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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 using a car for transport in the time of COVID-19

We start the month of February with a very informative articles from the New York Times about car use and the spread of Covid-19. There have been a lot of discussions or discourse, even arguments, about private car use or shared vehicles (e.g., Grab) as people have apparently chosen these over public transport in many parts of the Philippines. For one, there is still a limited supply of public transport as government tries to take advantage of the situation to implement their rationalization and modernization programs.

The following article is from the US but the principles presented particularly about air flow and the potential spread of the virus inside a car are factual and apply in a general manner to other situations including ours. It is important to have an appreciation of the science behind air circulation and how it relates to the potential infections.

Anthes, E. (January 16, 2021) “How to (Literally) Drive the Coronavirus Away,” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/16/health/coronavirus-transmission-cars.html [Last accessed: 2/2/2021]

The common misconception appears to be that using private vehicles automatically helps spread the coronavirus. The science tells us it is not as simple as that (i.e., using your own vehicle will lead to your and your family being infected). While private vehicles are not the proverbial suit of armor vs. Covid-19, their proper use might give better chances compared to crowded and/or poorly ventilated public utility vehicles. Walking and bicycles, of course, are most preferred but that’s a topic for another article. 

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]

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!

Micromobility policy atlas from the Shared-Use Mobility Center

Here’s a quick post sharing a policy atlas on micromobility from the Shared-Use Mobility Center. It looks like this will be something like a work in progress since there surely would be more policies and infrastructure in more cities and countries as micro mobility catches on with people. Already having many users prior to the pandemic, micro mobility, especially cycling, has gained even more during the lockdowns and afterwards when people opted for this mode over public transport (usually because of a lack of it), private cars (expensive), motorcycles (not their thing), and walking (too slow for their taste?).

Here is the link to the atlas: https://learn.sharedusemobilitycenter.org/atlas/?

Non-motorized logistics

The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns led to people rediscovering what is now termed as active transport modes – walking and cycling. Not that these modes were not being used for travel as usually they, especially walking, represent the last mile/kilometer mode for most people. With the absence or lack of public transportation or service vehicles (e.g., free shuttles for frontliners, office service vehicles, etc.), many people turned to cycling. Perhaps one area outside of commuting where bicycles have plenty of potential (and I use the word ‘potential’ here because it is not yet as widespread as motorcycle use) is for delivery services. It is the general perception that there has been a surge in deliveries for various items especially food from restaurants. Why not employ bicycles either to supplement or augment the usual motorcycles used for such purposes? I took the following photos showing an example of deliveries using bicycles.

Jollibee delivery rider on a fat bike

The bicycle rider compared to a motorcycle rider – the bike is just about the same size as the motorcycle, only higher/taller due to the large wheels on the bicycle. The carrier or box is also larger than the typical carrier as it is for transporting food that can be of a large quantity or even multiple orders if these are in close proximity to one another.

Fast-food delivery via bicycle along Felix Avenue in Cainta, Rizal

Dominant trips during the day

I read this post on social media stating:

“The work commute is statistically the longest and least frequent type of journey we make in a day. Yet it dominates transport planning.Now more than ever, cities must build cycle networks to support recurring local trips: to the corner store, café, community center, or school.”

I am not sure about the context of the word “dominate” as it is used in the statement but this originates from the Dutch so perhaps there is a difference, even slight, between their case and ours. I would like to add though that aside from “going home” trips, the most dominant in the Philippine context are “to work” and “to school”. And dominant here covers frequency and distance traveled. Consequential are travel times as these are affected by the quantity and quality of facilities and services available to commuters.

I think there should also be restructuring of how surveys are conducted to capture these more frequent trips. Typical surveys like JICA’s usually ask only about the main trips during the day so those will have responses of “to work”, “to school” or “to home”. For the metro level, maybe that’s okay but at the local levels, LGUs would have to make their own surveys in order for data to support initiatives for local transport, most especially active transport. A possible starting point would be the trip chains collected that appear to be a single trips with “original origins” and “final destinations”. These can be separated or disaggregated into individual trips made by different modes rather than be defined or associated with a single (main) mode of transport. That surely would expand the data set and redefine the mode shares usually reported.

New WHO publication on transport in the context of COVID-19

I’m just sharing the new publication from the United Nations (UN) World Health Organization (WHO) – Supporting healthy urban transport and mobility in the context of COVID-19:

https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240012554

The brief document contains recommendations for travelers and transport service providers. It is a compact, concise reference for everyone as we continue to deal with the impacts of COVID-19.

On the safety of transit use during the pandemic

Here is another quick share of an article that reports on a study showing that there is no direct correlation between COVID-19 and public transportation use:

editor@aashto.org (October 2, 2020) Study: No Direct Correlation Between COVID-19, Transit System Use. AASHTO Journal. https://aashtojournal.org/2020/10/02/study-no-direct-correlation-between-covid-19-transit-system-use/

Such articles and the study (there is a link in the article for the report) support the notion that public transportation can be made safe for use by commuters during the pandemic. The report is a compilation of best practices around the world that can be replicated here, for example, in order to assure the riding public that public transport (can be) is safe. Needless to say, car use is still less preferred and other findings have also supported active transport whenever applicable. This reference is both relevant and timely given the new pronouncement (or was it a proposal?) from the Philippines’ Department of Transportation (DOTr) to implement what they termed as “one seat apart” seating in public utility vehicles in order to increase the capacity of public transport in the country. The department has limited the number of road public transport vehicles and the current physical distancing requirements have reduced vehicle capacities to 20-30% of their seating capacities. It is worse for rail transit as designated spaces/seats in trains translated to capacities less than 10% of pre-lockdown numbers.