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Alternatives for the delivery of public transport services in the new normal

No, this is not a dissenting opinion on service contracting as proposed by a coalition of transport advocates. Rather, I write about other options or alternatives that can be taken on by the government in collaboration with the different sectors or players involved in transportation. Other options have not been discusses as extensively as would have been desired and ultimately weighed for application.

Allow me to rattle off a few options stated in the position paper by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP):

  1. Service contracting – which some groups have proposed and lobbied Congress for Php110 billion funding. This implies a government selecting a few among hundreds of bus operators and thousands of jeepney operators – a process that is bound to be controversial; whilst needing the mobilization of a performance audit and monitoring unit in a government agency. Economic literature is replete with studies that subsidy to producer (i.e., operator) produce bad outcomes over direct subsidy to consumers (i.e., commuter). In this regime, financial risks are borne by the government or authority.
  2. Fuel subsidy – the government was already implementing the Pantawid Pasada Program before ECQ. It incurred Php2.372 billion subsidies in 2019, up by 243% from Php0.977 billion in 2018. At the pump, the fuel subsidy equates to Php1.00/liter discount. Now, the DoTr is proposing a 30% subsidy which it estimates to be Php1,152/PUB and Php366/PUJ. These amounts are NOT commensurate to the theoretical drop in revenues at 50% load limit. Worse, free fuel leads to bad outcomes, as it would encourage higher fuel use and siphoning off to other modes.
  3. Free Fare – this proposal is intertwined with the service contracting model and may be counterproductive to the objective of social distancing. It is a policy that encourages unnecessary travel and crowding – which the distancing rule seeks to minimize. The government needs only to look on ridership on LRT/MRT on free-fare days against regular working days.
  4. Direct Subsidy to Commuter – in this scheme, the operator is allowed to increase its tariff by an amount sufficient to compensate for the 50% volume cut. However, the passenger only pays the same fare level that he paid before ECQ. The government pays the difference. When paired with the Automated Fare Collection System (which LTFRB has required under MC-2020-019 dated 14-May 2020), it is the most efficient method, and is immediately implementable. Subsidy is targeted, rather than all-encompassing. It promotes the wider adoption of AFCS on all public transport, not just on MRT/LRT. Senate Bill No.1417 seeks to fund, among others, for transportation vouchers; this could be disbursed rapidly via the AFCS card

 

Another idea is the purchase of new model jitneys to replace old jeepneys – this is an idea that I have posted and have discussed with former and current officials of the DOTC/DOTr before (matagal na itong idea na ito). You purchase say 1 modern jitney at 1.6million pesos/vehicle (note: other models are more expensive, exceeding 2M per unit) and replace the old, conventional jeepneys. It will not be free but payment for the vehicle will be deferred until after the transport crisis brought about by the pandemic clears out. The old jeepneys would be part of the collateral and perhaps still have some utility in them to be used for other purposes (freight?). Think about it. How much pork does your typical congressman and senator have? They could probably use this to modernize public transport in their respective constituencies!

It is important to have a lot of ideas out there instead of just one that is being pushed as the only option. In truth, there should be a combinations of solutions as there will not a be single one applicable and effective to all cases and situations. At this time, I am not sure that these options are being considered by the DOTr. The agency and the LTFRB are proceeding with rationalization and modernization simultaneously, at their own pace and at their own terms, taking advantage of the conditions and situations brought about by the pandemic. While it seems to be the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do rationalization and modernization, it might be immoral and inappropriate given the circumstances that doomed a lot of families who depend on public transport operations for their livelihood.

On mass transit and active transport

I recently gave a talk on transport in the new normal. There are a lot of materials that you can refer to if you want good visuals for a presentation. It helps to capture the attention and maybe the imagination of your audience, which in this case was varied. While I assume many to be in the physical, chemical & social sciences, and engineering, I knew that there were also people from media and those who were just interested in the topic. And so I made sure there were a lot of infographics mixed in with bullet points to drive the message clear about mass transit systems being the backbone of transport in highly urbanized cities, conventional transit like buses and jeepneys supplementing and complementing these, and active transport enabled and encouraged as a safe option for many.

I wasn’t able to include the following graphic shared by a friend advocating bicycle use especially for work and school trips. The following graphic comes from TUDelft, which is among the major universities in the forefront of research in transit and cycling. Clicking on the graphic will take you to their Facebook page and more links to their programs.

 

Note the essential information relating bicycles and transit in the graphic. Do we have similar data in the Philippines (or at least for the National Capital Region)? I hope this stirs interest for research work. There are a lot of topics to take on including even data collection to capture the information required for substantial studies on cycling, transit and their relationship.

Why cycling or bicycles are good for the economy?

You saw that meme shared in social media where they say “why bicycles are bad for the economy”? There’s some humor there but it doesn’t necessarily convince many people to support cycling or biking over motor vehicle use.

