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On public transport services during the pandemic

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.

Pavement distress along C-5 due to the truck lane policy

I frequently use Circumferential Road 5 (C-5), which is known by many names according to the MMDA, the DPWH and the LGUs it passes through. One thing I always notice is the deteriorating or deteriorated pavement, particularly along the lane designated for use by trucks. The MMDA had instituted and implements a policy requiring large trucks to use one lane of C-5 during times when the truck ban is lifted (10:00 AM to 4:00 PM). Smaller trucks are allowed to use other lanes.

The result has been a long platoon of large trucks along the designated lane of C-5 and this concentration of load on the highway has caused faster pavement deterioration for that lane. This is especially evident when the pavement surface is of asphalt concrete. Flexible as it is, the concentration of load has led to obvious pavement deformation as shown in the following photo.

For Portland cement Concrete pavement (PCCP) cases, I would presume that there is also significant damage and the distresses (e.g., cracks) can be linked to this concentration of load. This situation and the conditions for loading likely have detrimental implications on maintenance costs for C-5 and is probably an unintended consequence of the MMDA’s policy. It would be interesting to quantify the impacts of this truck lane policy, whether it has contributed to improve traffic flow along the major thoroughfare, and whether the maintenance costs have risen (and by how much) from the time the policy was implemented.

On motorcycle taxis becoming the “new king of the road” (cont.)

This is a continuation of the yesterday’s post on motorcycle taxis. The feature appearing in Sunstar Philippines also focuses on the case of Cebu City where there is a rising demand for motorcycles and issues on public transport have given rise to a motorcycle taxi use despite their being basically illegal under current laws/guidelines. Habal-habal as these motorized 2-wheeler taxis are known have been in service in many cities and municipalities but are mostly tolerated in rural areas where conventional public transport services are scarce.

Part II of the feature by Sunstar:

New King of the Road – Part II

There are three articles in Part II:

Ramirez, J.A.C. (2017) Motorcycles on the rise, Sunstar Philippines, Retrieved from: http://www.sunstar.com.ph, April 4.

Ramirez, J.A.C. (2017) Habal-habal drivers form group to ‘professionalize’ services, Sunstar Philippines, Retrieved from http://www.sunstar.com.ph, April 4.

Ilano, M.V. (2017) Hailing a motorcycle taxi with your smartphone, Sunstar Philippines, Retrieved from http://www.sunstar.com.ph, April 4.

 

Part III of the feature by Sunstar:

New King of the Road – Part III

Ilano, M.V. (2017) Even with BRT, motorbikes still needed in Cebu City, Sunstar Philippines, Retrieved from www. sunstar.com.ph, April 4.

Ilano, M.V. (2017) Will Cebu City lead the way?, Sunstar Philippines, Retrieved from http://www.sunstar.com.ph, April 4.

I hope these articles on motorcycles and motorcycle taxis will generate meaningful discussions pertaining to their applications and perhaps their regulation. One issue, of course, that should definitely be on the table is safety. That is non-negotiable and assurances by motorcycle taxi transport providers should not be enough to persuade their becoming formalized as a public transport mode. The basis for mainstreaming these should be evidence-based including assessments based on crash (accident) data. Here is something that can be studied by the various schools around the country especially universities that have the capacities and capabilities to conduct such studies in aid of policy formulation at the national and local levels.

 

“Great wall” of trucks along C5

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has implemented a truck lane policy along Circumferential Road 5 during the last administration. It has continued at present and a long line of trucks are regularly observed along C-5 whenever the truck ban is lifted during what is designated as off-peak hours for all other traffic. Many travelers have termed the line as a “Great Wall of trucks” although in many instances, the line is “breached” by vehicles needing to shift lanes along this major thoroughfare. Strict implementation by the MMDA and the affected LGUs as well as the compliance of most trucks have led to the maximization of the occupancy of the designated truck lanes. These are easily observable along most of C-5 and particularly along sections close to the CBDs (e.g., BGC, Ortigas, Eastwood, etc.). Following are a few photos showing the long line of trucks along C-5:

Here’s another photo I took earlier last month:

 

We have a couple of students now at UP Diliman who are studying the policy and taking a look at the traffic and pavement conditions along C-5. Interesting would be their comparisons of traffic along the truck and non-truck lanes during both peak and off-peak periods as well as for weekdays and weekends. Interesting, too, will be their assessment of pavement conditions. So this will be something to look forward to once the research is completed this coming May 2017.

