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AGT demonstration runs at UP Diliman

The Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) project of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is well under way with the initial test runs already being conducted by the agency. Several demonstration runs were also undertaken to show the vehicle and provide an initial experience for various stakeholders including government official, UP faculty, the media and invited guests from the private sector. I am posting a short video taken during one demonstration run where faculty members from UP’s College of Engineering rode on the prototype and also made some initial inspections of the vehicle.

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The first phase of tests is expected to be completed during this first quarter of 2013. The next phase, which is expected to be a joint undertaking of DOST and UP, will follow immediately and should involve a multidisciplinary team that will evaluate the prototype. Such assessments are necessary to determine and address issues and/or weaknesses. It is imperative that the AGT would be proven to be safe and sound in its specs before a scale-up in the project.

Already, there are discussions on the future applications of this vehicle, and CBDs and airports are already being mentioned where the AGT would be most applicable. Also being mentioned is the further development of the test track to connect the UP-Ayala Technohub along Commonwealth Avenue and the future University town center along Katipunan with a line along C.P. Garcia Ave. Perhaps, too, such a line would have more ridership if it is extended all the way to Ateneo along Katipunan (C-5). While there is also talk on the AGT along the lines of the existing LRT and MRT lines, the reality is that AGT’s and monorails have significantly less capacities compared to regular commuter lines that are much needed in Metro Manila and other rapidly developing, highly urbanized cities in the country.

Rationalizing public transport in the Philippines

I got a copy of the recent study “Development of a Mega Manila Public Transportation Planning Support System” conducted by UP Diliman’s National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) for the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). The main outcome of the study was a planning support system that includes an updated database of bus, jeepney and UV Express routes for Metro Manila and its surrounding areas (collectively called Mega Manila), and a calibrated travel demand model for the region that is supposed to be used by the DOTC and the LTFRB in transport planning including the rationalization of public transport in the region. Among the notable recommendations for addressing public transport issues is the following on the classification of routes according to passenger demand, which I quote from the study:

“…routes and modes may be classified and prioritized as follows:

  • Routes with Very High Passenger Demand [>160,000 passengers per day] – shall be served by high capacity modes such as rail-based transit or Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) with passing lanes.
  • Routes with High Passenger Demand [100,000 to 160,000 passengers per day] – shall be served by high capacity vehicles such as Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) without passing lanes;
  • Routes with Medium Passenger Demand [10,000 to 100,000 passengers per day] – shall be served by PUVs with 60 or less passengers/seats but not less than 22 passengers (excluding driver) such as buses, CLRVs with more than 22 passengers/seats (including driver), or with 90 passengers/seats in the case of double decker or articulated buses;
  • Routes with Low Passenger Demand [not exceeding 10,000 passengers per day] – shall be served by PUVs with less than 22 passengers/seats (including driver) such as jeepneys and other paratransit modes.

Under this principle, high capacity modes would have priority in terms of CPC allocation and transit right of way in a particular route over lower capacity modes with the exception of taxis. The latter, after all, operate as private cars rather than PUVs with fixed routes.

Applications to operate bus and/or minibus service in jeepney routes can be considered, but not the other way around. Similarly, bus service applications can be considered in minibus routes but not otherwise.

Based on the analysis of routes, the establishment of public transportation routes and the corresponding modes of services may be based on the following criteria:

• Passenger demand patterns and characteristics
• Road network configuration
• Corresponding road functions (road hierarchy)
• Traffic capacities and
• Reasonable profits for operation of at most 13% ROI.”
[Source: DOTC (2012) Development of a Mega Manila Public Transportation Planning Support System, Final Report.]

An interesting figure in the report is an illustration of how services can be simplified using buses and rail transport as an example. The following figure shows two maps: one showing the plotted EDSA bus routes (left) and another showing a more consolidated (and rational) route network for buses complementing existing and proposed rail mass transit systems.