Here goes one and note the logic:

“Cycling or bicycles are good for the economy because…it helps reduce car use/dependence. That means less dependence and expenses to fossil fuels. That means more money available to the household for more important stuff like food, homes and education.”

Can you come up with something like that?

Workers on bicycles crossing the Marcos Highway bridge from Marikina towards Quezon City.

On people’s apprehension to use public transport

Public transport supply issues aside, there is also an apprehension to use public transport in the Philippines because of the perception that using public transportation will expose you to COVID-19 and lead to an infection. So far, this is far from the truth, which is that if proper precautions or countermeasures are applied (including physical distancing), public transportation can be safer than taking a car to move about.

Here is an article from the US co-written by Janette Sadik-Khan, who presided over the complete streets transformation in New York City. Aside from explaining how public transport can be safe, COVID-19-wise, the authors state that one must be most worried about conditions in places they go to including their workplaces, markets and yes, homes.

Sadik-Khan, J. and Solomonow, S. (2020) “Fear of Public Transit Got Ahead of the Evidence,” The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/fear-transit-bad-cities/612979/ [Last accessed: 6/25/2020].

Several groups have already called for jeepneys to resume services. Unfortunately, DOTr and LTFRB have other plans to implement; opting for a hard-push of the modernization and rationalization programs of the government. As such, despite the demand for public transport, the latter’s unavailability meant that many commuters had to take private vehicles to go to their workplaces. That meant those who usually could leave their cars home or at least opt for public transport most days reverted to their vehicles (note: the number coding scheme is still suspended for Metro Manila). Tricycles could only carry one passenger each; effectively making them 3-wheeler taxis. While train and bus operations have resumed, both have limited passenger capacities due to the physical distancing requirements.

Again, there are precautions and countermeasures that can be applied in order to ensure the reduction or minimization of infection risks. Public transport providers need to follow these guideline to prevent infections that can be attributed to public transport use, and help people trust in using these modes over cars.

Partas bus terminal in Cubao

Prior to the lockdown, we were still able to conduct one fieldwork for a provincial bus terminal located in the Cubao district of Quezon City. We had previously conducted a study for the re-design of this terminal and the company again called on us for an update after they were not able to implement the previous study’s recommendations.

You can purchase your tickets at the terminal

Different model buses waiting for their boarding times

The passenger waiting lounge has indoor and outdoor seating.

The terminal has its own fuel pumps so buses need not go to a fuel station.

Bus parking slots are marked but there is little space between buses. The fishbone pattern parking allows for each bus’ door (front) to be accessible as shown in the second photo of this post.

Another view of the terminal’s bus slots. The ones further in the photo are actually across the street from the terminal.

Passengers lining up to purchase tickets at the terminal lobby. The boxes are consigned freight.

The air-conditioned passenger lounge includes shops for meals, refreshments or souvenirs.

Here are the bus slots across the street from the terminal. That’s an informal tricycle terminal on the left. While off-street, the tricycle terminal occupies what little sidewalk is there that is supposedly for pedestrian use.

Taxi passing along the street as tricycles maneuver from their terminal on the sidewalk.

Fuel tankers are allotted slots at the terminal as they deliver fuel for the terminal’s pumps.

Another private provincial bus terminal across from the Partas terminal. This one’s from the resurrected BLTBCo. (now DLTRBCo.) buses that ply routes to Region 5 (Bicol) and Region 8 (Eastern Visayas via ferry between Sorsogon and Leyte).

Line 2 train traveling atop Aurora Boulevard. The Partas terminal is on the left with cars parked on the sidewalk and curbside.

I think this was the last project when we did fieldwork for before the lockdowns. I wonder when we can do field work again. Transport and traffic are not the usual and the “new normal” in transportation is still evolving especially in Metro Manila.

On people’s reactions to the pandemic – more cars?

There is this article that argues that one result of the pandemic and the scare that it caused to a many is that people have resorted to car use during and after the lockdowns:

Vanderbilt, T. (2020) “People Are Buying Cars Because of the Pandemic. Cities May Change as a Result, Medium, https://gen.medium.com/people-are-buying-cars-because-of-the-pandemic-cities-may-change-as-a-result-e0657584f45e [Last accessed: 6/20/2020]

It was amusing for me to read the reference to cars as a sort of PPE but it comes as no surprise. It is psychologically like a suit of armor to some people and I guess this affects them the same way as some people’s personalities change when behind the wheel.

Whether this is true for the Philippines’ case we are now seeing somewhat but I say ‘somewhat’ because of the deficiencies in public transportation especially in Metro Manila. Government agencies in-charge of transportation seem to have found the perfect situation to roll out and push for both route rationalization and modernization. Major public transport routes have resumed operations but with buses instead of jeepneys. And slowly but somehow surely the “modern jeepneys” are being allowed but following the terms and conditions of the DOTr and the LTFRB.

