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Article on housing and transportation

Here’s another excellent piece from Todd Litman about the dynamics of housing and transportation. This is a very relevant topic in many cities today and especially so for those like Metro Manila, which is struggling with issues pertaining to affordable housing and transportation infrastructure and services. Arguably, a lot of households are spending more than the 45% threshold of incomes mentioned in the article but people continue to get homes away from the city as these are relatively cheaper than those closer to their workplaces and schools. Unfortunately, transportation costs are on the rise and congestion and a lack of an efficient transport system are among the culprits for what many have already labelled as undignified and atrocious costs of commuting.

Litman, T. (2018) “Affordability Trade-Offs,” planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/99920?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-08092018&mc_cid=e2a69b6eb4&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 8/9/2018]

I envy the guy for being able to present these topics clearly. It is a complex subject and one that isn’t understood by many in government who are supposed to be responsible for crafting and implementing policies and programs to address issues pertaining to affordable housing and commutes. I wonder if Todd is coming over for the ADB Transport Forum. He’s make for a good resource person in some of the sessions there and perhaps can also be invited to speak about this and other relevant and urgent topics in a separate forum. Anyone out there care to sponsor him?

On EDSA transport and traffic, again

There’s a recent decision by the Metro Manila Council (MMC) comprised of the mayors of the cities and municipality of Metro Manila and chaired by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair that vehicles bearing only one passenger (the driver) will be banned from travelling along EDSA. The problem with this is that by banning cars with one passenger from EDSA, you only succeed in making other roads like C5 more congested. It’s a simple case of transferring traffic and worsening it elsewhere since you’re not doing anything to alleviate congestion along those roads. Did MMDA run this and other scenarios using analytical or simulation tools at their disposal? If so, can these be shown and used to explain the soundness of this policy approved by the MMC? I suspect they didn’t and likely depended more on gut feel based on the data they have including what is often reported as 70% of vehicles traveling along EDSA having only one passenger. Meanwhile, the state of mass transit along EDSA still sucks.

IMG_3028A very crowded Boni Avenue Station platform (photo courtesy of Mr. Raul Vibal)

Of course, the pronouncement from the MMDA launched quite a lot of memes on social media. Some people shared the typical quotes on planning (you know, like the ones about planning for people vs. planning for cars). Some offered their own ideas about how to “solve” traffic along EDSA. And so on…that only succeeded in showing how everyone had an opinion about transport and traffic. Everyone is an expert, so it seems.

Some thoughts and not in any order:

  • The government can initially dedicate a lane each for express buses (a la Bus Rapid Transit or BRT). This idea has been circulating for quite some time now and has a good chance of succeeding. The DOTr is already deploying buses that they say are supplementing the MRT 3 trains (i.e., there aren’t enough trains running so passengers have the option of taking a bus instead). Running along the inner lanes of EDSA would mean, however, that they would have to find a way for passengers to cross the road and one idea would be for the stations to be retrofitted for this purpose.
  • Those cars along EDSA are not necessarily for short trips so walking and cycling while needing space may have less impact in the immediate term for such a corridor. In the meantime, serious consideration should be made for bike lanes whether on the ground or elevated and improvements to walking spaces.
  • But these efforts to improve passenger (and freight) flows should be a network-wide thing and not just along EDSA.
  • It’s time to have serious discussions and perhaps simulations (even a dry run) of congestion pricing in Metro Manila. Congestion pricing for all major roads and not just one or two. Funds collected goes to mass transit, walkways and bikeways development. DOTr was supposed to have already discussed an Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system like Singapore’s with the company and people behind the same in the city-state. That doesn’t seem to be moving along.
  • Working and studying from home might work in terms of reducing vehicular traffic but then we generally have lousy internet services so that’s a barrier that needs to be broken down.
  • How about legalizing, once and for all, motorcycle taxis? Many are opposed to this citing safety concerns but then we are running out of options outside the usual motherhood statements pertaining to building transport infrastructure. Think about it. Give it a chance. These motorcycles might just surprise us in a nice way; that is, helping alleviate congestion.
  • Carpooling and lanes dedicated to High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) would be good but the LTFRB made a pronouncement about these being illegal as they would be considered ‘colorum’. Such statements do not make the situation any easier and sends mixed signals as to the government’s being serious in considering all possible angles to improve transport and traffic particularly for commuting.

Do you have other ideas to share?

Increasing the number of TNVS units? Not so fast!

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is planning to increase the number of TNVS units (i.e., rideshare vehicles) in Metro Manila to meet what is perceived as the demand for them based on the numbers provided by TNCs like Grab. The problem with this number they want to eventually achieve, 65,000 units supposedly, is that this is based on current transport conditions in the metropolis. Also, this is based on data that is biased for the interests of TNCs, which obviously want to increase their driver and vehicle base in order to maximise profits. Here is a nice article that should provide some context from abroad where rideshare vehicles are actually generating more car traffic and taking people away from public transport.

Fried, B. (2018) “Uber and Lyft Are Overwhelming Urban Streets, and Cities Need to Act Fast,” Streetsblog, https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/07/25/uber-and-lyft-are-overwhelming-urban-streets-and-cities-need-to-act-fast/ [Last accessed: 7/26/2018]

Currently under construction are the Line 7 and Line 2 Extension projects and soon there will also be the Line 1 Extension. Also, in the pipeline are the proposed subway and rehabilitation of PNR that is supposed to revitalise its commuter line. These are examples of projects that will likely be game changers in terms of commuting with the objective of drawing people away from car use. In the bigger scheme of things, perhaps there is a need to rethink numbers for TNVS and instead focus on improving taxi services in Metro Manila. The same can be said for other cities as well where there is already a need for better public transport services to avert a transport future similar to what Metro Manila is already experiencing now.