First call for papers for the TSSP 2017 conference

The first call for papers for the 24th Annual Conference of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines came out last Wednesday, Feb. 15:

first-call-for-papers-13feb2017

Motorcycles as goods transport

Our study on motorcycle taxis revealed most if not all of these “habal-habal” and “Skylab” being used to transport goods as well. These include agricultural products, food, construction materials, fuel, poultry, and others you would not see your typical courier service motorcycles will carry.

[All photos courtesy of Mr. Sherman Avendano of the National Center for Transportation Studies]

agusan-5A motorcycle bearing what appears as goods for or from the market treading a muddy and puddle-full road.

agusan-6Motorcycle transporting what looks more like lumber than firewood.

agusan-7Skylab carrying what looks like 4 sacks of rice.

I was gifted by my wife with a coffee table book she got from one of her trips to Vietnam. The book contains photos of motorcycles in Vietnam being used to transport various goods including furniture, water bottles, crafts and even items like tractor tires, water tanks and roofing. I guess one can also compile a similar set of photos to come up with a Philippine version of that book.

EASTS 2015 – Cebu City, September 11-13, 2015

The 11th International Conference of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS 2015) will be held in Cebu City this September 11-13, 2015. For information on the conference and program, check out their website here:

http://www.easts2015.com/

You can also download a brochure about EASTS here:

EASTS brochure2014-2015a

The conference is hosted by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is the local affiliate of the EASTS. More information on the TSSP are found below:

TSSP brochure_inside TSSP brochure_cover-back

On logistics in the Philippines

I am not a logistics expert and will not pretend to be one. I have, however, been involved in several projects that included logistics as a major study component. These include a nationwide study on inter-regional passenger and freight flow and another for freight forwarders affected by vehicle restraint policies in Metro Manila.  A more recent engagement has allowed me to take a look at logistics in the country from other perspectives including that of national agencies seeking to improve goods movement in the country and development agencies that have committed to help the country to do just that. There are local issues and there are regional ones. The regional ones often involve the need for infrastructure such as maritime ports and airports, highways and bridges, and other facilities such as those for storage and refrigeration.

For an archipelago like the Philippines, logistics is a bit more challenging than in countries whose territories are not separated by bodies of water. There is no lack for good practices though as there are other archipelagos that could provide good examples for connecting the islands such as Japan and the United Kingdom. Nearby, we share similar challenges with Indonesia and to a certain extent Malaysia. Of course, availability of resources is always an issue and particularly for the prioritization of infrastructure to be constructed aside from those that need to be maintained. The DOTC along with its attached agencies like the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are in the frontline when it comes to airports and ports planning, development, and maintenance are concerned. However, the DPWH plays a vital role for highways and bridges and the connections for these ports and airports including what is termed as “last-mile” connectivity that is often passed on as a responsibility of local governments. This is likely due to local roads often providing the connection between national roads (under the DPWH) and ports and airports. It is a good thing that the current DPWH has committed to a convergence program regarding national and local roads that has benefited a lot of sectors and industries like tourism and agriculture.

Rail transport is not mentioned here because there is practically none even for what remains of the once relatively extensive PNR main lines. The local issues are not simpler and can be a bit more complicated than the regional ones. The complications are usually due to more petty circumstances that may involve politics and local power plays. The basic ingredients though are related to traffic congestion and the damage to roads and bridges attributed to trucks.

Many cities and municipalities have implemented truck bans along their major roads. These are usually one or two routes in the smaller cities and towns, usually passing through the “bayan,” “poblacion” or central business district (CBD). These roads are usually national roads (e.g., McArthur Highway and the Pan Philippine Highway pass through many towns). As such, there are cases where bypass roads are constructed to alleviate congestion along these roads as well as to try to preserve the pavements in the town proper. Such traffic schemes targeting heavy vehicles are not new and are also a way to address the issue on overloading that is common in trucking in the Philippines. The bypass roads, however, generally invite development and unplanned development have often made these alternate routes more congested than the original ones.

Manila did a “power play” recently by implementing a more aggressive truck ban. This led to more severe congestion around the Port of Manila and a lot of delays that have cost a lot of money in part due to the limited alternative routes in the city and most roads are already constricted. The costs have repercussions on the economy in general as the movement of goods are affected by the impasse in Manila. Whether this was for more political or practical reasons is difficult to say because the mayor and vice mayor have invoked the very common issues of traffic congestion, road safety and pavement maintenance that got the attention, sentiment and agreement of a lot of people. Many of these people though do not understand the impacts of inefficient goods movement and likely are concerned only about passenger transportation.

