Here are the recommendations of UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team: “Effective Reactivation of Public Transport Operations for the New Normal through an Information Exchange Platform for Collaborative Governance”
I’ve read a lot of discussions and recommendations pertaining to public transportation services (mainly its lack thereof) during the Enhanced Community Quarantine aka lockdown in most parts of the Philippines. Problem is, a lot of people had their mobility curtailed as most people did not have their own private vehicles (cars or motorcycles) to do essential trips (i.e., for groceries, market, drugstores, hospitals, etc.). These include so-called frontline workers, most especially those working in hospitals or clinics. Even the use of tricycles on a limited basis while adhering to physical distancing guideline was not allowed in many cities and municipalities. What do we really need to do now and in transition to address the lack of public transport services?
Here is a concise yet very informative article on transit:
Walker, J. (2020) “Cutting Transit Service During the Pandemic: Why? How? And What’s Next?”, Human Transit, https://humantransit.org/2020/04/cutting-transit-service-during-the-pandemic-why-how-and-whats-next.html [Last accessed: 4/23/2020]
Most of the points discussed and recommendations presented are applicable to our case in the Philippines. We should also accept the fact that we cannot go back to the situation prior to the ECQ, and that the new normal calls for a reduction in car use. Meanwhile, we still have to address the pressing issues and come up with a plan or maybe strategies for public transport that involved not just buses and trains but other modes as well like the jeepneys, vans and tricycles.
I googled the modified tricycles that I remembered was featured on TV before. Here’s what I’ve found from a news program of ABS CBN.
Credits to Bandila for this image of tricycles in La Union province.
Here’s from another internet source showing a rather sporty sidecar and a motorcycle that comfortably seats 2 people.
There are many tricycle sidecar makers around the country. Many of these are home industries or small shops that make and sell few sidecars. At times, the products are on-demand. As the first photo showed, it is possible to come up with sleek designs from our local shops.
During this quarantine period and sfter we get through this COVID-19 challenge, perhaps we should rethink how transportation system should be to ensure not just road safety but also safety from other health hazards as well. Of course, that is something we should take on together with other issues (e.g., employment, city planning, housing, health care systems, etc.) that are now so obvious we have no excuse of not taking notice of them.
With the whole country practically in quarantine to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, transportation has become very difficult to many people requiring services as the commute mainly between their homes and places of employment or work. First and priority are the frontline workers – medical personnel like doctors, nurses, technologists and other health and allied workers battling to detect, test and treat people with COVID-19. Our uniformed personnel in the armed forces and police as well as barangay officials and tanods are also doing their part in containing this virus. And then there are many who need to go to their workplaces to earn a living – not all have the luxury of working from home despite its necessity in these times. While there are vehicles to shuttle frontline workers, there are fewer for those who don’t have their own (private) vehicles. Mayors have taken the reins, it seems, for managing the situations in their respective areas and many have stepped up in trying to bridge the gaps including those for transportation.
The subject of this post is the contention by national government officials that tricycles cannot be permitted for public transport because the desired social distance cannot be attained for the trike. Many, including me, have opined that it can, given some modifications (or add-ons), and subject to the driver and passenger (one passenger only!) exercising caution and wearing the required protective gear. I picked up the following drawing showing a modified tricycle:
[Credits to Jini Maraya for her idea and illustration]
The set-up could also be applied to pedicabs or padyak – the non-motorized version of these tricycles. Operationally, too, I would suggest that only a limited number of tricycles be allowed to transport people per day. The purpose of the quarantine will be defeated if we had hundreds or even thousand of tricycles roaming our streets with their drivers looking for fares. Perhaps a system can be devised to determine the optimum number per day. Perhaps LGUs can even take control of the trikes and pay their drivers so as to make their services free to those needing it (e.g., people going to the market or grocery for food, people going to drugstores to purchase medicines, etc.). And so the idea of Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto can work. It is not so difficult after all to refine his idea so it will comply with the requirements of the situation. As they say: “Kung gusto gagawa ng paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan.” [Very roughly – there are so many excuses for stuff certain people don’t want to try out.] This also shows we need to use more brain cells during these challenging times. Promise, it won’t hurt! 🙂
Take care and keep safe everyone!
I spotted this vehicle along my commute earlier today and couldn’t help but state that this is not a jeep or jeepney as DOTr or LTFRB seem to be marketing it to be. By all indications, this is a departure from the jeepney design and should be called a bus or mini-bus. Perhaps it can still be considered a jitney but that is a stretch. It wouldn’t hurt efforts towards route rationalization and public utility vehicle modernization to call this a bus or mini-bus. In fact, that should be a conscious effort towards changing mindsets about what vehicles are most appropriate or suitable for certain routes.
