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I’ve read a lot of discussions and recommendations pertaining to public transportation services (mainly its lack thereof) during the Enhanced Community Quarantine aka lockdown in most parts of the Philippines. Problem is, a lot of people had their mobility curtailed as most people did not have their own private vehicles (cars or motorcycles) to do essential trips (i.e., for groceries, market, drugstores, hospitals, etc.). These include so-called frontline workers, most especially those working in hospitals or clinics. Even the use of tricycles on a limited basis while adhering to physical distancing guideline was not allowed in many cities and municipalities. What do we really need to do now and in transition to address the lack of public transport services?
Here is a concise yet very informative article on transit:
Walker, J. (2020) “Cutting Transit Service During the Pandemic: Why? How? And What’s Next?”, Human Transit, https://humantransit.org/2020/04/cutting-transit-service-during-the-pandemic-why-how-and-whats-next.html [Last accessed: 4/23/2020]
Most of the points discussed and recommendations presented are applicable to our case in the Philippines. We should also accept the fact that we cannot go back to the situation prior to the ECQ, and that the new normal calls for a reduction in car use. Meanwhile, we still have to address the pressing issues and come up with a plan or maybe strategies for public transport that involved not just buses and trains but other modes as well like the jeepneys, vans and tricycles.
Last week, I went to a meeting somewhere at the Mall of Asia complex and took a couple of photos of the public transport stops in the City of Manila. These seem to be the most modern designs in the metropolis and bears a slogan – Ang Bagong Maynila (The New Manila).
I’ll try to get photos of stops from other LGUs of Metro Manila to compare with the photos above.
I spotted this vehicle along my commute earlier today and couldn’t help but state that this is not a jeep or jeepney as DOTr or LTFRB seem to be marketing it to be. By all indications, this is a departure from the jeepney design and should be called a bus or mini-bus. Perhaps it can still be considered a jitney but that is a stretch. It wouldn’t hurt efforts towards route rationalization and public utility vehicle modernization to call this a bus or mini-bus. In fact, that should be a conscious effort towards changing mindsets about what vehicles are most appropriate or suitable for certain routes.
Premium Jeep beside a conventional one somewhere in Bayan-bayanan, Marikina City
A common sight along Philippine roads are overloaded public utility vehicles. It may be indicative of how difficult it is to get a ride because such is usually the case when there is a lack of public transport vehicles during peak periods (i.e., when transport demand is greater than the supply of vehicles). That lack maybe due to simply not enough vehicles to address the demand or that there is enough on paper and operating but they are not able to make the return trips fast enough. The first case means demand has grown but the number and capacity of vehicles have not kept pace with the demand. The second means that technically there are enough vehicles (franchises) but the traffic conditions along the route have worsened and has resulted in vehicles not being able to travel fast enough to cover the demand.
Jeepney with 6 passengers hanging by the back. All look like they are laborers or workers (construction?) but it is not uncommon to see students in their school uniform similarly dangling from jeepneys especially during the peak hours when its difficulty to get a ride.
Sabit is actually illegal and, if enforcers are strict, will incur apprehension and a ticket. Many local enforcers including those of the MMDA though are lax about this especially during peak periods. Jeepney drivers are more cautious when they know that Land Transportation Office (LTO) enforcement units are on watch as these are usually strict about passengers dangling from the vehicles. Newer jeepney/jitney models basically eliminated sabit as the doors are now on the right side of the jeepney instead of the back and there are no spaces or features to hold and step on to in the new models. It is for good as this is an unsafe situation for the passengers and there are reckless jeepney drivers who tend to exacerbate the situation by deliberately maneuvering the jeepney as if he wants passengers to fall off the vehicle. To those looking for a thrill (or death wish as a friend calls it), it is an exhilarating experience. But in most cases, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
I spotted this modified jeepney along my commute between Antipolo and Quezon City. The jeepney has been modified so its door is no longer at the back like most jeepneys but at the right side. Judging from the design and the license plate, this was not a “new” jeepney though its the first time I saw this along my regular commute.
Modified jeepney plying the Antipolo-Cubao (via Sumulong Highway) route
The design is a safer one as passengers board and alight from the right side and to the sidewalk (assuming the jeepney driver positions the vehicle in the right manner for a stop). A back door meant passengers boarded and alighted in front of another vehicle or is exposed to traffic. This reminded me also about the designs for LPG jeepney models that were rolled out more than a decade ago but didn’t really take off. The electric jeepneys also have models with the side door that is now found in most models including non-electrics in the modernization program. Perhaps the government should require all jeepneys to be at least retrofitted this way?
