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On priority lanes for public transport
I am currently part of an International Research Group (IRG) involved in studies on bus priority. Yesterday, we had a meeting where one professor mentioned the importance of being able to clearly explain the advantages of having priority lanes for buses in order to improve their performance (i.e., number of passengers transported and improved travel times). There was a lively discussion about how the perception is for bike lanes while transit lanes have also been implemented for a long time now though with mixed results.
There are very familiar arguments vs. taking lanes away from cars or private motor vehicles and allocating them for exclusive use of public transport and bicycles. It may sound cliche but ‘moving people and not just cars’ is perhaps the simplest argument for priority lanes.
EDSA carousel buses lining up towards a station
Bike lane along Katipunan Avenue – is this a temporary thing? a fad because traffic is really not back to the old normal? Katipunan is infamous for being congested with cars generated by major trip generators in the area such as schools/universities and commercial establishments.
The bike lane along Commonwealth Avenue proves there’s just too much space for private motor vehicles. And with the Line 7 in the horizon, perhaps more lanes can be taken and made exclusive to road public transport. [Photo credit: Cenon Esguerra]
On the BRT gaining popularity
Bus rapid transit or BRT has been around at least since the 1970s when the first ‘real’ BRT systems went into operation in Curitiba, Brazil. Here’s an article presenting the current state of deployment of these systems in the US:
Duncan, I. (July 23, 2021) “Cities are turning to supercharged bus routes to more quickly and cheaply expand transit services,” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2021/07/23/bus-routes-public-transit-brt/
“There are indications that BRT lines can promote some of the density long associated with rail routes. A new analysis of job and residential growth by researchers at the University of Arizona examined areas around BRT stations in 11 cities between 2013 and 2019. In each case, they found areas close to the stations accounted for a significant share of regional growth.”
The Philippines should have had its first BRT line more than a decade ago if the government had been decisive about it. The first opportunity was under the administration of Macapagal-Arroyo when it was first conceptualized for Cebu City under a UNDP project and picked up by the WB for implementation.* The next opportunity came under the Aquino administration when the Cebu BRT could have been one of those low-hanging fruits for public mass transportation. Now, the same project is nowhere near completion as the Duterte administration has less than a year before it bows out. Meanwhile, there are proposed BRT’s in Metro Manila and Davao that have yet to see the proverbial light of day. The EDSA carousel is supposed to morph into a BRT but has not become so and requires more tweaking for it to be one.
*[Note: The BRT that was supposedly implemented by the MMDA under its then Chair Bayani Fernando was not a BRT or even a BRT light. It is not even at the scale of the current EDSA carousel.]
Some observations and thoughts about the EDSA carousel
Much has been written or said about the EDSA Carousel. This is the express bus service the government implemented along Metro Manila’s busiest thoroughfare, EDSA or Circumferential Road 4. I feel that it is a decent effort from government to address the lack of supply to address the huge demand for public transport along EDSA considering that it serves to also distribute trips collected from major roads connecting to it. Is it an admission of something wrong in terms of the transport infrastructure along EDSA? Perhaps and from the current administration and DOTr. The admission of flaws certainly did not or will not come from the previous administrations that failed to address problems pertaining to Line 3 including maintenance and operations issues.
Buses queued before the Trinoma/North Avenue Station of the carousel. Overhead is the junction to the EDSA-MRT depot underneath Trinoma.
The overhead junction is the MRT’s branch to/from the depot
Buses queuing towards the North Avenue Station
The carousel stations are basically part of the MRT station with the platform located at ground level at the otherwise underutilized space that is the median island of EDSA. Access to the express buses are via the MRT stations as there are no other means for crossing to/from the carousel berths.
The carousel is an attempt to have a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along EDSA. It is perhaps the most practical solution to supplementing the already limited capacity of elevated Line 3 despite the continued operations of regular buses. The express bus service is not a new idea along EDSA since Line 3 had to compete with a BRT proposal (though it didn’t use the term BRT then) back in the 1990s. Insiders at NEDA relate that it was then President Fidel V. Ramos himself who allegedly ‘lobbied’ for the MRT instead of an elevated bus transit system. Unfortunately, the MRT proposed, constructed and now in operation is a light rail system like Line 1 and could not easily be upgraded to a heavy rail system like Line 2 or the future Line 7. The line is already problematic due to maintenance issues and the aging rolling stock. And there are questions regarding interoperability with Line 1 (definitely not interoperable with Line 7). So the grand central station currently under construction will really be a terminus for 3 lines as trains will not be able to pass through to other lines like how it is in other countries.
Will the carousel be a permanent fixture along EDSA? Perhaps. But it should be improved further for the convenience of commuters as well as for more efficient operations. The current buses being used are the not the right vehicles if capacity is to be maximized. Articulated buses would be necessary for this purpose. The current barriers should also be replaced with more appropriate and perhaps more clever designs partly for aesthetics but for the system to be safer and more functional in terms of spaces for passengers and vehicles.
