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Some takeaways from a UNICEF webinar

The UN together with its partners recently launch a Second Decade of Action for Road Safety (2021-2030). I will share the statement in a subsequent post. For now, I will share some slides from the recent webinar organized by UNICEF that focuses on safe and healthy journeys for children. Those of us who are working directly with UN agencies have been working on safe journeys for children particularly as they travel between their homes and schools. The recent launch and pledges or commitments of support from partner organizations will surely reinforce efforts to ensure the safety of children whether or not they return to school.

Context setting or rationale for UNICEF’s initiatives

 

Key resources or references shared by the webinar host

 

The term ‘co-benefits’ reminded me of a past project I worked on that was about low carbon transport. We also did assessment using co-benefits of low carbon transport. Among these were road safety.

 

The slide and the table speaks for itself – examples of effective strategies

 

There were several presentations during the webinar. However, the most interesting and informative for me was this one about the guidance for safe and healthy journeys to school.

 

Ten (10) points to consider as guidance for safe and healthy journeys to school

 

Database initiative in support of the guidance (I will get the link to this and share it in a future post.)

 

An example from London’s experience

 

This is a slide on what cities can do to promote active transport among children.

 

The photo shows what is termed as a “bicycle school bus”. This and “walking school bus” are real options for children and their guardians when traveling between their homes and schools. Such underlines the option of not using motor vehicles (i.e., reduction in motor vehicle trips).

I will try to elaborate on these in future posts, particularly on the 10-point guidance.

On bicycles and transit

Here is another quick share of an article on bicycles and transit (i.e., public transport):

Cox, W. (2020) “Bicycles: A Refuge for Transit Commuters?”, New Geography, https://www.newgeography.com/content/006753-bicycles-a-refuge-transit-commuters [Last accessed: 9/4/2020]

What do you think? Are we getting there in terms of the bicycle-transit relationship? MRT and LRT lines have allowed foldable bikes to be carried in their trains but buses and other road-based public transport may not allow you to bring your bike inside the vehicle. For the latter vehicles, there are usually racks installed in front of the vehicles that can accommodate 2-3 bikes. Train stations now should have bicycle parking facilities for the last mile trips of their passengers.

The return of the conventional jeepneys during GCQ and MGCQ

I spotted more jeepneys along my commuting route yesterday and took photos while we were stopped in traffic (yes, roads are again congested as they were before the lockdowns). Here are the photos showing the barriers required for the vehicles to be allowed to operate. Most jeepneys also have signs at the doorway vs. passengers not wearing face masks and shields. These are required for public transport users, and drivers have to reject people not wearing masks and shields.

Plastic sheets dividing the seating spaces and serving as physical barriers between passengers

Plastic sheets attached to wood frames on this jeepney

Another example of plastic sheets defining the passenger spaces.

Some jeepney seat barrier configurations seem more sturdy or offer more physical separation or protection from others. I have seen versions with metal (wire) and wood frames. And then there are the customized “trapal” types similar to the window covers that are folded for air to flow in the jeepneys and unfolded when it is raining. Instead of passengers being one seat apart though, they are practically beside each other with only sheets of plastic dividing them. For precautions sake, this does not seem to be the recommendation of the medical community. While the open windows allow for better ventilation and air flow compared to the closed, aircon vehicles, the physical distancing is not practiced as it should be, with or without the face masks and shields required when riding public transport. This may pose a problem considering we are not over the hump, so to speak, in as far as COVID-19 infections are concerned.

Requiem for the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys?

From the time Metro Manila and Rizal transitioned to General Community Quarantine (GCQ), there have been limited public transport services connecting the two considering most Rizal towns are like bed towns to Metro Manila. The term “bed town” refers to towns, or municipalities, even cities, that are basically the place of residence of persons who during the day time usually travel out to workplaces or schools outside their areas of residence. Many who reside in Rizal province actually work or study in Metro Manila. Similar cases may also be found in the other provinces surrounding Metro Manila like Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite. These connections are made mainly by public transport, which for the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas currently comprise about 70% of total trips. The rest is by private transport. [Note: Not counted are trips mainly by walking and cycling. While everyone walks, walking is usually at the ends of the commutes.]

Current public transport services now comprise of buses plying the Antipolo-Cubao and Taytay-Gilmore routes that were among the first operationalized under the rationalization program of the Department of Transportation (DOTr). For the Antipolo-Cubao route, several companies have shared the load with mostly aircon buses running between Quezon City and Antipolo City. I wrote recently that there are now non-aircon (referred to as ordinary) buses serving this route and that in addition to the main line (Aurora Blvd.-Marcos Highway-Masinag Junction-Sumulong Highway via) there was now a branch going through Cogeo and via Olalia Road.