There seems to be a proliferation of various models of the so-called “modernized jeepneys”. They have been deployed along what the DOTr and LTFRB have tagged as “missionary routes”. The latter term though is confusing because this used to refer to areas that are not yet being served by public transportation, hence the “missionary” aspect of the route. The routes stated on the jeepneys are certainly new but they overlap with existing ones. Thus, the new vehicles are actually additional to the traffic already running along the roads used by the existing (old?) routes. The number of units are said to be “provisional” meaning these are trial numbers of these new vehicles and implying the route and service to be somewhat “experimental”. There can be two reasons here that are actually strongly related to each other: 1) the actual demand for the route is not known, and 2) the corresponding number of vehicles to serve the demand is also unknown. Unknown here likely means there has been little or no effort to determine the demand and number of vehicles to serve that demand. The DOTr and LTFRB arguably is unable to do these estimations or determinations because it simply does not have the capacity and capability to do so; relying on consultants to figure this out. That work though should be in a larger context of rationalizing public transport services. “Provisional” here may just mean “arbitrary” because of the number (say 20 or 30 units?) of units they approve for these new routes.
A ‘modernised’ jeepney with a capacity of 23 passengers. The vehicle is definitely larger than the conventional jeepneys and yet can only carry 23 seated passengers. That’s basically the number of seats for most “patok” jeepneys that are “sampuan” or 10 passengers on each bench plus 2 passengers and the driver in the front seats.
Modernized jeepney unloading passengers along the roadside
Rationalization should require not only the replacement of old jeepney units that seems to be the objective of the government’s modernization program. Rationalization also entails the determination and deployment of vehicles of suitable passenger capacities for the routes they are to serve. I have stated before that certain routes already require buses instead of jeepneys and that jeepneys should be serving feeder routes instead. Meanwhile, routes (even areas) currently having tricycles as the primary mode of transport would have to be served by jeepneys. Tricycles, after all, are more like taxis than regular public transportation. Such will also mean a reduction in the volumes of these vehicles and, if implemented and monitored strictly, may lead to an improvement in the quality of service of road public transport.
[Note: May I add that although I also use ‘jeepney’ in my articles, these vehicles should be called by their true names – ‘jitneys’. The term jeepney is actually a combination of the words Jeep (US military origins) and jitney (a public utility vehicle usually informal or paratransit offering low fares).]
The nationwide transport strike last Monday elicited a lot of reactions from both supporters and opponents of the the initiatives to modernise the jeepney. Both sides have valid points but both, too, have weak points. Much has been discussed about the cost of acquiring new jeepneys to replace the old ones and whether you agree or not, these are really a bit steep to the typical jeepney driver-operator.
A low downpayment will certainly mean higher monthly amortisations. And most drivers/operators can only afford a low downpayment with or without the 80,000 pesos or so subsidy from the government. Even if you factor in some tax incentives, the net amount to be paid every month will still be too much for a typical driver/operator. Anyone who’s ever purchased a vehicle, new or used, through a loan should know this, and to deny it means you probably are privileged enough not to take out a loan.
Certainly there are exceptions like certain Beep operations that are supposed to be run like a company or cooperative, and where fleet management techniques allow these to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. The latter supposedly allows the owners to recover their capital (return of investment) for the purchase of the new jitney units. The reality, however, is that not all routes are good enough for the required revenues and the better earning ones subsidize (forced?) those that are not profitable. The ‘company’ or ‘coop’ can therefore hide these unprofitable cases as the collective performance of the routes they operate along become the basis for assessment.
Snapshot inside a jeepney while waiting for it to fill with passengers
It is true that the business model (or what is passed off for one) for jeepney operations is flawed. More so if you place this in the context of transport demand for a metropolis like Metro Manila. That is why perhaps corporatization or cooperatives can probably help in terms of improving processes and practices (e.g., maintenance regimes, deployment). So perhaps this is where government should step in and be more aggressive in organising jeepney drivers and operators. I would even dare say that government should be willing to extend more financial support if significant change in public transport is to be achieved. The Office of the President, Senators and Congressmen enjoy a lot of pork and the numbers for a single year indicate that they can, if willing, purchase new jitneys for their constituencies perhaps focusing on the cities and retiring the old, dilapidated public utility vehicles. That, I think, is a more ‘intelligent’ use to these funds that are allegedly being misused by our politicians.
So, was the strike a success? I think the answer is yes it was. Government cannot deny this as it was forced to suspend classes in schools in order to address the impending shortfall of services during the strike and many LGUs were forced to provide free transport services (libreng sakay) in many forms (e.g., dump trucks, flat bed trucks, etc.). You can only say it was a failure if it was business as usual with commuters feeling minimal impact of the stoppage in jeepney operations.
Late last month, I wrote some comments about a recent survey conducted by a group advocating for improved public transport services in Metro Manila. In that post I stated that perhaps its not a lack of public transport vehicles but that they are not traveling fast enough to go around. Simply, the turnaround times for these vehicles are too long and that’s mainly due to congestion. But how do we translate the discussion into something of quantities that will allow us to understand what is really happening to road-based public transport.
