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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 leaders and decision-makers taking public transport or bikes to commute

There has been clamor for our leaders and decision-makers, especially those in the transport and highway agencies, to take public transportation. This is for them to experience how most commuters fare for their daily grinds. And no, having an entourage including bodyguards or reserving your own train car does not count. Dapat pumila o maghintay sa kalye. Makipagsisikan o makipag-habulan sa bus, jeepney o van para makasakay. Many if not most of these officials have their own vehicles or are even driven (may tsuper o driver) to and from work. One even had the gall to transfer his department to where he comfortably resides so he won’t commute but that’s another story.

You see articles and posts about Dutch politicians and even royalty riding the bicycle to work.

The Dutch Prime Minister bikes to work

Then there are politicians regularly taking public transport while in office. Here is an article about the newly inaugurated POTUS, Joe Biden, who took the train for his regular commutes:

Igoe, K.J. (May 4,2020) “Where Did “Amtrak Joe,” Joe Biden’s Nickname, Come From?”, Marie Claire, https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a32363173/joe-biden-amtrak-joe-meaning/ [Last accessed 2/14/2021]

Do we have someone close to such an example? Commuting by private plane between your home in the Southern Philippines and your office in Manila surely won’t let one have an appreciation of the commuting experiences of typical Filipinos.

On the plastic barriers for jeepneys

The minimum requirements for conventional jeepneys prior to their returning to operations include the installation of barriers so as to have physical separation between passengers. Ideally, such separation should be a distance of at least one meter, which was initially relaxed to ‘one seat apart’, and then further relaxed to just the barrier separating passengers. You see various designs installed in jeepneys. I posted a couple in an earlier post showing examples of customized and DIY barriers. Here is another that looks like there was more effort involved in the making of the plastic barriers:

 Specially made plastic barriers with messages and graphics on social distancing printed on them. 

Jeepney drivers are obliged to reject or unload passengers not adhering to the protocols including those refusing to wear face masks and shields while commuting using public transportation modes. I assume that they are really doing this for their and their passengers’ safety and well-being.

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]

What to look forward to Philippine transportation in 2021

I usually wrote a year-ender for transport but somehow never got to it. I’ve spent much of the break working on projects that have been extended due to the pandemic’s impacts on their implementation. Two of these projects are being implemented in Zamboanga City where we are lucky to have hard-working counterparts and a very cooperative city government. I think given what have transpired in 2020, there’s much to expect in 2021. I also want to be hopeful and optimistic about the outlook for this year. So positive thoughts for now. Here are things to look forward to in 2021:

  1. More bike lanes around the country – these include the bike lanes to be constructed using the billions of pesos allocated for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Is there a plan? None yet unless you count the sketch mapping exercise people have been doing. Sure, the DPWH came up with guidelines for bike lanes designs but these are a work in progress at best if compared to the existing guidelines from countries that have built and maintained bike facilities for a very long time now (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, even Singapore).
  2. Construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu – this is a much delayed project (more than a decade in the making already) that needs to be implemented already. This year might just be the year? We certainly hope so. That EDSA carousel is still far from being the BRT the Philippines need to be a model system for its cities. I still think Cebu can be a better model for other cities than Metro Manila. And so a BRT success there has a better chance of being replicated in other cities that need a mass transit system now.
  3. More rationalized public transport routes in major cities – by ‘rationalized’ I am not limiting this to the government’s original rationalization program but also to the other reforms that are being introduced this year including service contracting. Whether the latter will work wonders, we’ll get a better idea of it this year. Will services be better? Will drivers improve the way they drive? Will this be cost-effective in the long run? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, with some of those answers hopefully coming this year.
  4. Full scale construction of the Metro Manila subway – would you believe that there’s actually little work done for this project aside from the preparatory and PR work that have been the focus the past few years. It seemed like they’ve been doing realignments and groundbreakings every year. Meanwhile, they haven’t even started tunneling yet. To be honest, I don’t think there will be an operational subway by 2022. I’ve seen subways being built in Tokyo, Singapore and Vietnam, and you can’t do even a demo project in 1.5 years time.
  5. More air travel – as the vaccines are delivered and administered, there should be a feeling of more safety and confidence for people to travel again. Much inter-island trips are actually done via air travel. Airlines have lost a lot in the last year and are certainly going to come up with nice deals (I already saw a lot of promos from various airlines that I usually book for my flights – PAL, Cebu Pac, JAL and SIA.) Hotels and resorts, too, are welcoming tourists with great deals. So perhaps it will be a rebound year for tourism and…air travel.
  6. More rail transport in general – hopefully this year will be the year when the Line 2 extension becomes operational. Meanwhile, other projects like the PNR and Line 3 rehabs, the Line 1 extension, and Manila-Clark railway line construction continues. Perhaps this year will also see the construction of Mindanao Railways.

