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Failed experiments? On the DOST’s hybrid train and AGT

Our staff were implementing surveys in relation to the proposed railway projects supported by the Government of Japan. They came across this scene showing the DOST’s (through its MIRDC) hybrid electric train.

The hybrid electric train at the PNR Calamba Station. It looks like its being maintained or checked although I’m not sure the crude set-up is appropriate for such undertaking.

The DOST had a much hyped program during the last administration about the development of Philippine-made transport. Among these were the two Automated Guideway Transport (AGT) train sets that were developed by the MIRDC – one with two 60-passenger (seated and standing) cars and a test track in UP Diliman, and another with two 120-passenger cars with test track at the MIRD compound in Bicutan. While both had what were claimed as extensive tests, these were mainly done by DOST/MIRDC personnel with no independent inspections or validations. At one time, I recall that we at UP had discussions with representatives of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries who offered to explore arranging for a technical cooperation project to have a full-scale testing of the AGT’s using their facilities in Japan. We referred them to MIRDC and that didn’t turn out well as the agency (or perhaps under the the instructions of a higher official?) was supposed to have rejected the offer preferring it to be tested locally. That was a major problem because there were no suitable testing facilities or qualified persons or institutions to grant certification for the AGT to be used as public transport.

The last time I checked with folks at DOST and UP, the AGT prototype set-up in Diliman was already being scheduled for dismantling. This probably comes as a welcome development for those who opposed the project from the start. However, there is potential here for continuing research if only funding could be secured and proponents kept open minds and objectivity in the way researches could be done. There was the perception before that the people behind the AGT projects were so engrossed with what they thought were their babies that they blocked critical but objective comments and recommendations about the prototypes and their applications.

As for the hybrid electric train, there is now supposed to be a cooperative project between the MIRDC and PNR. I recall a few months ago that they even had some test runs to show the hybrid train to be running on PNR tracks; even hyping that this could be part of the future of a rehabilitated PNR. Is this true or just PR? Hopefully, the DOST could get the context right, and the DOTr and PNR can support such initiatives for Philippine-made transport. This is especially as the current administration continues to pursue its Build, Build, Build program that has as major features several railway projects.

Proposed downtown traffic scheme for Tacloban City

The team from the National Center for Transportation Studies of the University of the Philippines presented their recommendations for the traffic scheme in downtown Tacloban City last May 4, 2018 in the city’s Traffic Summit cum City Development Council (CDC) meeting. I am sharing the image showing the proposed traffic circulation and other features for the proposed downtown scheme below:

The scheme calls for a reduction in on-street parking; restricting such to one side of the street only and where applicable. That is, on-street parking is not allowed where there is already off-street parking along establishments, where there are driveways, and within one or two vehicle length from intersection corners. There will also be designated loading/unloading areas for public transport so parking is also prohibited there.

A couple of important features in the scheme are the enhancement of pedestrian facilities, particularly sidewalks, and the introduction of bicycle lanes. These are more clearly shown in the cross-section examples included in the map. Note that for other streets where there are no designated bike lanes indicated, it is assumed that lanes will be shared with motor vehicles. This is an application of the concept of shared right of way or “sharrow” as it is also termed. The scheme is contextualised along the lines of “people-oriented” transport rather than “car-oriented”, and hopefully would lead to a more walkable downtown area and encourage more people to use bicycles. This promotion of active transport should also lead to a healthier city. I will post about the transport plans prepared for the city in future articles here.

On the Grab – Uber merger

A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from Uber confirming what was in the news for some time then, and what was rumoured a longer while back. Uber Philippines was closing shop after merging with main competitor Grab, while the mother company also acquiring a stake in Grab. Later, I also received a message from Grab (I use either depending on availability and cost.) welcoming Uber users to Grab.

The result so far has been frustrating if not disappointing to many who have relied on Uber for commuting and the typical trips that you usually associate with taking a taxi.

Recent news revealed that Grab is using an even more punitive pricing scheme compared to Uber’s surge pricing. While the LTFRB moved to scrap this, Grab has been apprehensive, stating that this was an incentive for their drivers. There is actually another side to the concept of surge pricing that LTFRB does not or seems to refuse to understand. That is, that dynamic and more expensive fares related to congestion (or road conditions) is something that’s actually related to the concept of congestion pricing. This actually penalises the use of vehicles like private cars or taxis in favour of higher capacity transport like buses or, if available, trains.

Even more recent is the news that Grab is suspending about 500 of its drivers for excessive cancellation and/or rejection of trips. Unlike Uber before, Grab drivers have the “luxury” of knowing where a potential passenger is heading. That gives the driver the option to accept or reject a proposed fare. Uber drivers didn’t know where the potential passenger was heading and to my knowledge, was stricter with penalising their drivers. The only caveat I know is that passengers can also be penalised if the driver requests for a cancellation and the passenger obliges out of good faith (e.g., An Uber driver in Cebu requested me to cancel the request as he claimed he was caught in traffic and would be penalised if he canceled. I ended up protesting Uber penalising me 100 pesos for my cancellation. Uber did not act on it in my favour.).

The issues surrounding the Grab/Uber merger though should not be there in the first place if we had good taxi services. When I say good I am referring to the quality of service provided by taxis in Singapore and Japan. Of course, they also have good public transportation there so there’s also a case for what most people will likely be taking instead of cars and taxis (which operate similarly as cars). One wonders how and why LTFRB seems to be so strict vs TNCs while being lax with taxis. Meanwhile, DOTr is scrambling on the desperate catch-up work it has to do about mass transit lines and public transport rationalisation. Good luck to us commuters!