As an example, and so that we have some numbers to refer to, allow me to use data from a study we conducted in 2008. Following are a summary of data we collected on jeepneys operating in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas.
|Route Class||Coverage Distance||Distance traveled per day, km|
|Short||5 kilometers or less||68.75|
|Medium||6 – 9 kilometers||98.24|
|Long||10 – 19 kilometers||111.22|
|Extra Long||20 kilometers & above||164.00|
[Source: Regidor, Vergel & Napalang, 2009, Environment Friendly Paratransit: Re-Engineering the Jeepney, Proceedings of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Vol. 7.]
Coverage distance refers to the one-way distance between origins and destinations. If we used the averages for the coverage distances for each route class, we can obtain an estimate of the number of round trips made by jeepneys for each route class. We assume the following average round-trip distances for each: short = 3.5 x 2 = 7km; medium = 7.5 x 2 = 15km; long = 14.5 x 2 = 29km; and extra long = 50 km. The last is not at all unreasonable considering, for example, that the Antipolo-Cuba (via Sumulong) route is about 22km, one way, and there are certainly other routes longer than this.
The number of round trips can then be estimated as: short = 68.75/7 = 9.82 or 10 roundtrips/day; medium = 98.24/15 = 6.54 or 6.5 roundtrips/day; long = 111.22/29 = 3.84 or 4 roundtrips/day; and extra long = 164/50 = 3.28 or 3 roundtrips/day. Do these numbers make sense? These are just estimates from 2008/2009. Perhaps everyone would be familiar with certain routes for their regular commutes and the number of roundtrips made by jeepneys (or buses or UV express) there then and now. Short routes like those of the UP Ikot jeepneys might have more roundtrips per day compared to other “short” route jeepneys since there is practically no congestion all day along the Ikot route. It would be worse in the case of others especially those running along the busiest corridors like Ortigas Ave., Marcos Highway, Commonwealth, Espana Avenue, Shaw Boulevard and others. If you factor current travel speeds into the equation then it can be pretty clear how these vehicles are not able to come back to address the demand for them.
In a recent Senate hearing tackling the transport issues in Metro Manila, a certain study was mentioned. This was the EDSA Bus Revalidation Study conducted in 2005/2006. The findings of that study and subsequent ones showed that there was an oversupply of public transport vehicles in Metro Manila. These studies also recommended for the rationalisation or optimisation of road public transport routes in the megalopolis. I think it is timely to revisit these reports rather than pretend there never were formal studies on public transport in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas.
I saw several posts circulating on social media about public transport routes in major cities that included stylised maps presented like the transit maps you usually see for cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. These show what the makers identify as the equivalent of stops or stations along the public transport “lines”. These, of course, are a simplification because what appears as a single line may actually be comprised of several. Also, the overlaps seem to be also quite simplified compared to what may be found in reality. This post will not attempt to show how complicated road public transport is for Metro Manila. Instead, I am sharing the maps prepared from a previous study we conducted for the then DOTC (ca. 2012) that show the coverage of three road public transport modes: buses, jeepneys and UV Express.
PUB coverage for Mega Manila with distinction of EDSA and non-EDSA routes (2012)
Jeepney route coverage for Mega Manila (2012)
UV Express route coverage for Mega Manila (2012)
I hope these maps have already been updated or are going to be updated in order for us to have good visual references for public transport planning including the identification of locations for integrated terminals as well as connections with rail transit.
I spotted a new vehicle serving a new route between Cogeo in Antipolo and SM Aura in Taguig. I see these vehicles along Marcos Highway from Masinag to Santolan. Friends have spotted the same along C-5 at Eastwood and at Tiendesitas; confirming the route this mash-up between the jeepney and bus is running along. The route overlaps with existing public transport lines along Marcos Highway (mostly jeepneys connecting the eastern cities and towns with Cubao) including the elevated Line 2.
Jitney running along Marcos Highway in Antipolo (section between Masinag and Cogeo)
The jeepney has a sign stating it is a DOTr project. So is this an experimental run to determine the viability of the route in place of the traditional approach using what was termed as RMC (Route Measured Capacity)? I am not aware of any other ways by which the DOTr or the LTFRB are able to estimate the number and type of public utility vehicles to serve certain routes. There are, however, initiatives to open what they call “missionary routes” but this term used to refer to really new and unserved (referring to formal public transport) corridors or areas rather than those that are already being served by several modes of public transport. The results of this interpretation of “missionary routes” are more overlapping routes that further complicate and undermine efforts for rationalising or simplifying public transport services in the Metro Manila and other cities as well.
I will soon post here three maps showing the public transport route coverage for Metro Manila more than half a decade ago. These show the coverage of buses, jeepneys, and UV express services at the time. I now wonder how these would look like with the new routes overlayed unto the maps.