What do you think are things to look forward to in Philippine transportation in 2021?

On maximizing seating capacities of public transport

The restrictions for physical distancing for public transport seems to be easing. The reason for this statement is the observation that passengers of public utility vehicles are no longer one seat apart (less than the ideal 2m distance between people but deemed sufficient with physical barriers installed in the vehicles). If allowed to be seated next to each other (of course with some sort of physical barrier between them), the set-up will increase the allowed passenger capacities of PUVs to at least their seating capacities. Conventional jeepneys will be able to seat the 16 to 20 passengers their benches are designed for and buses, depending on their sizes and seating configurations may seat perhaps 40 to 60 passengers. That doubles or even triples the number of passengers that can be carried by each vehicle from the time these were allowed to resume operations after the lockdowns.

Plastic barriers separate passengers seated beside each other

Not all physical barriers are designed and installed to provide whatever protection passengers can get from them. The photos above for a G-Liner bus seems to be the more desirable design as the barriers are practically like curtains. I have seen token plastic barriers installed in jeepneys. I wonder if these even went through some approval process of the DOTr, LTFRB or local government unit. Such inferior designs do not help the cause of promoting public transport use over private vehicles.

On the continued lack of public utility vehicle services – some observations

Traveling along Marikina roads en route to my office, I spotted not a few of the minibuses that are being promoted as modernized or modern jeepneys. These are definitely not jeepneys or jitneys but small (or mini) buses. They are airconditioned with seating capacities about the same as the typical conventional jeepneys but with space for standing passengers once these are allowed given the pandemic. There’s a lot near the end of the Gil Fernando Avenue Extension that serves as a depot or parking lot for vehicles that have not been deployed (or sold?). And here are a couple of photos showing these.

New mini-buses being touted as “modern or modernized jeepneys” parked along the Gil Fernando Avenue Extension connector road.

These mini-buses used to ply the SM Masinag – SM Fairview (via Marikina and Batasan) and Cogeo – SM Aura (via Marcos Highway and C-5) routes.

There is a perceived continued lack of public transport supply in Metropolitan Manila and its adjacent cities and municipalities. This is evidenced from the long lines at terminals and stations and the many people waiting for a ride along streets. With the DOTr and LTFRB slowly but surely adding buses, “modern jeepneys” and conventional jeepneys along many old routes and new ones, it may seem that there are enough vehicles. The situation may be summarized as follows:

  • The DOTr and LTFRB are taking advantage of the situation to try to rationalize public transport routes under their rationalization program. Certain routes, for example, that were served by conventional jeepneys are now assigned to buses and ‘modern jeepneys’. You can’t exactly blame them for this as the lockdown presented the opportunity to sort of start from scratch in as far as rationalization is concerned. They won’t get another chance at this without stiff resistance from various stakeholder groups.
  • PUVs are still limited in terms of allowed/permitted passenger loads due to physical distancing requirements. These are already being eased for both buses and jeepneys but standees are not yet allowed for buses.
  • The observed lack of supply is not as widespread as perceived. Commuters along some routes are better off than others. Traffic congestion due to the preference and use of private vehicles by many who used to travel by public transport exacerbates the situation as PUVs are unable to make quick turnarounds thereby making it appear that there is not enough of them operating. Approving and deploying more public transport without exerting efforts to improve confidence in using them will only lead to more congestion and inefficiencies to their operations.

On transportation equity

Here’s another quick share of an article on transport equity:

McQuaid, H. (November 23, 2020) “Equitable Transportation Starts At Community Level,” CT News Junkie, https://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/20201123_equitable_transportation_starts_at_community_level/

How many times have I heard and read about people talking about the concept of “dignity of travel” or “dignity of transportation” referring to the quality of our commutes in terms of the quality of transport services available to us. The article also talks about societal exclusions and biases that sometimes we only attribute to America but in reality are also applicable here based on how we regard people from the rural areas or our being regionalistic.

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.