On the importance of public transportation post-pandemic

I am sharing another article from Todd Litman that appear yesterday:

Litman, T. (2020) “Lessons from Pandemics: Valuing Public Transportation,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/109584-lessons-pandemics-valuing-public-transportation?fbclid=IwAR2jduFuYoyf_MoksI2Th4UoWtQYMQVOdwHuiih8JM9NxMN5pT_e1lwhgDQ [Last accessed: 6/13/2020]

The article contains material derived from previous work by the author and provides a list (and links to) resources or references related to this topic.

Traffic is back to “normal”

Traveling to the office last Monday, I could not help but notice the long lines of cars along Ortigas Avenue’s westbound lanes and Katipunan’s southbound lanes. Without adequate public transportation, people have few options for their commutes. Walking from home to workplaces is feasible only for those who live relatively near their workplace (perhaps up to 5km distance?). Cycling may be considered but not everyone can bike beyond 5km, what more for 10km+ commutes. And for both cases, there are just so many obstacles (and I’m not just fault-finding here) like a lack of sidewalks and bike paths to ensure safe walking and cycling.

Traffic congestion along Felix Avenue in Cainta towards Cainta Junction (with Ortigas Avenue Extension) – these are mostly outbound traffic likely coming from the residential subdivisions along Felix Avenue and heading to workplaces in Pasig, Mandaluyong, Makati and Taguig. They will likely take Ortigas Avenue to connect with other major roads such as C-5 and EDSA to get to their destinations.

 

The DOTr and the LTFRB have released guidelines for safety and the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Yet, they have moved quite so slowly to bring back public transportation to address the demand for it and to be able to discourage or restrict car usage in the “business-as-usual” or “old normal” sense. Public transportation is critical if we are to transform transportation during this transition from the lockdowns. Granted, the government probably wants to use the situation to effect its modernization plans but it is one thing to take advantage of the opportunity and another to be an opportunist considering the vulnerabilities of the transport sector after it endured 3 months of shutdown. The moral and right thing to do is to bring back public transport and give incentives for it to thrive and perhaps transform or upgrade by themselves rather than force the situation at the expense of commuters.

Post-ECQ at the Robinsons Antipolo transport terminal

I should probably have posted this right after Antipolo transitioned to GCQ beginning May but the transport terminal at Robinsons Antipolo was basically just a parking lot for supermarket customers for that entire month. We are still under GCQ now but most restrictions like the quarantine and barangay coding have been eased. And with Metro Manila already under GCQ, that means more people moving about especially those who have started going to their workplaces. Here are photos of the terminal taken sometime mid-May before I lined up for the supermarket in the morning.

Idle P2P bus and closed booth – I usually took the P2P bus when I have meetings in the Ortigas CBD area. I usually alight at Medical City where its easy to get a ride (Grab) to my destination. If it was a meeting at ADB or somewhere near it, I just walk from Galeria.

I didn’t know before that there were vehicles (likely vans) traveling between Antipolo and Lucena City in the Province of Quezon. Perhaps the route is via the Rizal “backdoor” (i.e., via the Rizal towns of Teresa, Morong, Tanay, Pililla, and then via Laguna through Mabitac, Siniloan, Pangil, Pakil, Paete, Lumban, Pagsanjan, and then Luisiana, Lucban and Tayabas in Quezon). This is typically a 3.5 to 4.5-hour trip depending on traffic conditions and the number of stops travelers make in between the ends.

Antipolo-JRC is probably among the oldest jeepney lines connecting Antipolo with Metro Manila. JRC stands for what was Jose Rizal College. It is now Jose Rizal University or JRU but few jeepneys use JRU as most people are still familiar with JRC. I have fond memories of this jeepney line as I used to commute on these jeepneys when I was in high school. My school was located along Shaw Boulevard and I took the jeepney because it was the one that passed and stopped in front or just across from our school. Other jeepneys from Rizal turned at Capitolyo to go to the EDSA-Crossing terminal via the United Lab road. [Note: the chairs in the photo are not for the terminal but for customers who lined up for the supermarket. Note the distance between each chair.

Regular bus services for Antipolo

Finally, there is a regular bus service between Antipolo and Cubao. This will be between the Robinsons Antipolo transport terminal and the Araneta City (formerly Araneta Center) via Sumulong Highway, Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard. This is a more significant development than the P2P bus service between Antipolo and Ortigas CBD (i.e., Robinsons Antipolo and Robinsons Galeria) as this is a regular bus service with what appears to be designated stops. I say what appears to be designated stops based on the fare matrix released by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory  Board (LTFRB).

I have written about this in the past and communicated this to local and national officials and yetWill this spell the decline and eventually phasing out of the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys? Probably not unless there is a strong move for a phaseout. The operation of the Line 2 Extension will surely impact them, too. But they can and should survive even for feeder services with respect to the rail and buses.