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Comments on current transport issues – Part 3: On the obstacles to the PNR trains

2) On the obstacles to the PNR operations

We have done studies before when studies on the PNR were not considered fashionable. People who did research on rail transport were more interested in Lines 1, 2 and 3, and dismissed the PNR as a lost cause. There were many transportation experts who ridiculed it and even taunted PNR about their poor service. And yet we did our studies because we had an appreciation of the importance of this line and how it could play a major role in commuting if given the resources to improve their facilities. It was shown that the line could be more advantageous for commuters particularly those traveling between the southern parts of Metro Manila and Makati and Manila. These would be both workers and students who will benefit from the shorter travel times and less expensive fares. The downside then (and still at the present time) was the long headways between trains. That is, you can only catch a train every 30 minutes.

This photo taken more than a decade ago show the typical conditions along many sections of the PNR. It is pretty much the same today and the agencies involved (DOTr and PNR) have done little to reduce the informal settlers along the line. No, they didn’t just appear now, and are throwing garbage, rocks and other debris on the trains. This was already happening years ago.

Fast forward to the present and they seem to be getting a lot more resources than the last 30+ years. A Philippine Railway Institute (PRI) has been created. New train sets have just been delivered and went into operation. Unfortunately, the new trains were met with rocks and other debris as they traveled along sections occupied by informal settlers. The incident damaging the new trains puts further emphasis on the need to the need to address the squatter problem along the PNR line. Should fences be built to protect the trains and passengers? Should people be relocated? I think both need to be done in order to secure the line and in preparation for service upgrades including more frequent train services (i.e., shorter intervals between trains). And we hope to see the DOTr and PNR working on this as they attempt to attract more passengers to use their trains.

Comments on current transport issues – Part 2: On motorcycle taxis

I continue with my comments on current and persistent transport issues. This time, I focus on one of two hot topics – motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”.

1) On motorcycle taxis:

I am not a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that’s supposed to be evaluating the trial operations. I know one or two of the key members of the TWG and am surprised that they have not referred to the academe for studies that may have already been done about this mode of transport. I know there have been studies about it in UP and DLSU. Perhaps there are more from other universities in the country. Motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”, after all, are practically everywhere and would be hard to ignore. Surely, researchers and particularly students would be at least curious about their operations? Such is the case elsewhere and many studies on motorcycle taxis have been made in the region particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, where these modes also proliferate.

The terms “trial”, “experimental” or “pilot” are actually misleading because motorcycle taxis have been operating across the country for so many years now. They are supposed to be illegal and yet they serve a purpose in the areas where they are popular. What is often referred to as an informal transport mode is ‘formal’ to many people who are not being served by so-called formal modes including the tricycle. Of course, one can argue that these terms (i.e., trial, experimental and pilot) refer to the app that are supposed to enhance the existing habal-habal operations.

I would strongly endorse motorcycle taxis but companies need to be held accountable should there be fatal crashes involving their riders. They are supposed to have trained and accredited them. The companies should also have insurance coverage for riders and passengers. LGUs tolerant of these should be watchful and do their part in enforcing traffic rules and regulations pertaining to motorcycle operations in favor of safe riding. This is to reduce if not minimize the incidence of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis.

I think one of the problems with motorcycle taxis is not really their being a mode of choice but the behavior of their drivers. While companies like Angkas and Joyride conduct training sessions with their riders, many revert to reckless on-road behavior including executing risky maneuvers in order to overtake other vehicles on the road. This is actually a given with many ‘informal’ motorcycle taxis (i.e., those not affiliated with the recognized app companies). But then this is also an enforcement issue because we do have traffic rules and regulations that are poorly enforced by authorities. Thus, there is practically no deterrent to reckless riding except perhaps the prospect of being involved in a crash.

I will refrain to include the politics involved in the issue of motorcycle taxis. I will just write about this in another article.

