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That’s the question asked in a recent article about commuting via public transport in the US. The pandemic has altered much of our lives including our typical daily travels between our homes and workplaces. Of course, the experiences vary in many countries and different towns and cities. However, we cannot deny that with the still developing information about the Covid-19 virus (i.e., how it is spread), many of us have had doubts about taking public transportation. For those who didn’t have much options for their commutes, they just had to do their part in observing health protocols and trust that the operators and drivers of public utility vehicles also do their part to sanitize vehicles.
Barry, D. (May 10, 2021) “No Scrum for Seats. No Quiet-Car Brawls. Is This Really My Commute?” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/10/nyregion/new-jersey-transit-commute.html?smid=url-share [Last accessed: 5/11/2021]
How did your commutes change from what it was before the pandemic? Are you back to using public transport? Have you shifted to active modes like bike commuting? Did you go back to driving a car? Or are you still basically working from home most of the time? And did you miss how you were commuting before?
Here is a quick share of an article from Cities Development Initiative for Asia or CDIA. The title may already be quite cliche by now (i.e., along the lines of the slogan “move people, not cars”) but the message is clear and cannot be emphasized enough especially as people grapple with the impacts of the pandemic on transportation. For the reader, take note of the avoid-shift-improve framework, which is quite useful in describing what needs to be done in order to address the climate impacts of transportation systems.
Cities Development Initiative for Asia (April 22, 2021) “Sustainable Mobility is About Moving People, Not Vehicles,” cdia.asia, https://cdia.asia/2021/04/22/sustainable-mobility-is-about-moving-people-not-vehicles/ [Last accessed: 5/2/2021]
I initially wanted to use “Philippines” or “Metro Manila” instead of “NCR Plus” for the title of this post. I dropped “Philippines” in order to be more specific and also because I am not so aware of the situation in other cities outside Mega Manila. I also decided vs. “Metro Manila” because transport for the metropolis is tightly woven with the surrounding areas where many people working or studying in MM actually reside. These include the towns of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite.
So, is there a supply problem with public transport in what is dubbed as NCR+? The photos in social media appear to describe a lack of public transport vehicles with many people lined up along major roads, queued at terminals or train stations. These photos do not lie where they were taken. Indeed there is a big problem about supply along certain corridors due to certain factors such as limited number of public utility vehicles (mainly jitneys and buses) allowed operation and health protocols that limit the passenger capacities of vehicles. The latter also applies to rail services where despite rolling stocks being back to pre-pandemic operations, are limited to the number of people they can carry. Crush loads are a no-no during these times.
Traffic congestion and its effects on PUV turnaround times, however, is another major factor for what may seem like a lack of supply. Most road-based public transport operate in mixed traffic. As such, their operations are susceptible to traffic conditions along their routes. So it is very likely that during the peak periods, PUVs get stuck along the peak direction and take much time to return despite the lighter traffic along the return trip. The problem for some routes though is that during peak periods both directions are congested. This further exacerbates the situation for public transport as vehicles would have to go through a two-way gauntlet of sorts, resulting in a lot of people taking longer to get their rides. And so for those who have access to private transport do go back to using private vehicles.
Definitely and obviously, there is a mode choice issue here because many people appear to have taken private transport as their mode of choice instead of public or active transport modes. This is mainly attributed to the perception that public transport is unsafe or less safe compared to your own vehicle in the context of the current pandemic. We qualify the current health situation here since that seems to be the main driver for people choosing to take their cars apart from that other perception of the poor quality of service provided by public transport in general. For active transport, the reality is not everyone or not a lot of people will choose to walk or cycle along roads that are generally regarded as unsafe despite efforts to put up bike lanes. Those who are having problems commuting are those dependent on public transport also because of their long commutes between the residential outside or in the outskirts of Metro Manila and the CBDs in the metropolis.
The dilemma here is determining which routes would actually require additional vehicles. While the general perception and temptation is to add vehicles everywhere, it’s the actual numbers that need to be estimated based on the information that needs to be collected (as against available data, which can be unreliable). The situation and the data for different routes varies much.
Case in point is the experience along the Antipolo-Cubao route that used to be served by jeepneys. Buses now serve that route after the government rationalized the service. Initially, there were fewer buses operating along the route that had a large catchment area for passengers. Additional buses were deployed in order to address supply issues (again many passengers were not able to get their rides for the same reasons we mentioned earlier). Now, there seems to be enough buses for the peak periods but a surplus during the off-peak. Passengers along other routes are not as lucky as those served by the Antipolo-Cubao buses.
Public transport operations will not survive such variations in demand if they continue to operate under the old “boundary” or rental scheme. So, there has to be a subsidy somewhere for them to operate under these conditions. And that’s where service contracting comes in. While I agree that this is essential for transport reform, we still have limited resources, and it will not be sustainable in the long run if we cannot make people take public transport over private vehicle options.
This post is related to my recent post about Philippine cities and municipalities already somehow being 15-minute units. I am sharing another article I’ve read and reread for its current relevance.
Litman, T. (March 15, 2021) “A Complete Community is All Mixed-up,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112565?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-03222021&mc_cid=628c8ee4b1&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed:
The article is loaded with references that you can download and use in research or practice. And there are these two tables – Walk Score Ratings and Public Amenities – that are quick guides or references to what is desired to be achieved in communities.
The obvious answer to this question is yes. It is not so clear, however, how many will really be using these bike lanes over time. That needs data. That requires counting. And such data will be useful in order to understand, among other things, why people choose to bike or why they don’t. The latter is important to determine what factors are being considered by people who can switch to cycling particularly for commuting. Of course, there are many references for this from other cities and countries but these still need to be contextualized from our (Philippine) perspective. Case in point is Marikina, which has the most comprehensive network of bike lanes in the country. What are the numbers and what are the constraints and misconceptions? Did the city do its part to promote and sustain cycling?
Here is an article discussing the experience in the US:
Penney, V. (April 1, 2021) “If You Build It, They Will Bike: Pop-Up Lanes Increased Cycling During Pandemic,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/climate/bikes-climate-change.html?smid=url-share [Last accessed: 4/9/2021]
Bike lane along Katipunan Avenue (C5) in Quezon City
Here is the link to the paper mentioned in the article:
Here is an article discussing the downside(s) of the 15-minute city; particularly its adoption without understanding first and setting the context for the concept:
O’Sullivan, F. (March 3, 2021) “The Downside of a 15-Minute City,” Bloomber CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-02/the-downsides-of-a-15-minute-city [Last accessed: 3/20/21]
Some people are pushing very much the same concept for quick adoption in the Philippines without again contextualizing it. I feel these people are detached or choose to be so perhaps as they seek shortcuts to achieve what they believe should be the way cities and municipalities are laid out in the country. But wait…don’t we already have 15-minute cities in the Philippines? I will be writing about that soon…
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.”
“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?
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.
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]