Simplify1Simplifying bus transport services (source: DOTC, 2012)

What are not included in the figure above are the prospects for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems for Metro Manila. Since the Final Report was submitted in mid 2012, there have been many discussions for BRT in the metropolis and current efforts are now focused on the assessment of a BRT line along Ortigas Avenue. The World Bank is supporting the evaluation of a route between Tikling Junction near the boundary of Antipolo and Taytay (Rizal Province) and Aurora Boulevard. There are also informal talks of a BRT line along Commonwealth Avenue but that would have implications on the proposed MRT-7 along the same corridor. Nevertheless, such mass transit systems have long been required for Metro Manila and their construction have been overdue. A more efficient public transport system will definitely have tremendous impacts on how we commute between our homes, workplaces, schools and other destinations. Long distances can easily be addressed by better transport options and could actually help solve issues pertaining to informal settlements, relocations and housing. That topic, of course, deserves an article devoted to this relationship between transport and housing. Abangan!

Transport gaps

I first learned about the concept back in the 1990’s when I was a graduate student at UP majoring in transportation engineering. The concept on transport gaps was first mentioned in a lecture by a visiting Japanese professor as he was discussing about transport modes, particularly on which was suitable or preferable over certain travel distances and which could carry more passengers. Another time later and while in Japan, I heard about the concept during a presentation of a friend of his technical paper on public transport.

The figure below is one of many possible illustrations of the concept of transport gaps. In the figure, a distinction is made for mass transport and individual transport. As the original figure is likely taken from a textbook or a paper (probably from Japan), shown with a white background are the more conventional modes of transport including subways, urban and suburban railways, walking and a mention of the shinkansen (more popularly known as the bullet train). With a  gray background in the original figure is a category on new urban transit systems that include monorails, AGTs and LRTs. If we attempt to qualify local transport modes such as jeepneys, UV Express, tricycles and pedicabs into the graph, the outcome can be like what is illustrated with different color backgrounds in the figure below.

gaps

The concept of transport gaps allow us to visualize which modes are suitable for certain conditions where other established modes of transport may not be available or viable. In the original figure, the gap in Japan is filled by new urban transit systems. In our case, gaps are filled by so-called indigenous transport modes such as jeepneys, multicabs, tricycles, pedicabs and even habal-habal (motorcycle taxis).

There are gaps in the Philippine case probably and partly because of the slow development of public transport systems such as the mass transport modes shown in the preceding figure. There was a significant gap right after World War 2 when the tranvia and other railways were destroyed during the war. That gap was filled by the jeepney. There was also a gap in the early 1990’s that was eventually filled by FX taxis. Such gaps can obviously be filled by more efficient modes of transport but intervention by regulating agencies would be required and rationalizing transport services can only be addressed with the provision of mass transport options complemented by facilities for walking and cycling that will complement these modes.

UP-AGT test runs

Happy New Year!

I start the year with a short feature on the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) prototype at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) campus. The prototype has been featured in a number of articles in quad media in the recent weeks of November and December after its delivery and a few runs along the elevated test track at the campus. A project of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its PCIEERD and MIRDC, and in cooperation with UPD, the vehicle has caught the attention of the general public and particularly those who have advocated for better public transport services in Metro Manila and other Philippine cities. Many are excited about the prospects of a “home-grown” system being constructed and operated in Metro Manila, and the buzz about the AGT replacing the IKOT jeepneys of UP Diliman is still very much alive despite clarifications by both the DOST and UP about this being a R&D project as well as questions regarding sustainability and practicality. Following are a few photos of the AGT prototype during one of its demonstration runs last December.

IMG05182-20121213-1036Unfinished platform at the Jacinto Street end of the test track allowing access to the vehicle’s underside and bogey and the loading platform

IMG05185-20121213-1048View of the test track from the platform – note again the absence of rail tracks as the AGT employs rubber tires. Wheels travel along the two concrete guideways shown in the photo. That’s the CHED building along C.P. Garcia Ave. downstream from the position of the AGT

IMG05187-20121213-1107Driver’s perspective of the test track – the vehicle will eventually be driver-less (hence, automated) but for the test runs, there will initially be a driver to make sure the train operates correctly

IMG05195-20121213-1117Connection – the two prototype vehicles are connected by this crude assembly that is definitely one of the things that would need to be reconsidered in subsequent vehicles. Perhaps an automatic coupler should be installed in the future?

