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Line 2 to be transformed into a BRT? Definitely not a good idea!

There are news reports stating that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) is considering replacing the LRT Line 2 with a BRT instead. I think this is not something worth considering at this point since the construction of the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is already underway. Also, there is the fact that Line 2 is the only heavy rail system among the three LRT/MRT lines in Metro Manila. It has the potential to have the highest capacity among the three as well as the potential to have the highest ridership especially after the extension is complete and the two additional stations are operational.

With lots of people requiring public transport beyond Masinag, the question is not whether to convert Line 2 into a BRT but instead what services can be provided for a more efficient system for Rizal and Marikina. I took the following photos along my commute from Antipolo to Quezon City. Note the number of people waiting for public transport along Marcos Highway.

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These are people who would typically take jeepneys or UV Express for their commutes. It is obvious from my regular observations that jeepneys and UV Express cannot cover the demand for public transportation and my opinion is that it is high time to introduce a higher capacity and more efficient mode in order to encourage people to keep taking public transport and to encourage those taking private transport to shift to PT.

A BRT service can be connected to Line 2. Since the Line 2 extension to Masinag is scheduled to be completed next year and be operational by third quarter of 2017, a bus service can already be piloted between Santolan and several end points. Four for consideration would be Cogeo, Antipolo Simbahan, Marikina and Cainta.

  • Cogeo should be a no-brainer given that there is already demand there and this is growing rapidly with all the subdivisions being developed in this area.
  • For Antipolo Simbahan, perhaps the final stop need not be at the shrine but at Robinsons Antipolo.
  • For Marikina, there can be three lines – one branching from Ligaya where there is a major Ayala development, a second at Gil Fernando and another at Masinag. These may terminate at the city center, perhaps in the vicinity of the Rodriguez Sports Complex, which is near the Marikina City Hall and public market.
  • The last line could traverse Felix Avenue (Imelda Avenue) and may terminate at Cainta Junction where commuters can transfer to transport along Ortigas Avenue Extension.

Surely, pilot services can be provided where limited stops or express services can be experimented on to see what clicks in terms of ridership. It would be nice to get feedback about such services and hopefully there will be champions for these bus services. Note that such services terminating at Santolan means that there should be terminal facilities in that area. Former MMDA Chair and now Marikina Congressman Bayani Fernando has developed an area precisely for an eastern transport terminal and so bus services present a good opportunity for this terminal to be a busy one. Maybe BF can champion these bus services? And perhaps the Antipolo and Cainta (paging Mayors Ynares and Nieto!) can also push for these services as commuters from these would stand to benefit the most from a good transport system.

Premium bus service schedule

For the benefit of commuters, here is the schedule of the premium express buses currently on experimental run along EDSA. The end points and routes are shown in the graphic below:

Express bus schedule

I suddenly remembered the slogan adopted by the defunct Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC) for their Love Bus back on the 1970s and 1980s: “Save Gas, Ride Bus”. This is still very much applicable today and perhaps not only to consider saving gas but to save time and money by riding public transport. The express buses offer a higher quality of service than regular buses and should be promoted and perhaps expanded to include other corridors as well. I think many of us have forgotten about how good road public transport could be and should be (with the exceptions of those who have gone abroad to cities like Singapore and Hong Kong) that we fail to see a good initiative like the premium bus. It is also a proof of concept for the bus rapid transit (BRT) systems that can finally be implemented for Metro Manila and Cebu [crossing my fingers here].

EASTS 2015 – Cebu City, September 11-13, 2015

The 11th International Conference of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS 2015) will be held in Cebu City this September 11-13, 2015. For information on the conference and program, check out their website here:

http://www.easts2015.com/

You can also download a brochure about EASTS here:

EASTS brochure2014-2015a

The conference is hosted by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is the local affiliate of the EASTS. More information on the TSSP are found below:

TSSP brochure_inside TSSP brochure_cover-back

Some setbacks for sustainable transport

There have been a few setbacks for sustainable transport in the news recently and not so recently. One is the burning of an electric vehicle, a COMET to be precise, that saw one unit burn to the ground near the UP Town Center along Katipunan Avenue. I am not aware of any official or formal findings being released as to what really happened to the vehicle but that is basically a big PR problem now as detractors of e-vehicles will point to the incident as proof that e-vehicles still have a long way to becoming a viable and safe option as public utility vehicles. E-vehicles have a lot to prove especially as an option for public transport and such setbacks only strengthen the argument against them and leaves us with the current conventional options.

