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Seminar on urban transport systems in the Philippines

The University of the Philippines Diliman, through its Institute of Civil Engineering and National Center for Transportation Studies, recently held a seminar on urban transport systems. The seminar was held last May 26, 2014 and presentations included one on urban transport in the Philippines by Dr. Cresencio M. Montalbo, Jr., an Associate Professor of the School of Urban and Regional Planning of UP Diliman and another on international best practices by Prof. Fumihiko Nakamura, Dean of the Institute of Urban Innovation of the Yokohama National University in Japan.

2014-05-26 15.01.39The seminar was held at the Aloe Room of the new Marco Polo Hotel at the Ortigas Center in Pasig City.

2014-05-26 13.57.14Dr. Montalbo talking about the concept of “dignity of travel.”

2014-05-26 15.05.59Prof. Nakamura discussing the concepts of “park & ride” and “kiss & ride” with respect to transit systems.

The presentations during the seminar may be downloaded from the NCTS website. The seminar was supported by the Engineering Research and Development for Technology (ERDT) program of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Level up on buses in the Philippines

I chanced upon the demonstration run of an articulated bus for the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and participants of a workshop on crowd-sourcing that was being conducted that day. After seeing the interiors of the bus, I decided to ride in a vehicle following the bus to take a few photos of the vehicle and also catch the reactions of people along the street who might be seeing an articulated bus for the first time. The demo run (and others in the future) should give people an idea of what road transport still has to offer in terms of vehicles that could carry more people.

artic bus1Articulated bus approaching the EDSA-Ortigas intersection

artic bus2Articulated bus manufactured by MAN

artic bus3Inside the bus, there is space for more passengers than 2 regular buses can accommodate

artic bus4I like the look on people along the streets that the bus passed along. Some were scratching their heads and others had to have a second look (double take) at the long vehicle.

Articulated buses are not new to public transport operations. Singapore’s SMRT operates many of these buses along busy routes. Below is a photo of an articulated bus passing in front of the Central Fire Station across the Funan IT Mall.

IMG01256-20120115-1125SMRT articulated bus passing in front of the Central Fire Station in Singapore

There are other types of buses in service in cities in other countries such as double deckers, and bi-articulated buses (equivalent of about 2.5 regular buses). These buses require skilled driving to ensure safe operations including maneuvering at intersections and terminals. The buses should be suitable for routes with passenger demands between those requiring regular buses and rail transit like routes that can be designated for bus rapid transit (BRT), and with scheduled stops. I am quite optimistic about the future of public transport in Metro Manila and other cities where buses should play a significant role for mass transport.

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.


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.

iBus – bus system reinvented?

In the recent British Invention Show, a Filipina won a gold medal for something that is probably much needed to solve the transport woes of this country – the iBus. It is of course initially conspicuously like your regular bus system but upon closer look at the slideshow from the news article, there are many things about the system that’s high tech. The high tech aspects of the iBus are actually example applications of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) as implemented for public transport.

I am not privy to the details for the iBus but I did see part of its progress after meeting a few times with its proponents since last year. With the award, I hope that perhaps our DOTC, LTFRB or MMDA will become interested in the system and perhaps that interest will translate into the deployment of the system in a test corridor as a proof of concept. I would even dare propose that should the demo be successful that it be applied immediately in Philippine cities requiring modern transit systems.

Upgrades: the Ayala BRT

The Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) has been issuing press releases about their plan to put up a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for the Makati CBD and the Bonifacio Global City. The system will serve both the old financial center in Makati and the rapidly emerging one in Taguig, connecting the two via Ayala Avenue-McKinley Road and Gil Puyat (Buendia) Avenue-Kalayaan Avenue corridors. It is a project that is long overdue although the buses serving the Fort have shown us at least what a higher capacity mode of transport can do if managed properly.

The Fort Buses load and unload passengers at designated stops. They follow traffic rules and regulations enforced more strictly inside the Global City. Many of the newer bus units also happen to have layouts that are more appropriate for city operations. The Mercedes Benz coaches are designed such that they can accommodate more passengers as they have ample standing space and there are only enough seats for passengers who may actually need them like the elderly, pregnant women, persons with disabilities, and perhaps those who are burdened with heavy bags or packages. The doors of these units are also designed for more efficient fare collection and discharging of passengers, with the narrower front door accommodating boarding commuters who are already queued at bus stops and the wide two door rear egress allowing for efficient alighting. Surely, an automated fare collection system such as those using smart cards or other machines will be in place in the near future and greatly improve the operations of these buses. But the most significant feature, it seems, of the Fort Bus is the compensation scheme for its employees, particularly its drivers. Unlike most bus companies, Fort Bus drivers are given a regular monthly salary and reportedly enjoy benefits much like regular employees in typical companies or offices. This feature, I believe, is what makes it work in the first place and what is required for a transformation in public transport services as it does away with the rabid competition that is the derivative of a commission-based or “boundary” system compensation scheme that is used for both buses and jeepneys.

Considering the calls for more efficient as well as more safer public transport systems, let this Ayala BRT be a test case for what to do with transport systems that should have been phased out a long time ago (jeepneys) along corridors or routes that demand higher capacity vehicles. Public utility vehicles with low capacities and perhaps low quality of service should be replaced by more efficient modes especially along arterials. Also, all the elements are there for a potentially successful PPP in transport. You have a major player from the private sector (Ayala) offering to put up a system that it has studied and designed over the past few years. You have two CBDs in Makati and Taguig that currently serve as the present and future financial centers. And you have the challenge of doing away with an inefficient transport system. Though there sure will be compromises that are not necessarily palatable (e.g., re-routing PUJ and PUB lines) the government should start realizing that it should be more deliberate and even unforgiving when it deals with the issue on PUJ and PUB franchises here.

The local governments of Makati and Taguig should cooperate with Ayala to make this work for these LGUS should put aside certain interests including those pertaining to PUJ and PUB operators and drivers, many of whom may be their constituents and comprise a significant part of their voting populations. The LGUs should facilitate discussions including those dealing with livelihood and othe social issues that are the province of local governments. The Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) should get out of its shell and make a stand now considering the opportunity for public transport transformation. And its mother agency, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) should support this stand, all out, if only to show that it is indeed committed to reforming and modernizing public transport systems in this country.

A BRT finally being realized for Makati and Global City will indeed be a showcase. We just hope that it will be a showcase of an efficient transformation of a public transport system from an outdated to a modern and efficient one rather than a showcase of futility and ineptness on the side of those in government. As they say, something has to start somewhere. A modern, efficient public transport system that is deserved by Filipinos may just start in Makati and Taguig, and with a BRT that may actually mean “better rapid transit.”