More recently, a lot of containers were shipped from the Port of Manila to Subic. These are supposedly “overstaying” shipments or those that have not been claimed for a long time or have some issues regarding their release. This should ease congestion somehow but there remain the problems of shipping or logistics companies regarding freight transport in general that needs to be addressed. Both Subic and Batangas ports have been mentioned in many formal studies over the past few years including a more recent one supported by JICA. Still, there is a lot of hesitation if not confusion or uncertainty on how to go about with shifting goods movement to these ports, which are regarded to be underutilized. There are good roads connecting these ports with cities and towns but these might not be enough in the long run.

Perhaps there is a need to reconsider regional rail transport again especially for the islands of Luzon and Mindanao where long distance rail may have a tremendous impact for transporting goods over long distances. Of course, there are also issues pertaining to other ports and airports in the country including those in Mindanao (e.g., Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Phividec, Gen. Santos, etc.) and Visayas (e.g., Cebu, Iloilo, Tacloban, etc.). The RORO ports are among those that need attention as they are directly involve road transport aside from the ferries that carry them over the waters. These nautical highways are vital for goods movement around the country and require both national agencies and local governments cooperating for these facilities and services to function efficiently.

Sound opinions on transport and traffic

One of my favorite reads is the column by former NEDA Director General Cielito Habito on the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Inquirer.net). Regardless of whether he is writing about transport or any other topic, his articles are consistently clear and logical. Here are a couple of articles from his column “No Free Lunch” about the more recent transport and traffic issues.

Traffic dilemmas – which appeared August 12, 2014

More railways in our future – which appeared August 19, 2014

I’m not sure if those in-charge or responsible for planning and building our transportation system read his columns. They will learn a lot from these articles especially as the former NEDA DG is practically sharing his experience and wisdom – things badly needed these days especially at the DOTC.

What’s causing traffic congestion along Katipunan?

An article came out today on a popular online news site stating that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) blames the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for the severe traffic congestion that is experienced daily along Katipunan Avenue (part of Circumferential Road 5). The article may be found in the following link:

MMDA: LTFRB to blame for Katipunan traffic

Reading the article, I would like to think that the MMDA likely misunderstood the advisory from the LTFRB extending the “non-apprehension policy” for trucks that have not renewed their franchises. This policy is not the same as the truck ban scheme being implemented in Metro Manila by the MMDA and LGUs. The trucks using Katipunan Avenue during the prescribed period that they are allowed travel along this and other roads are not violating any laws or regulations. Meanwhile, the increase in the volume of trucks can only be attributed to an increasing demand for goods that translate into freight movement. There are very limited alternatives to Katipunan Ave., which is a truck route (note: most of EDSA is not a truck route), and there are few wide roads that can accommodate the volume of trucks carried by C5.

I use Katipunan everyday as it is the main road between my home and my office. I can say that traffic has worsened along this stretch of C5 and one can always see the long queue of vehicles caught in traffic along the northbound side of Katipunan especially from the afternoon to night periods. There are many causes of traffic congestion along Katipunan Ave. and during times when trucks are banned from traveling, it is still congested due to the sheer number of private vehicles using the road. C5, after all, is a major road connecting Quezon City with Pasig, Makati and Taguig, which host major CBDs (Ortigas, Makati and Bonifacio Global City).

In the mornings, much private vehicle traffic is generated by the exclusive schools along Katipunan and the northbound side of the road is usually congested from C.P. Garcia all the way to Blue Ridge. Meanwhile the southbound side is full of vehicles from B. Gonzales (across Miriam College’s main gate) to Tandang Sora. In the afternoons and evenings, traffic congestion is caused mainly by traffic returning from Ortigas, Makati, BGC, etc. to Quezon City and elsewhere where their passengers reside. Road capacity is usually reduced by the parked and standing vehicles that usually occupy a couple or more lanes along Katipunan southbound.

I guess the MMDA would just have to do a better job of managing traffic along this corridor. However, they can only do so much given the sheer volume of private and freight traffic using Katipunan and the limited options for reducing traffic over the immediate to short terms. Only an efficient mass transit system (including walking and cycling for short trips) and a significant mode shift from private to public transport can provide a long term solution to traffic congestion along Katipunan. Until then, congestion along Katipunan will continue to worsen and this will further be exacerbated by the full development and operation of the U.P. Town Center and other high rise developments along the road. Good luck to all of us using Katipunan Ave.!