Aircon bus approaching the Robinsons Antipolo terminal

Non-aircon (ordinary) bus plying the Antipolo-Cubao route along Sumulong Highway past the Masinag Junction

We got a comment about how perhaps DOTr and LTFRB plans to introduce variations to main routes including adding to the route number to distinguish one variation from another. While the original route signs look like the one on top of the windshield in the Aircon bus in the first photo with the white box on the left displaying the route number, the bus in the second photo shows two boxes. The second box to the right of the route name is blank. So perhaps there can be an ‘A’ to refer to the original Route 9 and ‘B’ can refer to the one via Cogeo. Does this mean there can also be a ‘C’ and that can be via the even older route via Felix Avenue, Cainta Junction and Ortigas Avenue. If this becomes a reality, then that probably puts the proverbial last nail on the coffin of the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys. Jeepneys would have been phased out for the route in favor of the higher capacity buses.

Other buses operating the Antipolo-Cubao route

I had mentioned in previous posts that more buses have been deployed to serve the Antipolo-Cubao route. The route had already evolved to have two alternatives: the original route via Aurora Boulevard, Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway, and the variant that goes through Cogeo and passes through Olalia Road to/from Sumulong Highway. Here are a couple of photos showing a couple more bus companies that used to ply other routes via EDSA.

Jayross Lucky Seven Tours bus – these used to ply the Fairview-Baclaran route via Commonwealth Avenue and EDSA with all aircon buses.

Diamond Star bus – these used to ply the Malanday-NAIA route via EDSA with both ordinary and aircon buses

More photos of other buses now serving the Antipolo-Cubao route.

Antipolo’s bus port

I like taking photos of aircraft of various airlines in airports. Among the photos I like taking are of their tails aligned to show the different airlines docked at the terminals. As we were stopped at an intersection just across from the Robinsons Antipolo public transport terminal, the wife took this photo of buses at the terminal. To me, the terminal has become somewhat like a bus port; with buses serving the long distance routes between Cubao in Quezon City and Antipolo in Rizal province. That’s about 20+ kilometers via Marcos and Sumulong Highways.

What used to be a small amusement part has been cleared prior to the lockdown in March and the area now functions as a parking lot for buses serving the Antipolo-Cubao via Masinag Junction and Antipolo-Ortigas Center routes. The latter was already operational prior to the lockdown with P2P buses leaving every 30 minutes.

When the Antipolo-Cubao bus route first started operation when Rizal and Metro Manila first transitioned to GCQ, there were three (3) companies operating along the route – G-Liner, RRCG and EMBC. All used air-conditioned buses. Before MECQ in early August, there were additional companies including those that deployed regular or non-aircon buses. I will try to take more photos of the terminal, the buses and the paratransit providing local transport (i.e., within Antipolo). These are tricycles of different models including the conventional motorcycles with sidecar, the tuktuks, and the e-trikes.

The plight of commuters during GCQ

I write this on the eve of the imposition of Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). It is another unfinished article that was intended to be a quick post showing the typical conditions for commuters during the GCQ. Public transport supply was slow to return to adequate levels as the government took advantage of restrictions to impose route rationalization and modernization programs. The following scenes were common along my commuting routes:

Commuters waiting for a ride near the provincial capitol

The rains of the wet season added to the misery of the wait.

Long queue at the public transport terminal at Robinsons Antipolo, which is the terminus for buses connecting Antipolo with Cubao and Ortigas Center.

The queue reaches beyond the shaded areas of the terminal.

I think national government should be the one to provide for the public transport needs of frontliners (i.e., health care workers including doctor, nurses, medical technologists, pharmacists, etc.) and other essential workers. My definition of the latter are those required for logistics to function as well as those to ensure the required production or manufacturing for the rest of us who need to stay at home. Not everyone has the same, fair circumstances as there are those who can afford to stay at home and those who need to work for them to live, often on a day-to-day basis.

The pandemic has taken a toll not only on the physical but the mental health of many of us. Government rants and retorts are unnecessary and uncalled for given its dismal performance. I dare say dismal as the evidence shows certain local government units and the Office of the Vice President doing much, much more despite their limited resources. We are not in this quandary because government performed well and to the best of their people’s abilities. If that was their best then they have no business staying in their positions. If our health care system fails, then there is nothing to stop this pandemic from claiming much more than lives.

Route 9: Antipolo-Cubao

I keep forgetting posting something about the buses that now operate along the Antipolo-Cubao route. Route 9, as the DOTr and LTFRB have designated this route covers one of 2 routes connecting Antipolo and Quezon City’s older CBD. Route 9 is via Sumulong Highway and Masinag Junction. The older route via Felix Avenue and Cainta Junction has not been revived. Both routes used to be served by jeepneys; many of them the “patok” kind that were known for speeding and risky maneuvers. It seems, at this time, that these will not be allowed to operate again along these routes with the rationalization efforts of the government. Following are photos taken at the Robinsons Antipolo transport terminal, which is where one of the end points of Route 9 is located.