Another is the discontinuance of service inside the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) of hybrid buses operated by Green Frog Transport. This one is due to what Green Frog described as exorbitant fees being charged by Bonifacio Estates Services Corp (BESC) for their buses to enter BGC. This is making the rounds of social media but there seems to be no response from BESC nor from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), which is supposed to also have a say with policies in BGC. Perhaps BESC thought it best to just give Green Frog the silent treatment for what appears as a trial by publicity approach by Green Frog. One commuter commented that maybe BGC authorities should push for their Fort Buses to be hybrid and phase out the jeepneys in favour of higher capacity transit inside BGC.

There have also been issue on road safety including many incidents of pedestrians getting run over by vehicles. Many of these have been captured on video particularly by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which has set-up a network of cameras in many intersections along major roads. Many show vehicles Given that many cases feature jaywalking, it is still the responsibility of any motorist to exercise caution when manoeuvring, especially when turning at intersections. Drivers will always have blind sides or weak sides when they manoeuvre so they should be very careful when in doubt and not immediately proceed when it is not clear that they have a clear path. At BGC (again) one will notice that many motorists do not give way to pedestrians even when the latter are crossing at the right locations and according to the sign clearing them to cross the street. In one case involving two speeding SUVs, one lost control and hit a pregnant woman crossing the street. While a significant number of vehicles in BGC are through traffic, it is still the responsibility of BGC’s traffic enforcers to ensure motorists follow traffic rules and regulations including prioritising safety over haste. Simply attributing such safety issues to through traffic is no excuse for traffic enforcement being as lax as or par with the rest of Metro Manila, especially for a CBD that packages itself as better than the rest of Metro Manila.

On the new transport categories by the DOTC

An article came out recently about the four new transport categories introduced by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

These are:

  • Transportation Network Vehicle Service (TNVS),
  • Premium Taxi,
  • Airport Bus, and
  • Bus Rapid Transit

To quote from the article from Rappler, TNVS are:

“Vehicles of application-based, ride-sharing service providers, like Uber, GrabTaxi, Tripda, and EasyTaxi, will now fall under the category TNVS.

TNVS will cover vehicles that provide pre-arranged transportation services for compensation, using an online-enabled application or platform technology to connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles, Abaya said.

These new rules will also allow ride-sharing service providers to accept regular passengers heading to any point of destination in the country, Abaya added.

Operators of TNVS, called Transportation Network Companies, are also required to screen and accredit drivers and register them with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

All TNVS vehicles will also be required to install and use global positioning system (GPS) tracking and navigation devices. Only sedans, Asian Utility Vehicles, Sports Utility Vehicles, vans, or similar vehicles will be allowed, and these should not be older than 7 years.

The new framework makes the Philippines the first country to have nationwide rules on ride-sharing, according to both the Philippine transport department and Uber. Previously, only local and city governments have regulated the services…”

Premium Taxis are described as:

“…vehicles with a 7-year age limit under this new category will be equipped with GPS, online and smartphone booking capability, and cashless transactions through credit or debit card payments.

Like TNVS, premium taxis will be allowed to accept regular passengers heading to any point of destination in the country…”

And Airport Buses are:

“…should have fixed schedules and off-street stops, low-floor height and adequate luggage space, CCTV cameras, GPS device, free WiFi, and must run on Euro V or clean alternative fuel.”

Abaya pointed out that Green Frog has expressed interest in the airport bus service that would ply three areas including Makati City, Mall of Asia (MOA) as well as Bonifacio Global City (BGC) or Ortigas business centre…”

I won’t mention the BRT anymore. It deserves its own feature (as if the previous ones on it are not enough to describe the system), and is the only mass transit among the 4 categories “introduced” by the DOTC.

These new transport categories are obviously a step in the right direction. These are not new ideas and the institution of these categories by the DOTC is long overdue considering that the agency had to go through this process in order to address legal issues pertaining to such services. In the case of TNVS and Uber, for example, much has been mentioned about franchise issues and how Uber was illegal under the prevailing set-up. It is good to have another option to the regular taxis but then weren’t GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi were supposed to have enhanced services?

As for airport buses, such limousine services have been in operation in many other countries. Unfortunately, in Metro Manila’s case, these buses would have to contend with worsening traffic conditions along most major roads connecting the airport terminals to the various points of interest mentioned in the article (e.g., Makati CBD, BGC, Ortigas CBD, etc.). It is good though that Green Frog was mentioned in the article as the new category provides an opportunity for cleaner and more efficient technologies to be applied to transport services. Still, if these services will be operated by reckless drivers then they won’t be much better than what we already have at present.