What to look forward to Philippine transportation in 2021
I usually wrote a year-ender for transport but somehow never got to it. I’ve spent much of the break working on projects that have been extended due to the pandemic’s impacts on their implementation. Two of these projects are being implemented in Zamboanga City where we are lucky to have hard-working counterparts and a very cooperative city government. I think given what have transpired in 2020, there’s much to expect in 2021. I also want to be hopeful and optimistic about the outlook for this year. So positive thoughts for now. Here are things to look forward to in 2021:
- More bike lanes around the country – these include the bike lanes to be constructed using the billions of pesos allocated for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Is there a plan? None yet unless you count the sketch mapping exercise people have been doing. Sure, the DPWH came up with guidelines for bike lanes designs but these are a work in progress at best if compared to the existing guidelines from countries that have built and maintained bike facilities for a very long time now (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, even Singapore).
- Construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu – this is a much delayed project (more than a decade in the making already) that needs to be implemented already. This year might just be the year? We certainly hope so. That EDSA carousel is still far from being the BRT the Philippines need to be a model system for its cities. I still think Cebu can be a better model for other cities than Metro Manila. And so a BRT success there has a better chance of being replicated in other cities that need a mass transit system now.
- More rationalized public transport routes in major cities – by ‘rationalized’ I am not limiting this to the government’s original rationalization program but also to the other reforms that are being introduced this year including service contracting. Whether the latter will work wonders, we’ll get a better idea of it this year. Will services be better? Will drivers improve the way they drive? Will this be cost-effective in the long run? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, with some of those answers hopefully coming this year.
- Full scale construction of the Metro Manila subway – would you believe that there’s actually little work done for this project aside from the preparatory and PR work that have been the focus the past few years. It seemed like they’ve been doing realignments and groundbreakings every year. Meanwhile, they haven’t even started tunneling yet. To be honest, I don’t think there will be an operational subway by 2022. I’ve seen subways being built in Tokyo, Singapore and Vietnam, and you can’t do even a demo project in 1.5 years time.
- More air travel – as the vaccines are delivered and administered, there should be a feeling of more safety and confidence for people to travel again. Much inter-island trips are actually done via air travel. Airlines have lost a lot in the last year and are certainly going to come up with nice deals (I already saw a lot of promos from various airlines that I usually book for my flights – PAL, Cebu Pac, JAL and SIA.) Hotels and resorts, too, are welcoming tourists with great deals. So perhaps it will be a rebound year for tourism and…air travel.
- More rail transport in general – hopefully this year will be the year when the Line 2 extension becomes operational. Meanwhile, other projects like the PNR and Line 3 rehabs, the Line 1 extension, and Manila-Clark railway line construction continues. Perhaps this year will also see the construction of Mindanao Railways.
What do you think are things to look forward to in Philippine transportation in 2021?
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.
How about simulating the BRT along EDSA?
History seems to be repeating itself as the situation along EDSA for the upcoming ASEAN meetings is practically the same with that about 2 years ago when the APEC meetings were held in Metro Manila. We have a different administration now with a lot of new people at the Department of Transportation. You would think that they see an opportunity here, to have another chance to simulate Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along EDSA. They did recently deploy P2P bus services to augment the failing MRT Line 3 but perhaps it is more likely for that purpose and nothing else. There is no indication that the now exclusive lanes along either side of EDSA will be used for a mass transportation experiment during or after the ASEAN meetings. I guess this will be another missed opportunity for a proof of concept?
List of infrastructure projects for the Philippines’ BuildBuildBuild initiative
I was looking for a list of projects said to be prioritized by the current administration in the Philippines and mentioned in the presentation made by government yesterday. Here’s one I found from GMA News:
Infrastructure projects lined up by the Duterte administration
Noticeable for me are the following:
1. No mention of major bridge projects that were heavily hyped both on mainstream and social media – these bridges include those that were proposed to connect the islands of Panay and Negros, Negros and Cebu, and Cebu and Bohol. It doesn’t mean, of course, that these have been abandoned but likely only sidelined for the moment.
2. Break-up of Clark Green City into several components – this seems to be a more realistic approach especially considering how big and complex this project is, and how many agencies or entities are and will be involved
3. Mass transit projects in Metro Manila – these include big ticket projects such as the proposed subway, BRT and the rehabilitation of PNR lines. These are all projects that should have been done a long time ago but for various reasons have been delayed. Say what you will about so much resources being poured into Metro (Mega?) Manila but it is the economic center of the country and efficient transport will go a long way in generating resources that can eventually be used in other parts of the country.
4. Emphasis on Clark Airport – it seems to me that the current administration is focused on developing Clark as the alternative (if not the main) gateway to the greater capital region. This is a departure from the hype we have received about a replacement for NAIA including one that was proposed at Sangley Point in Cavite.
