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Some commentaries on the jeepney modernisation

The nationwide transport strike last Monday elicited a lot of reactions from both supporters and opponents of the the initiatives to modernise the jeepney. Both sides have valid points but both, too, have weak points. Much has been discussed about the cost of acquiring new jeepneys to replace the old ones and whether you agree or not, these are really a bit steep to the typical jeepney driver-operator.

A low downpayment will certainly mean higher monthly amortisations. And most drivers/operators can only afford a low downpayment with or without the 80,000 pesos or so subsidy from the government. Even if you factor in some tax incentives, the net amount to be paid every month will still be too much for a typical driver/operator. Anyone who’s ever purchased a vehicle, new or used, through a loan should know this, and to deny it means you probably are privileged enough not to take out a loan.

Certainly there are exceptions like certain Beep operations that are supposed to be run like a company or cooperative, and where fleet management techniques allow these to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. The latter supposedly allows the owners to recover their capital (return of investment) for the purchase of the new jitney units.  The reality, however, is that not all routes are good enough for the required revenues and the better earning ones subsidize (forced?) those that are not profitable. The ‘company’ or ‘coop’ can therefore hide these unprofitable cases as the collective performance of the routes they operate along become the basis for assessment.

Snapshot inside a jeepney while waiting for it to fill with passengers

It is true that the business model (or what is passed off for one) for jeepney operations is flawed. More so if you place this in the context of transport demand for a metropolis like Metro Manila. That is why perhaps corporatization or cooperatives can probably help in terms of improving processes and practices (e.g., maintenance regimes, deployment). So perhaps this is where government should step in and be more aggressive in organising jeepney drivers and operators. I would even dare say that government should be willing to extend more financial support if significant change in public transport is to be achieved. The Office of the President, Senators and Congressmen enjoy a lot of pork and the numbers for a single year indicate that they can, if willing, purchase new jitneys for their constituencies perhaps focusing on the cities and retiring the old, dilapidated public utility vehicles. That, I think, is a more ‘intelligent’ use to these funds that are allegedly being misused by our politicians.

So, was the strike a success? I think the answer is yes it was. Government cannot deny this as it was forced to suspend classes in schools in order to address the impending shortfall of services during the strike and many LGUs were forced to provide free transport services (libreng sakay) in many forms (e.g., dump trucks, flat bed trucks, etc.). You can only say it was a failure if it was business as usual with commuters feeling minimal impact of the stoppage in jeepney operations.

Mixed messages for commuters?

I had spotted buses (or perhaps its just the same bus?) for a P2P service between Antipolo and Ortigas Center bearing what appears to be a statement for improving the quality of life of commuters. Many have been suffering and continue to suffer on their daily commutes starting from difficulties getting a ride to very long travel times. The term “dignity of travel” comes to mind, which a colleague coined many years ago to describe

P2P buses at the public transport terminal at Robinsons Place Antipolo

Whoever thought of this probably meant well; thinking about improving quality of life. The choice of words though may convey a different message as “driving” is in all caps and usually associated with a different, less appealing activity to sustainable transport advocates. I think they should have chosen “improving” instead of “driving” here.

 

This is somewhat similar to a much earlier post of mine showing SMRT buses in Singapore with ads promoting Uber and how it was supposed to complement public transport. That, of course, was a bit of a stretch in the city-state, which already has excellent public transport compared to elsewhere, and already complemented by very good taxi services.

Yesterday, there was a nationwide transport strike and depending on which side you are on, the reality is that we are still far from having more efficient public transport. But that’s another story and hopefully, I get to write about it in the next few days.

On commuting characteristics in Metro Manila – Part 2

Late last month, I wrote some comments about a recent survey conducted by a group advocating for improved public transport services in Metro Manila. In that post I stated that perhaps its not a lack of public transport vehicles but that they are not traveling fast enough to go around. Simply, the turnaround times for these vehicles are too long and that’s mainly due to congestion. But how do we translate the discussion into something of quantities that will allow us to understand what is really happening to road-based public transport.

As an example, and so that we have some numbers to refer to, allow me to use data from a study we conducted in 2008. Following are a summary of data we collected on jeepneys operating in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas.

Route Class Coverage Distance Distance traveled per day, km
Short 5 kilometers or less 68.75
Medium 6 – 9 kilometers 98.24
Long 10 – 19 kilometers 111.22
Extra Long 20 kilometers & above 164.00

[Source: Regidor, Vergel & Napalang, 2009, Environment Friendly Paratransit: Re-Engineering the Jeepney, Proceedings of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Vol. 7.]

Coverage distance refers to the one-way distance between origins and destinations. If we used the averages for the coverage distances for each route class, we can obtain an estimate of the number of round trips made by jeepneys for each route class. We assume the following average round-trip distances for each: short = 3.5 x 2 = 7km; medium = 7.5 x 2 = 15km; long = 14.5 x 2 = 29km; and extra long = 50 km. The last is not at all unreasonable considering, for example, that the Antipolo-Cuba (via Sumulong) route is about 22km, one way, and there are certainly other routes longer than this.

The number of round trips can then be estimated as: short = 68.75/7 = 9.82 or 10 roundtrips/day; medium = 98.24/15 = 6.54 or 6.5 roundtrips/day; long = 111.22/29 = 3.84 or 4 roundtrips/day; and extra long = 164/50 = 3.28 or 3 roundtrips/day. Do these numbers make sense? These are just estimates from 2008/2009. Perhaps everyone would be familiar with certain routes for their regular commutes and the number of roundtrips made by jeepneys (or buses or UV express) there then and now. Short routes like those of the UP Ikot jeepneys might have more roundtrips per day compared to other “short” route jeepneys since there is practically no congestion all day along the Ikot route. It would be worse in the case of others especially those running along the busiest corridors like Ortigas Ave., Marcos Highway, Commonwealth, Espana Avenue, Shaw Boulevard and others. If you factor current travel speeds into the equation then it can be pretty clear how these vehicles are not able to come back to address the demand for them.

In a recent Senate hearing tackling the transport issues in Metro Manila, a certain study was mentioned. This was the EDSA Bus Revalidation Study conducted in 2005/2006. The findings of that study and subsequent ones showed that there was an oversupply of public transport vehicles in Metro Manila. These studies also recommended for the rationalisation or optimisation of road public transport routes in the megalopolis. I think it is timely to revisit these reports rather than pretend there never were formal studies on public transport in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas.

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.

Quick share: “The changing role of transport strategy”

Here is a nice article briefly discussing the evolution of transport strategy planning that have led to local transport plans:

Gleave, J. (2019) The changing role of transport strategy, Transport Futures, https://transportfutures.co/the-changing-role-of-transport-strategy-598fce17e9e9 [Last accessed: 8/24/2019].

More importantly, there is a very good discussion here of the recent developments and the need to change approaches in order to become more effective at the local level. The article explains that there should be an appreciation of the availability of resources including tools that allow people to be more engaged or able to participate in the planning process for their cities, municipalities or communities.

Tartanilla – Calesas in Cebu City

We spotted these calesas or horse drawn carts while walking around downtown. These are also called ‘tartanilla’, which is familiar to us since its the same term used in Cagayan De Oro for their version of this transport mode. Here are a few photos:

Although mainly used for tourism purposes in Manila, the tartanilla in Cebu seems to enjoy some non-tourist ridership. Most of the passengers we saw riding them didn’t look like tourists.

There are on-street stations for these tartanillas.

Tartanilla station sign – the stations appear to be informal but I guess the city is regulating their services and retaining them as part of the heritage of the city.