Metro Manila Urban Transport Development Plan (1990-2000) Project (UTDP)

I stumbled upon an unfinished draft I have on a study or series of studies conducted back in the 1990’s. These studies were conducted by several agencies over a decade. I think I have been procrastinating on finishing this brief post on a project that has had a major impact on Metro Manila transport and traffic since that time and prior to the completion of the JICA-funded Metro Manila Urban Transportation Integration Study (MMUTIS) in 1999. The project actually overlapped with MMUTIS’ implementation from 1996-1999 and probably influenced MMUTIS in terms of what government agencies provided as inputs to the study.

The Metro Manila Urban Transport Development Plan (UTDP) is an inter-agency collaboration among the DOTC, DPWH, MMA (precursor of the MMDA), NEDA, CHPG (Constabulary Highway Patrol Group of the Philippine National Police) and MTPC. This consists of various studies undertaken from the year 1990 to 2000 aimed to determine what projects can be implemented to improve urban transport in Metro Manila towards the turn of the century. Sounds familiar?

Among the most relevant studies conducted was the comparison of proposals for a mass transit system along EDSA. The two proposals compared were the Philtrak bus system and Street-level LRT. The Philtrak option is quite intriguing because its description is very much like the current bus rapid transit (BRT) systems in many cities around the world. However, there is no reference to bus systems already operating abroad at the time (e.g., Curitiba in Brazil already had an extensive BRT network at the time).

The study concluded that the Philtrak was preferable to the LRT along EDSA. Of course, we now know what got built along EDSA – a light rail system (EDSA MRT) that is now carrying more than twice the number of passengers it was estimated to carry. This is despite the conclusion from collaborating government agencies including the DOTC favoring the bus system with an exclusive ROW. It is also now obvious that neither the LRT nor Philtrak is most suitable as a mass transit system along EDSA. What is most appropriate is a heavy rail system that would be able to carry more passengers along the corridor.

[Reference: UTDP reports, 1999-2000, NCTS Library, UP Diliman]

A tale of two consultants

I attended a seminar last November where there were two foreign consultants who gave talks about public transport and the reforms required for Metro Manila. One consultant had extensive experience in public transport, having worked in Hong Kong and Singapore, and is currently a consultant in Jakarta. The other appeared to have the more limited experience but claimed credit (I think partial at best) for public transport reforms in a major Asian city. I was impressed by the first in part because he was very honest with his statements especially as he explained a list of prerequisites for fixing public transport in Metro Manila (and other large cities). The bottomline from his presentation was that it was not possible to have a quick fix and there are no easy paths towards solving public transport problems in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines.

The second consultant was more on the patronizing side – promising a lot and a little too optimistic to be realistic or practical in his presentation on how to solve Metro Manila’s public transport woes. His material was hodge-podge at best with lots of visuals but not really getting to the point in terms of concrete solutions. It only betrayed his very limited if not unfamiliarity with transport and traffic in the metropolis despite his being a consultant with the office of the highest official of the transport department. There is a saying that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. I think the same applies to what the second consultant presented to us that morning.

We need more of the first type of consultants who will tell us how it really is with regards to the “challenges” we face in solving transport and traffic problems in this country. The second type just lets us into a false sense of confidence or a feeling that the problems are not so big or complicated and that we are not in a big, deep hole that we need to climb out of. Its one thing to throw caution to the wind and another to have oneself firmly grounded in terms of the understanding of the problem at hand. Understanding the problem is the first step in the formulation of suitable alternatives and allows for the elimination or at least the minimisation of non-practical and non-realistic options.

Transport wish list for 2015

Last year, I opened with a very hopeful post on opportunities with certain mass transit projects that were hyped to be starting construction in 2014. The year 2014 went by and practically nothing really concrete happened (Yes, there were soil tests conducted for the LRT 2 extension but after that nothing else happened with the project.) with respect to these very critical mass transit projects that were already much delayed. It’s the same thing again this year so that same blog post from Jan. 1, 2014 applies this year.

I will not write down a list of New Year’s resolutions for the transport-related government agencies to adopt this 2015 though that stuff is quite tempting to do. Instead, I will just rattle of a wish list that includes very general and very specific programs and projects I would like to see realized or implemented (e.g., start construction) within the year; preferably from the first quarter and not the last. For brevity, I came up only with a list of 10 items. It is not necessarily a Top Ten list as it was difficult for me to rank these projects.

1. LRT Line 2 Extension from Santolan to Masinag

2. LRT Line 1 Extension to Cavite

3. MRT Line 7 from Quezon City to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan

4. Cebu BRT

5. People-friendly road designs

6. Integrated fare collection system for Metro Manila trains

7. Bikeways in major cities

8. Any mass transit project for Davao City or any other major city outside of Metro Manila or Cebu

9. Northrail or whatever it is that will connect Metro Manila with Clark

10. Protection of heritage homes and sites along highways and streets

The reader is free to agree or disagree with the list or to add to the list. I’m sure there are a lot of other projects out there that are also quite urgent that are not on my list but are likely to be equally important.