More high capacity transit for Antipolo!

Two years ago, I wrote about Antipolo being ripe for high capacity public transportation. So far, work is progressing along the Line 2 Extension to Masinag but there’s no word about it being extended further (Cogeo? Marikina?). I have always maintained that the demand in Cogeo, Antipolo is already established and a mass transit line terminating there will certainly be a game changer in terms of commuting. In fact, it may contribute to rapidly developing that area and hasten the development of Antipolo’s government centre, which is a few kilometres further along Marcos Highway.

Schedule and fares for the P2P bus service between Robinsons Place Antipolo and Robinsons Galleria in Ortigas Center.

There is now a P2P bus service between Robinsons Place Antipolo and Robinsons Galleria via Ortigas Avenue. And then there is the newest P2P service between SM Masinag and the Makati CBD. The first has very limited capacity at present and have few patrons (regular passengers) based on what I’ve observed and the rough survey my students did for a class project. I still have to see the second one from SM Masinag but I assume it has a higher demand considering a lot of people already commute from that area to Makati. I say so because there’s a nearby UV Express terminal that’s always crowded with people every time I pass by in the morning. This should also translate into demand for the afternoon/evening period. However, I am not so optimistic about the off-peak periods (I hope I’m wrong!) as most P2P services my students have surveyed so far indicate really low occupancies during the off-peak periods.

Is P2P the way to go for Antipolo (and its neighbouring towns like Cainta, Taytay and Marikina)? I think this is still basically a stop-gap measure and a mass transit line as well as complementing conventional buses would still be the most suitable for these rapidly and steadily growing areas. Ortigas Avenue is ripe for a high capacity system that should perhaps be grade separated. The demand was there more than two decades ago. I seriously believe that the Province of Rizal, the City of Antipolo and the high-earning Municipalities of Cainta and Taytay should exert more effort and lobby for a mass transit line serving the Ortigas corridor.

Incomplete rationalisation of public transport?

The current initiative to rationalise road public transport services is not as comprehensive as necessary or as some people want us to believe. The drive appears to be mainly on (some say against) jeepneys while little has been done on buses and UV Express vehicles. Most notable among the modes not covered by rationalisation are the tricycles.

A smoke-belching tricycle along Daang Bakal in Antipolo City

What really should be the role and place of tricycles in the scheme of themes in public transportation? Are they supposed to provide “last mile” services along with walking and pedicabs (non-motorised 3-wheelers)? Or are they supposed to be another mode competing with jeepneys, buses and vans over distances longer than what they are supposed to be covering? It seems that the convenient excuse for not dealing with them is that tricycles are supposed to be under local governments. That should not be the case and I believe national agencies such as the DOTr and LTFRB should assert their authority but (of course) in close cooperation with LGUs to include tricycles in the rationalisation activities. Only then can we have a more complete rationalisation of transport services for the benefit of everyone.

Trams of Den Haag

Going around The Hague was no hassle. There were a lot less people there compared to Amsterdam last Easter Sunday. I felt more relaxed moving around. I also like it that I had transit options in the form of trams and buses to get from one place to somewhere walking seemed to be the less efficient mode to take. Not so many people were on bicycles but that’s probably because it was a Sunday and most bike traffic were for work or school trips? Here are some photos of trams at The Hague (Den Haag).

Saw this tram as we went around some of the attractions in the city.

We rode this one going to the beach.

I rode this tram going back to Den Haag Central Station

Transit network map at Frankenslag stop

Tram schedule posted at the stop

Our friends’ neighbourhood was a really nice one and I liked it that it is accessible to both tram and bus. The walks are short but you can easily get some exercise by getting off at an earlier stop or perhaps walking to a further one. The clear walking paths are definitely a plus and the environment is one conducive for such activities as well as for saying ‘hello’ to other people.

On the negative social impacts of ridesharing/ridesourcing

I have shared a few articles before about the impacts of ridesharing/ridesourcing to taxi drivers. In the Philippines, taxis where ridesharing/ridesourcing services are available are plenty are supposed to have experienced a significant drop in their business. Yet, there has been little improvement in taxi services in Metro Manila. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) have not put pressure on taxis to improve so operators and drivers are pretty much the same in terms of practices and service quality. Here is a recent article that appeared on Wired about New York taxi drivers:

Katz, M. (2018) “Why are New York taxi drivers killing themselves?”, wired.com, https://www.wired.com/story/why-are-new-york-taxi-drivers-committing-suicide/?CNDID=37243643&mbid=nl_032918_daily_list1_p4 (Last accessed 3/30/2018).

Admittedly, the set-up for New York taxis is quite different from those in the Philippines. The medallions referred to in the article are limited and carries with it prestige and perhaps honour, considering the commitment and pride attached to them. Franchises in the Philippines are quite different and drivers will usually work for multiple operators/employers. Those who own their taxis are not so many and can be flexible in the way they conduct their business. Perhaps a significant number of drivers have even left the taxi business and now drive for TNCs like Grab and Uber.

With Uber’s sale of their business in Southeast Asia to main rival Grab, it seems now that there is suddenly and practically a monopoly of the ridesharing/ridesourcing business. Upstarts have not had a significant share of the market and by all indications will not get a bigger share in the near future. I still think that there should be pressure for taxi services to be improved and a good chance for people to shift back to taxis. But this requires effort on both sides (regulator and operator). I still mention examples of taxi operators in Cebu and Iloilo who appear to be unscathed by the entry of ridesharing/ridesourcing in those cities. Good quality taxi services will promote itself and will be patronised by commuters.