Safe and healthy journeys to school

I recently attended a workshop organised by UNICEF in cooperation with UN Environment and the WHO. The main topic was about road safety, particularly for children and focusing on their journeys between homes and schools. This is definitely a big issue and the concern is not without basis. Take the example shown in the photo below where two motorcycles are carrying more passengers than what they are designed for.

Children on-board motorcycles bound for a school in Zamboanga City

The passengers are children being taken by what looks like a parent or parents driving the motorcycles. Such are common scenes in Philippine roads and in many cases, the children are at risk of being involved in a crash. Most will have no protection and will likely be seriously injured or be killed in case of a crash. Then there are the cases of children walking between their homes and schools and are exposed to the dangers brought about mainly by motor vehicle traffic along the roads they travel on. It is a wonder how there are few crashes occurring despite these conditions (or is it because few are reported and recorded?)!

I will be pursuing research topics related to safe journeys to schools more than other road safety topics that the staff and students I supervise are usually taking on. Hopefully, too, my new advisees this coming semester will be interested in related topics particularly graduate students who work for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

On the continuing evolution of Uber and Lyft, and some thoughts on TNCs in the Philippines

Here’s a nice read about ridesharing/ridehailing/ridesourcing in the US:

Madrigal, A.C. (2018) “Will Uber and Lyft Become Different Things?”, medium.com, https://medium.com/the-atlantic/will-uber-and-lyft-become-different-things-2d0442472a15 [Last accessed: 6/13/2018].

It seems that companies like Uber and Lyft are evolving and that should benefit commuters. Meanwhile, the latest news on TNCs in the Philippines is on the issuance of a Department Order by the Department of Transportation (DOTr). The new Department Order (DO) effectively amends and supersedes an earlier DO issued in 2015 (DO No. 2015-011), wherein TNCs were allowed to set their own fares, subject only to oversight by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). This means more regulations for TNCs that might actually harm the new players more than the remaining big player – Grab.

Uber recently sold its Philippine operations to Grab in exchange for shares of Grab. One colleague quipped “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” And that seems to be the case here where Uber’s vulnerability was exposed when faced with a strong competitor together with a government bent on having a firm regulatory control of TNC operations. While I am for regulations in order to protect both the interests of commuters as well as the drivers-operators of TNCs, I believe too much regulations will weaken this mode while taxi services remain wanting (to use a kinder term). The DOTr and the LTFRB is again not addressing the root cause of a problem on taxi-type services and allowing generally poor services among taxi companies in Metro Manila to continue.

School is back and so are safety issues for schoolchildren

It’s school time once again in most parts of the Philippines. Public and private schools including most colleges and universities have resumed classes this month of June while others start this July and August. But with the resumption of classes, there is also the re-emergence of issues pertaining to the safety of these children. Students are exposed to the hazards of commuting. These include the likelihood of being injured or killed by vehicles running along the roads the students use to get to school.

The photo above is a typical scene in front and around many public schools in the country. Schools are located along national roads and often lack spaces for students and their guardians. Many end up occupying the roads and causing congestion. Of course, that congestion is secondary to the safety of these children. Nevertheless, such issues need to be addressed in a more holistic manner rather than attempt to solve one as if they could be isolated.

Most students of grade schools and high schools around the country either walk or take public transportation in their commutes. They are exposed almost daily to motor vehicle traffic along the roads and risk being sideswiped or run over by vehicles. In certain cases, small children walk significant distances thereby increasing the likelihood and risk of being harmed by traffic.

Traffic is particularly bad along most roads leading to schools mainly during the morning, mid-day and afternoon periods when students arrive or leave their schools. In Metro Manila, for example, the worst congestion are experienced along major roads like Katipunan Avenue (due to traffic generated by Ateneo, Miriam and UP) and Ortigas Avenue (due to La Salle Greenhills). That means a lot of time and fuel are wasted and more emissions are released into the air that we breathe. However, one can argue that in terms of road safety, this is better since gridlocks mean slow moving vehicles that make it safer for walking or cycling. This is not the same in the provinces or rural areas where there is less congestion and vehicles travel at faster speeds.

04.JPGChildren heading to school on a ‘skylab’ version of the motorcycle taxi

While there are initiatives pertaining to revisions in speed limits, such are limited (pun not intended) by how much action can be done in order to enforce these regulations. Add to this the requirement of having the instruments to measure and record speeds in aid of enforcement. This was what MMDA did along Commonwealth Ave. and Macapagal Blvd. with the acquisition of two speed guns. I don’t see them using these anymore and wonder if the instruments are still working. Meanwhile, expressway authorities are using these as they continue their enforcement of speed limits along tollways. [I am aware of NLEX and SCTEX enforcement units employing speed guns along those tollways.]

The DPWH is also doing its part by doing road safety audits and identifying measures to reduce the likelihood of crashes involving these students. Among these are rumbles strips and, in some cases, the construction of sidewalks but these are not enough. There were recommendations from an iRAP project many years ago but the agency was resistant to what they thought were new and innovative ideas that were actually already being implemented in other countries. Perhaps these recommendations and that iRAP study could be revisited and solutions drawn from there?

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.