire or colorum operations) offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownership and operations do make them serious competitors to the jeepneys even during the merry month of May (fiesta period) and the Lenten Holy Week.

“There was an Antipolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto with the cassette tapes stacked along the bus dashboard). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.”

At present, there is another bus company operating along Ortigas Ave and the Manila East Road – RRCG. There is also a revival of the EMBC with buses providing transport services between Quiapo and Tanay. The only other bus is the inter-provincial Raymond Transit, which operates between Crossing, Mandaluyong and Infanta, Quezon via Antipolo, Teresa, Morong and Tanay.

“In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.”

This proposition for rationalizing public transport to/from Antipolo and other towns of Rizal plus Marikina is all the more important as the Line 2 extension from Santolan, Pasig to Masinag, Antipolo is currently underway. There is an opportunity here to upgrade public transport following the hierarchy of transport modes. I have noticed, for example, electric and conventional tricycles providing what are basically feeder services but along Marcos Highway between Cogeo and Masinag. And a lot of people have been stranded or have difficulty getting a jeepney or UV express ride along the Marcos Highway corridor. I am aware that the DOTC in the previous administration was mulling an express bus service through Marcos and Sumulong Highways terminating and turning around at Robinsons Place Antipolo. That, of course, never happened but is something that I think is worthwhile and would be beneficial to a lot of commuters.

Latest model electric jeepney

In case my readers missed my feature on the recent electric vehicle summit hosted by Meralco, here are a few photos of the latest model of the electric jeepney. Note the passenger door is no longer at the rear but at the side across from the driver. They have also added a distinctive snout to the vehicle. This model is the latest from PhUV, which also manufactures electric tricycles.

IMG_1570Profile of the electric jeepney currently in use for a Department of Energy-funded project being undertaken jointly by the National Engineering Center (NEC), the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) and the Vehicle Research and Testing Laboratory (VRTL) of the Department of Mechanical Engineering; all of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

IMG_1571A peak at the interior shows the passenger seats in bench layout and a more generous headroom for passengers.

IMG_1572Driver’s seat and panel. There is space to install fare collection machines like the ones that can enable the use of BEEP cards by passengers.

IMG_1573E-jeepney front showing the distinctive face from its conventional ‘ancestors/predecessors’. A colleague noted that perhaps the manufacturer should add some accessories like horses or airplanes on the hood.

This model is already similar in size with the big COMET electric jitneys. They also run on a more powerful electric motor that will enable these vehicles, according to the maker, to climb slopes like those along the route of Antipolo jeepneys. We hope that this design gets mainstreamed (read: replace conventional jeepneys) along the many existing jeepney routes not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.

Curiosities of transport services in Metro Manila

There are a few interesting observations we can make out of transport services in Metro Manila and chief among them is the poor quality of service that we can generalize among most if not all modes of public transport available to commuters. This poor quality of service of public transport is what drives many people to aspire to own and drive or ride their own vehicle. Already there has been a surge in motorcycle ownership in Metro Manila and its neighboring towns and cities (collectively Mega Manila) and car ownership is also on the rise. These trends have led to increased congestion along many roads. And we will probably not see a significant improvement until the mass transit projects have all been completed. These include the Line 2 Extension to Masinag, the MRT 7 along Commonwealth, the Line 1 Extension to Cavite, and yes, the capacity improvement of MRT 3. Hopefully, there will also be BRT lines along C-5 and Quezon Avenue to complement the rail transport projects.

The UV Express is actually a response to poor public transport services as it evolved out of the FX taxi services of the 1990s that later mixed with informal van and AUV services. These are actually a precursor of today’s ride sharing modes. Only, in those days when the FX service was born, you didn’t have tools like apps to facilitate your ride. People had to agree about the fares and the destinations from terminals like those in Cubao (Quezon City) and Crossing (Pasig/Mandaluyong).

But let us focus on three services that would not have been attractive if only services by their conventional counterparts were (very) satisfactory and if there was a comprehensive and efficient mass transit network in the metropolis. These are Uber, P2P buses and airport express buses.

Uber offers services much like that of the conventional taxi. Its advantages are mainly having recent model vehicles (not dilapidated ones), a better driver (this attribute is quite subjective), and an app-based system for availing services. Fares are generally more expensive than those for regular taxis. And there is a surge pricing for when congestion is really bad. It has a very good feedback mechanism that allows passengers to evaluate their drivers. However, this wouldn’t have been necessary if taxi drivers in general were more disciplined and courteous to their passengers.

P2P buses operated by Froehlich Tours offers services much like that of conventional buses. Its current advantages over conventional buses are that it operates express services, buses are new, well-maintained, and with drivers that appear to be more disciplined than the typical public utility bus driver. A friend’s take is that P2P’s are the bus equivalent of UV Express. It is not at all necessary if the quality of service of regular buses were much better than it is right now. And I am referring to the practically stop anywhere, recklessly driven and poorly maintained regular buses.

Premium airport buses have recently been introduced and these are operated by Air21, which is a freight forwarding company. It is a service that’s long overdue given the many difficult experiences of people to and from NAIA’s passenger terminals. While an airport limousine bus service should have been provided many, many years ago it also is a reflection of the poor quality of airport taxi services. Airport taxis are expensive and according to many stories circulating can be predatory.

What I am driving at, if it is not yet so obvious, is that many ‘new’ services are actually borne out of crappy services of conventional modes. There are many lessons to be learned here in and lest I be accused of neglecting other Philippine cities, I should mention that Metro Manila presents so many lessons to be learned by other rapidly growing and urbanizing areas in the country. At this time we can mention Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and perhaps Clark/Angeles as metropolitan areas to watch in terms of transport system development. Hopefully, there’s a kind of reverse psychology in their approaches to address their transport needs in that they avoid what has been done in Metro Manila. Surely, transport services in these other cities can do better than Metro Manila’s.

Some advantages of rail over road transport

In my previous article, I mentioned how rail transport is important as part of a country’s transport system, particularly on land. I also mentioned a study conducted by our undergraduate students that was completed back in April 2012.

Our students conducted a simple survey, as part of their research, to determine the travel times and costs for public transportation between several origin-destination pairs. These O-D pairs were selected to simulate costs and travel times of commutes using either primarily rail or all road transport. Note the choices of either ‘school’ or ‘office’ paired with ‘home’ somewhere in the south of Metro Manila.

road-rail travel time 2012Travel time comparisons for commutes using road and rail public transportation – ‘Road’ refers to the entire commute using road-based transport (i.e., buses and jeepneys) while ‘Rail’ refers to commutes utilizing mainly the PNR but with road transport used in the end parts of the journeys (e.g., jeepney ride from near the PNR Espana Station to UST).

road-rail cost 2012Travel cost comparisons for commutes using road and rail public transportation

Relevant to understanding the above are the following

  • Fare rates have changed since 2012. However, this presents a constant change over the fares that are being compared so the basic differences will remain the same across origin-destination pairs.
  • PNR services had to be discontinued for some time due to derailments because of poor conditions of tracks.
  • Road traffic has worsened since 2012 with several “carmaggedon” episodes showing how vulnerable commuters are when using solely road transport.
  • Road public transport services are frequent and practically 24/7. PNR services are of very limited frequency. Waiting times for the trains typically add to travel times in the form of delays, which make commuting by rail an unattractive option due to their unreliability of service.