IMG05213-20121213-1148Dr. Ric Sigua of the Institute of Civil Engineering inspecting the pick-up system for the AGT prototype with DOST project staff.

IMG05242-20121220-0947DOST-PCIEERD and UP Diliman faculty (from the Institute of Civil Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute and School of Urban and Regional Planning) exchange ideas on the prototype.

IMG05190-20121213-1110View of the end of the test track showing the two guideways employed by the vehicle and traffic along the University Avenue

The initial runs of the AGT have been exclusive demonstrations to government officials including those in national agencies, guests from the private sector, and partners with UP Diliman. The formal test runs will start in January 2013 but there are still no details on how these will be carried out in order to determine the functionality and safety of the prototype. Already, there are informal discussions on what needs to be improved in the prototype based on the initial observations and inspections conducted by faculty members from UP Diliman’s College of Engineering who will be involved in the technical evaluation of the prototype. Hopefully, such evaluations can be completed at the soonest and improvements are considered prior to a full system eventually being constructed and made available for public use. Where that system can be constructed and operated is still up in the air but should definitely be somewhere where the system is needed and where it can be a showcase for localized technology.

Updates on the UP AGT

The prototype vehicles for the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) project of the DOST through its PCIEERD and MIRDC were delivered last Sunday, November 25, at the test track site in UP Diliman. The two vehicles will form the train that will be mounted on the test tracks and subject to experiments to test the performance and functionality. Researchers from UP Diliman, including faculty members from its College of Engineering and College of Science, will be cooperating with the DOST to provide advise on issues that are certain to crop up once the tests are underway.

Contrary to many reports coming out that it will be an “upgrade” or “replacement” for the Ikot and Toki jeepneys currently operating inside the campus, the truth is that a Phase 2 creating a loop around the campus is not viable for the foreseeable future. For one, the system will be too expensive to build, operate and maintain for a very limited ridership that is attributed to UP Diliman, even with the increasing numbers of through trips using UP public transportation. Of course, it would be nice to have a system like this in campus but the costs cannot be covered by revenues from fares. Funds for construction (investment costs), seen from one perspective, may be of better use elsewhere where resources are in dire need to support other very important endeavors. A full system would be appropriate elsewhere and with funding coming not from the DOST or UP budgets but from airports, developers, local governments and others who can be the proponents for such systems.

AGT vehicle delivered at the test site in UP Diliman – the streamlined body was designed by DOST project staff. The skirt helps to hide the bogey, which includes the mechanism for the vehicle to pick up power from rails embedded along the guideway.

Inside the vehicle – there are few seats behind the driver’s cab to maximize space for (standing) passengers. This layout is very much similar to other AGTs and monorails including those serving airports where users would also have luggage with them.

Driver’s cab – although the intention is for the vehicle to be ultimately driverless, tests will initially be conducted with a driver.

Back seats – there are a few more seats at the back but the layout maximizes the number of standing passengers.

Another look at the AGT vehicle – the DOST logo is prominent in the front and one side of the vehicle. The UP logo is on the other side of the vehicle.

Test tracks – the AGT guideway is elevated and stretches to almost 500 meters. For reference, the photo was taken from near the project office/power house with the CHED building along C.P. Garcia Ave visible downstream of the elevated guideway. The line of trees on the right is along the University Avenue.

While it is understandable that certain rail aficionados have become excited about the prospects of having an operational, functional AGT or monorail, the UP-AGT is really an experimental system. It is best considered as a “proof of concept” project that will hopefully encourage the development and promotion of public transport in many of our cities that seem to be mired in having unsustainable transport modes. But of course, any transit system such as this will not survive if no rationalization in transport services are implemented and this is particularly true if an AGT or monorail would have to compete directly with buses, jeepneys or tricycles.