 

Coming up soon: hot topic #2 – Obstacles to the PNR operations

Comments on current transport issues – Part 1

I end the year with commentaries on transport issues. I recently responded to a request for an interview. This time, it was not possible to do it in person so we corresponded through email. Here are my responses to the questions sent, which are mainly about the public utility vehicle modernization program of the government.

· Will old-school jeepneys finally disappear on Philippine roads before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends, barely three years from now? What is a more realistic timeline of jeepney modernization?

Old school jeepneys won’t disappear from Philippine roads. For one, the modernization program has slowed down a bit and even the DOTr and LTFRB have stated and admitted that it is not possible to have 100% modernization before the end of term of the current administration. It’s really difficult to put a timeline on this because of so many factors that are in play including social, political, institutional and economic ones. The technical aspects are not issues here as there are many models to choose from and suitable for replacing jeepneys in terms of capacity.

· What are the bumps on road to jeepney modernization?

As mentioned earlier, there are many factors in play here. Economic/financial-related bumps pertain mainly to vehicle prices. The new models are quite pricey but it should be understood that this is also because the new ones are compliant with certain standards including technical and environmental ones that most ‘formally’ manufactured vehicles must pass unlike so-called customized local road vehicles (CLRV) like the conventional jeepneys. The financial package is not affordable to typical jeepney operators/drivers. The cost of a modern jitney (the technical term for these vehicle types) is close to an SUV and revenues may not be able to cover the combination of down payment, monthly payments, and operations & maintenance costs of the vehicle.

· Should local government units dictate the pace of jeepney modernization, not national agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board? Why?

I think the word “dictate” may be too strong a term to use. Instead, I prefer the word “manage”. After all, LGUs are supposed to capacitate themselves to be able to rationalize and manage public transport operations. That is why the DOTr and the LTFRB are requiring them to formulate and submit for evaluation and approval Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP). Though the deadline was supposed to be 2020, the agencies have relaxed this deadline after few submissions from LGUs. Few because there were only a few who were capable or could afford consultants to prepare the plans for the LGUs. These plans should be comprehensive covering all modes of public transport including tricycles and pedicabs that are already under the LGUs. Buses, jeepneys, vans and taxis are still under the LTFRB. Plans may also contain future transport systems that are being aspired for by LGUs such as rail-based mass transit systems and other such as monorail or AGT.

· Transport groups like PISTON are against drivers and operators merging into cooperatives. Is consolidation into cooperatives unworkable? Why?

I think consolidation into cooperatives is workable and should be given a chance. Unfortunately, there are still few examples of successful transport cooperatives. And the success also depends on the routes served by their vehicles. And that is why there is also a need to rationalize transport routes in order to ensure that these are indeed viable (i.e., profitable) for drivers and operators.

Another angle here is more political in nature. Note that while PISTON and other like-minded transport groups oppose cooperativism, there are others that have embraced it and even went corporate to some extent. Perhaps there is a fear of a loss in power that the leaders of these opposition transport groups have wielded for a long time? Perhaps there’s a fear that success of cooperatives means the drivers and operators will turn to cooperativism and leave those transport groups? Surely there are pros and cons to this and groups should not stop being critical of initiatives, government-led or not, that will affect them. This should be constructive rather than the rant variety but government should also learn to accept these rather than dismiss them or be offended by them as is often the case.

More comments in the next year!

 

 

On commuting characteristics in Metro Manila – Part 1

A friend posted the following two graphics showing commuting characteristics derived from a recent survey they conducted online. The 327 respondents are not much compared to the more comprehensive surveys like the ones undertaken by JICA and there are surely questions about the randomness of the survey. Online surveys like the one they ran can be biased depending on the respondents. This was mainly done via social media and through certain interest groups so statistically there may be flaws here. Still, there is value here considering there is often a lack of hard data on commuting characteristics especially those that are recent or current. We need these to properly assess the state of transportation or travel in Metro Manila and elsewhere.