5. Scaling down of Mindanao Railways – instead of pushing for a much grander (and unrealistic I think) railway project for the entire island, they identified a more realistic and perhaps practical line connecting Tagum, Davao and Digos. One colleague noted, however, that this corridor is already heavily serviced by buses and vans so rail ridership is at best threatened from the start.
What’s your take on the proposed projects and the list in general?
Metro Manila public transport – addition is good but we need subtraction, too
The company providing the P2P bus services is very enthusiastic (aggressive?) in promoting their services especially via social media. Satisfied commuters have also shared their experiences and a lot of photos about the buses and their commutes through social and mainstream media. I have read some articles carried by the likes of Rappler and Inquirer as well as blogs relating about the buses features, what people liked about the service and their suggestions on how to further improve and expand services. These have provided commuters with a taste of how good public transport could be in terms of quality of service.
The operations and the operator seems to have the blessings of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and not just the present administration but from the previous one when the P2P services started. The fact that they have expanded services further these past few months is a testament to their popularity and the demand for high quality public transport services in Metro Manila. I personally believe that the next step is to give these buses exclusive lanes along their routes. Such would allow for buses to travel faster and providing a significant decrease in the travel times of commuters. Current operations, despite having non-stop runs between origin and destination, run in mixed traffic so their impacts in terms of travel times are diminished. Also, with exclusive lanes, they can probably consider adding a few stops between the route ends and be able to simulate bus rapid transit (BRT) services of which there seems to be little appreciation so far in the Philippines.
While the new buses and routes are very welcome and provide attractive options for commuting, there is still a need to address what is perceived as an over-supply of buses, jeepneys and UV express vehicles in Metro Manila. The attractiveness and higher service quality of P2P buses can pave the way for reducing the numbers of buses, for example, along EDSA. A similar strategy of introducing high quality bus services along other corridors and then reducing bus, jeepney and UV express units there can be implemented but will require much in terms of political will. The latter is important when dealing with operators and drivers of displaced vehicles, who may oppose such transport reforms and probably throw in legal impediments including those pertaining to franchising. Whether such opposition can be addressed by emergency powers or not remains to be seen but hopefully, even without such powers, the government can engage the transport sector to effect reforms and improve public transport (and ultimately commuting in general) not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.
On BRT being a game changer for Philippine cities
There’s a nice interview about transport on ANC’s early morning program. The topic is bus rapid transit (BRT) and the interviewee is a colleague of mine at the University of the Philippines. Dr. Cresencio M. Montalbo, Jr. is actually a faculty member of the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) and a Fellow at the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS). Here’s the link to the interview:
Will bus rapid transit (BRT) remove bias against public transport?
Is Antipolo ripe for high capacity and premium transit services?
About 5 years ago, I wrote about transport in Antipolo in another blog. The article was more about this old city being a major destination attracting people for pilgrimage (Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) and tourism (e.g., Hinulugang Taktak). I am quoting from that article from 5 years ago and adding a few comments here and there. Note that for most of the article, nothing much has changed except perhaps that the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is now underway.
“There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.”
I didn’t mention there that another backdoor was via Marcos Highway if one were coming directly from Tanay instead of through Teresa. This route is now popular and traffic has been steadily increasing due in part to some additional attractions in that part of Antipolo and Tanay.
“Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo Simbahan, referring to the shrine.”
There are also UV Express and shuttle vans (legitimate vans for hire or colorum operations) offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownership and operations do make them serious competitors to the jeepneys even during the merry month of May (fiesta period) and the Lenten Holy Week.
“There was an Antipolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto with the cassette tapes stacked along the bus dashboard). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.”
At present, there is another bus company operating along Ortigas Ave and the Manila East Road – RRCG. There is also a revival of the EMBC with buses providing transport services between Quiapo and Tanay. The only other bus is the inter-provincial Raymond Transit, which operates between Crossing, Mandaluyong and Infanta, Quezon via Antipolo, Teresa, Morong and Tanay.
“In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.”
This proposition for rationalizing public transport to/from Antipolo and other towns of Rizal plus Marikina is all the more important as the Line 2 extension from Santolan, Pasig to Masinag, Antipolo is currently underway. There is an opportunity here to upgrade public transport following the hierarchy of transport modes. I have noticed, for example, electric and conventional tricycles providing what are basically feeder services but along Marcos Highway between Cogeo and Masinag. And a lot of people have been stranded or have difficulty getting a jeepney or UV express ride along the Marcos Highway corridor. I am aware that the DOTC in the previous administration was mulling an express bus service through Marcos and Sumulong Highways terminating and turning around at Robinsons Place Antipolo. That, of course, never happened but is something that I think is worthwhile and would be beneficial to a lot of commuters.