 

Buses maneuver at the spacious terminal grounds at Robinsons Antipolo.

There are two bus services currently terminating here. One is the P2P bus service between Robinsons Antipolo and Robinsons Galleria, and the other is Route 9 between Antipolo and Cubao, Quezon City.

Many of the buses were “pulled out” from their former routes. The term pulled out is actually inaccurate since public transport operations were suspended during the lockdown.

The transport terminal is an intermodal one that’s supposed to cater to buses, jeepneys, vans and tricycles. There are currently no UV Express vans operating here and traditional or conventional jeepneys have yet to return to Antipolo.

A big part of the terminal is an area reclaimed from a failed amusement park that occupied the corner of this lot. The rides and other equipment were removed prior to the lockdowns.

There are minimal restrictions to the vehicles accessing the terminal grounds. Here you see a taxi and tricycle moving about. Cars may be parked nearby and these (parked cars) were not uncommon before the lockdown as some people practiced “park and ride” with the P2P buses.

EMBC buses such as this one used to ply the Tanay – Divisoria and Tanay – Quiapo routes

G-Liner buses are a familiar sight in Rizal where they are probably the oldest company continuing service since the 1980s. Correct me if I’m wrong but I only remember them being in operation in the 1980s. Before them were Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses and the baby buses that plied the Binangonan-Recto route.

G-Liners now operate two routes from the rationalization program: Antipolo-Cubao and Taytay-Gilmore.

The passenger capacities of the buses and the service between Antipolo & Cubao have been significantly reduced due to health protocols. Thus, buses can only carry perhaps up to 40 or 50% of their seating capacity. I mentioned seating capacity here because of physical distancing requirements and the ban on standees. Previously, a bus left every 5 minutes and their frequency could not cover the demand along the route. Recently, I observed more buses in operation and the addition buses from two more bus companies that used to ply the Fairview-Baclaran and Fairview-Alabang routes. These could probably help ease the supply issues.

More on the Antipol-Cubao service soon!

On data on mobility trends

There are actually a lot of data available on mobility if you know how to look for them. One good source is Apple. Yes, Apple has access to thousands of smart phones that allow them to track individuals (oh you didn’t know that?) movements. Here is the link to Apple’s data:

https://www.apple.com/covid19/mobility

And here is a graph showing mobility trends in the Philippines from that resource:

Some politicians and political appointees are now saying that we are in this predicament about COVID-19 because of a lack of discipline. That is bullshit. Many stayed home and/or reduced their movements. And then there’s that study showing 90% wore masks when they go out. No, it’s not lack of discipline that’s the problem but the lack of essential services and goods that are supposed to be delivered by those who are suppose to govern and the deficiencies from the start in addressing the spread of the virus especially from abroad. Perhaps these people criticizing Filipinos should look at their mirrors more closely and look left, right and across from they comfy seats to see what’s wrong with the way government has been handling the pandemic?

On tricycle capacity in the time of COVID-19

With the current rationalization and modernization of public transport vehicles and services being implemented by the national government, many jeepneys, mostly the conventional or traditional ones, have been unable to ply their routes again. Along some routes, buses have taken over but have been limited in the number of passengers they could carry due to physical distancing restrictions. But these are mostly for routes and roads that carry people between their residences and workplaces that typically are longer distance trips (e.g., more than 4 kilometers one way). For shorter distance trips, the more relevant mode of motorized transport is the tricycle. The conventional trike in the Philippines is one involving a motorcycle with a side car. Side car designs vary around the country with some seating 4 people (e.g., back to back with 2 facing backward) but usually with only two seats inside the cab. one or two passengers can be accommodated behind the driver on the motorcycle.

New model trikes include the models endorsed by the Asian Development Bank for the e-trike project that is laid out like a small jitney with benches seating 3 to 4 people on one side (total 6 to 8 passengers) and the popular tuktuk designs that seat 3 people at the back. With the quarantine restrictions in place, conventional trikes can only take one passenger inside the sidecar and none behind the driver. Tuktuks can seat 2 behind the driver but with a barrier (usually a plastic curtain) between the passengers.

 

Conventional or traditional trike with plastic sheet between the driver and the passenger (in the side car).

Tuktuk-type trike with plastic sheet between the driver (in front seat) and passengers in back seat. The back seat allows for 3 people seated together but due to distancing requirement

I have been informed by a former student that certain e-trike models (e.g., BEMAC model e-trikes) are allowed to carry 4 passengers, 2 each on the benches behind the driver who is on the front seat. That still means less passengers than they could usually carry. This would seem to be part of the new normal and will be the set-up for the foreseeable future until perhaps a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved and people get vaccinated. Then, health protocols may be eased to allow for the full seating capacities of public transport vehicles.