 

2014 Professorial Chair lectures on transport topics

The 2014 Professorial Chair Colloquium of UP Diliman’s College of Engineering was held from yesterday until today. Most of the lectures concerning transport were presented today. Here are some of the highlights of the lectures delivered this morning:

     IMG09188-20140829-0908Dr. Ric Sigua, Director of the Institute of Civil Engineering, making a point about the economics of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

IMG09189-20140829-0949Dr. Sean Palmiano, Director of the National Center for Transportation Studies, explaining the finer points of traffic impact assessment for high density residential developments.

IMG09190-20140829-1019Prof. Happy Denoga of the Department of Mechanical Engineering explaining on the advantages of hybrid systems for vehicles.

IMG09191-20140829-1038Dr. Karl Vergel of the Institute of Civil Engineering talking about the on-road tests for jeepneys using B5 or 5% CME-blended fuels in a project commissioned by the Philippine Coconut Authority.

IMG09192-20140829-1041Comparison of jeepney mileage using 2% and 5% blended fuels.

IMG09193-20140829-1049Dr. Edwin Quiros of the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Vehicle Research and Testing Laboratory (VRTL)  discussing the dynamometer tests conducted for jeepneys using B5 fuel.

There were other presentations but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend these as lectures were spread among various venues at the college. That’s often the hang-up of having parallel sessions during these colloquiums. Nevertheless, it is nice to know that transport remains a popular subject for these lectures.

Green light for the Cebu BRT

The NEDA Board chaired by the Philippines’ President approved last week a number of major infrastructure projects. One project is particularly important as it seeks to introduce an innovative public transport system in the Philippines. The Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project was finally given the green light and is projected to be completed and operational by 2017. I remember that the Cebu BRT was conceptualised while we were doing a social marketing project for Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST) that was supported by the UNDP. That was back in 2006-2007 and right before we embarked on the formulation of a national EST strategy that was supported by UNCRD. I remember, too, that sometime in 2009, Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia who has championed the BRT cause visited the Philippines to give some talks in Cebu and Metro Manila about public transport and pursuit of better quality of life through good transport systems. From that time onwards, a lot of work has been put into the studies to support this system including social marketing for stakeholders to understand what such a system will require including its impacts on existing transport modes. It took sometime for this project to be approved but that should no longer be an issue and focus should now be on the detailed design and implementation of the project.

There are many detractors of this BRT project. While I respect the value engineering work that was supposed to have been conducted by NEDA, I would like to speculate that perhaps it was unclear to them how important a functioning, operational BRT in Cebu is as a strategic accomplishment in transport in this country. For most people, the idea of bus transport is what they have seen along EDSA in Metro Manila. The impact on commuting behaviour of a high quality public transport system like a BRT would be very hard to quantify and the criteria and metrics used would be quite tricky considering the strategic and behavioural aspects of the system. Such evaluations can also be tricky depending on who were doing the study in the first place as the outcomes could easily be affected by the biases of those who undertook the evaluation. Thus, it is important that value engineering exercises be done by open-minded, flexible if not disinterested parties to the project of interest.

Many of those who have expressed skepticism about the BRT are likely pining for a rail transit system that was earlier proposed for the city but which has failed to gain the critical support. For one, the LRT that was proposed for Cebu City was simply too expensive and financing would have been difficult for a system that would have been less flexible in operations compared to an at-grade bus system. The numbers supporting the LRT were also in need of much updating as the study on that system was already quite dated and had not considered the major developments in Cebu and its surrounding cities that loosely or informally comprise what people refer to as Metro Cebu. These realities would need a new and more robust study that could surely result in a recommendation for a rail system but upon close comparison with a BRT option should lead to a conclusion that Cebu will be better off with BRT at this point and in the foreseeable future.

The truth is that while rail transport remains as an ultimate goal for high demand corridors in highly urbanised cities, it is an expensive proposition and ones that will take more time to build. We don’t have that time in our hands as our cities are rapidly growing both in terms of economy and population. We cannot sustain this progress if our transport system remains primitive. And strategically, too, a BRT system may just pave the way for a future rail system in Cebu. This model for transport system development can be replicated in other cities as well including Davao, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Cagayan de Oro, to name a few. But we should always not forget that building this system requires holistic development of complementing infrastructure such as pedestrian walkways and bikeways, and the rationalisation of jeepney and multi cab services with respect to the mass transit system. I believe those behind the Cebu BRT project have these covered and it is now a matter of time before the country’s first BRT becomes operational in the “Queen City of the South.”