Update on the UP AGT Test Track construction

Visiting the site at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) where a test track for the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) is currently being constructed, one wonders if this is a precursor of a transit system that might eventually replace the ubiquitous jeepneys plying several routes within the campus. There have been misleading stories about this “replacement” going around the internet and being passed on from one person to another. I am aware of both as I regularly see posts in some online discussion threads that make it appear as if the UP administration and DOST are in discussion for a mass transit system to replace the IKOT jeepneys. They are not in any such discussions that I am aware of considering I am a member of the UP Diliman Transportation Committee. Perhaps people are inspired by an existing system in Germany at the University of Dortmund. I caution the reader against making any sweeping conclusions as UP Diliman’s travel demand characteristics are quite different from that of the University of Dortmund’s.

I also get asked a lot about what will happen to the jeepneys once the “monorail” is operational. My response is always that nothing will happen to them because there simply won’t be a monorail. What is being constructed is the superstructure for the test track of an Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) prototype. Being a test track, its being operational means it can be used for research & development (R&D) for future systems (hopefully, homegrown) that can be constructed where they are needed and appropriate.

The site has been fenced off to minimize the appearance on-site of curious people (usiseros?). One such person even climbed a column to take photos of the construction work and posted these in the internet. As this is a construction site, such incidents are not supposed to happen mainly due to safety concerns.

Construction work continues despite the wet weather. The week-long monsoon rains have rendered the ground muddy or mushy but workers are busy as if it were summer.

The columns for the elevated structure are all in place but in various stages of completion. Those along C.P. Garcia until the intersection with the University Avenue only have the reinforcing steel bars in place and awaiting the pouring of concrete.

Construction materials are piled up on top of tarp-covered ground as workers take some time-out from their work.

The test track  is supposed to be completed by October including the installation of power lines and a power station for the electric-powered vehicle. The DOST has also bidded out the assembly of the vehicle that will be used for the experiments. Hopefully, the vehicle will be ready by the time the test track is completed. It is expected that the AGT would have manned tests by late November or early December, in time for a demonstration before or on the day of UP Diliman’s Lantern Parade.

Ongoing construction of the AGT at UP Diliman

People have been asking me if what was being constructed at the vacant lot near the College of Fine Arts and visible from the University Avenue and C.P. Garcia Avenue is the test track for the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) project of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). I always replied in the affirmative even though I haven’t seen the construction site myself. I finally had an opportunity to visit the site though I could not go directly where people were working due to the ground conditions (it has been raining heavily in Metro Manila the past few days) and the fact that it was an impromptu visit.

The following photos confirm the ongoing construction in the area where steel bars for the columns of the elevated test track are already jutting out of the ground from the foundations. The contractor is MIESCOR, a sister firm of electric utility giant Meralco. The latter, of course, has a history with public rail transport as it operated the electric tranvias in old Manila. Meralco actually stands for Manila Electric Rail and Light Company and so it seems quite fitting rather than just coincidence that it is involved, through MIESCOR, in this project.

Project site as seen from Jacinto Street

Project site as seen from the corner of Jacinto Street and the access road to the UP Veterinary Hospital and the Campus Maintenance Office (CMO).

Columns rising – steel bars forming the reinforcement for the concrete columns of the elevated test track

Construction materials piled up at the site – the expanse of the area where the test track is being built can be appreciated in the photo. That’s the rooftop of the CHED building in the background in the upper left side of the photo.

I tried to get a photo where the other columns are visible

A view of the excavations and the line of columns leading to the track end near Jacinto Street

The closest shot I could get of a column under construction

The structure should gain form in the next few weeks when work on the columns are completed and the girders forming the tracks are laid out. Perhaps the power room for the test track will also be constructed in preparation for the power system installation along the track.