 

What’s lacking? Information on car and motorcycle users? And why the long waiting times? Are these really just because of a shortage in the supply of public transport vehicles thereby necessitating additional franchises? [Graphic and data courtesy of Toix Cerna via Facebook]

 

Again, the mode shares reported are incomplete. With the exception of walking, car and motorcycle shares are substantial and significant. There is some info here about trip chains (i.e., the average of 2 rides per commute) but it is unclear what percentage of the trip is made using whatever mode is used. [Graphic and data courtesy of Toix Cerna via Facebook]

The absence of information about cars and motorcycles is glaring due to their significant share of commuters. Yes, the term ‘commuter’ actually refers to someone who regularly travels between home and office. By extension, this may also apply to travels between home and school. The term is not exclusive to public transport users as is often assumed. Walking between home and office qualifies as a commute.

I am curious about how commutes using cars and motorcycles would compare to public transport commutes. The comparison is quite useful to show, for example, the advantages and disadvantages of car use (this includes taxis and ride share). More detailed information may also reveal who among car or motorcycle users use these vehicles out of necessity rather than as one among many choices for their commutes. One thinking is that if public transport quality is improved, then many people will opt to use PT rather than their private vehicles. However, there is also the observation that in many cases, those already using PT are the first to shift from the lower quality service to the better one. I also wrote about this as I posted my worries about how successful can Line 7 and Line 2 extension be in reducing car use along their corridors. Perhaps the ones who will truly benefit are those who are already taking public transport, and car and motorcycle users will just continue with these modes?

In Part 2, I will share some data we collected more than a decade ago for a study on jeepneys in Metro Manila. I will use the information to explain another angle of this issue on public transport supply and demand.

Quick share: “The ‘War on Cars’ is a Bad Joke

Here is another quick share. This time it is an article that I think attempts to diffuse what some many people regard as a war on cars being waged by those who advocate for public and active transport.

Litman, T. (2019) The ‘War on Cars’ is a Bad Joke, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/105877-war-cars-bad-joke?fbclid=IwAR2_SZHQeYEUGiU2G8RUw0Za6GrkR-2peD3eSjshpNUOg9-G5SpDWm6OnFI [Last accessed: 8/25/2019]

The author makes very strong arguments supported by evidence and data to place this topic in the right context. That is, there is no need to “wage war” or use arguments that are more on the hateful side and therefore not constructive to both sides. I think there should be a mutual understanding of the benefits (and costs) of having many options for transport or commuting. That said, infrastructure or facilities should not heavily favour one mode (car-centric?) for transport to be sustainable and healthy.

Sadly, many so-called progressives (yes, I am referring to the younger generations who are still in the idealistic stage of their lives) appear to be blind to understanding but instead opt for the hardline stance vs. cars and those who use them. Instead of winning people over and convincing those who really don’t need to drive to take other modes, they end up with more people becoming more apathetic or unwilling to take a stand vs. the status quo. This is the very same status quo that is definitely degrading quality of life and is described as an assault to human dignity.

Safety guides for pedestrians and cyclists

Here are a couple of references/resources for pedestrian and cycling safety. These are guidelines and countermeasure selection systems that were developed under the Federal Highway Administration of the US Department of Transportation:

These guides are designed to be practical and should be helpful to practitioners/professionals, policymakers as well as researchers. These would be people looking for references to use in designing or revising (correcting?) existing conditions or situations in order to enhance safety for pedestrians and cyclists who are among the most vulnerable of road users.

On improving public transport services to increase or retain ridership

Here is another quick post; sharing a nice article on how to improve public transport services:

Miller, A. (2019) “From the Bus Stop to the Fast Lane: How Cities Can Speed up Buses, Improve Ridership”, Medium.com, https://medium.com/frontier-group/from-the-bus-stop-to-the-fast-lane-how-cities-can-speed-up-buses-improve-ridership-f96d473c1cc7 [Last accessed: May 4, 2019].

While the article drives the point towards increasing ridership, I think the challenge for Philippine cities is more of retaining ridership. This is because there is pressure of public transport ridership decreasing as a result of increasing car ownership (owning their own vehicles is still an aspiration among many Filipinos), the popularity of car sharing/ride-hailing, and the still rapid increase in motorcycle ownership.