Premium Jeep beside a conventional one somewhere in Bayan-bayanan, Marikina City
There’s recent news about the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) launching a smart scooter system in Cauayan City, Isabela. This should be considered a positive thing in light of the scooter’s sudden popularity as a mode of transport. There are, however, much to be determined in terms of this vehicle being a safe mode of transport. Singapore, for example, has released guidelines for its use in its streets while there have been mixed reactions among American cities on how these vehicles should share spaces with other modes including walking and cycling. Here is a nice article about scooter safety that should point the way towards how we should go about in assessing safety:
Chang, A.Y.J. (2020) Demistifying e-scooter safety one step at a time, https://medium.com/@annieyjchang/demystifying-e-scooter-safety-one-step-at-a-time-956afcf12d75 [Last accessed: February 3, 2020]
As a parting shot in other cases, I have always asked: Would this have been an issue or a popular mode if we had good public transportation as well as decent pedestrian and cycling infrastructure? The answer could be a simple ‘no’ for our case in the Philippines where much is to be desired in terms of PT, pedestrian and cycling infra. But e-scooters seem to have attractive quite a few in developed cities including those with good PT, pedestrian and cycling infra. The jury is still out there if this was just a fad or perhaps, as some claim, part of the evolution for improved mobility.
The recent controversies, and issues raised vs. motorcycle taxis (habal-habal) have captured the attention of a lot of people including those who don’t use this mode of transport. I will be writing about this and more of my opinion on motorcycle taxis in another article. For now, I am sharing these photos of habal-habal in Cebu.
Off-street motorcycle taxi terminal at SM City Consolacion
The terminal is located on the sidewalk at the corner of the SM lot. I assume it is tolerated by SM though it blocks the pedestrian way to the mall.
Another herbal-habal terminal near SM Consolacion but serving a different set of barangays from the previous terminal of habal-habal I mentioned.
Fair matrix? Habal-habal minimum fares to specific destinations
Motorcycle taxis are a popular mode of transport in many Philippine cities and are generally tolerated by local government units. I guess the treatment they get from LGUs show the role they play as a mode of public transport. It is unfortunate and disappointing that the TWG that’s supposedly evaluating motorcycle taxis in Metro Manila cannot give a favorable assessment when it is clear that these habal-habal provide people with another choice for their commutes.
Here is the link to the press statement of the Philippine Competition Commission on Motorcycles as Public Transport:
I will just leave this here as it stands on its own with the details and discussions provided by the PCC. I will comment on this in another post but in essence I agree with the statement, which I think is a better document in terms of provisions and clarity compared to what the TWG has released so far.
There seems to be a proliferation of various models of the so-called “modernized jeepneys”. They have been deployed along what the DOTr and LTFRB have tagged as “missionary routes”. The latter term though is confusing because this used to refer to areas that are not yet being served by public transportation, hence the “missionary” aspect of the route. The routes stated on the jeepneys are certainly new but they overlap with existing ones. Thus, the new vehicles are actually additional to the traffic already running along the roads used by the existing (old?) routes. The number of units are said to be “provisional” meaning these are trial numbers of these new vehicles and implying the route and service to be somewhat “experimental”. There can be two reasons here that are actually strongly related to each other: 1) the actual demand for the route is not known, and 2) the corresponding number of vehicles to serve the demand is also unknown. Unknown here likely means there has been little or no effort to determine the demand and number of vehicles to serve that demand. The DOTr and LTFRB arguably is unable to do these estimations or determinations because it simply does not have the capacity and capability to do so; relying on consultants to figure this out. That work though should be in a larger context of rationalizing public transport services. “Provisional” here may just mean “arbitrary” because of the number (say 20 or 30 units?) of units they approve for these new routes.
A ‘modernised’ jeepney with a capacity of 23 passengers. The vehicle is definitely larger than the conventional jeepneys and yet can only carry 23 seated passengers. That’s basically the number of seats for most “patok” jeepneys that are “sampuan” or 10 passengers on each bench plus 2 passengers and the driver in the front seats.
Modernized jeepney unloading passengers along the roadside
Rationalization should require not only the replacement of old jeepney units that seems to be the objective of the government’s modernization program. Rationalization also entails the determination and deployment of vehicles of suitable passenger capacities for the routes they are to serve. I have stated before that certain routes already require buses instead of jeepneys and that jeepneys should be serving feeder routes instead. Meanwhile, routes (even areas) currently having tricycles as the primary mode of transport would have to be served by jeepneys. Tricycles, after all, are more like taxis than regular public transportation. Such will also mean a reduction in the volumes of these vehicles and, if implemented and monitored strictly, may lead to an improvement in the quality of service of road public transport.
[Note: May I add that although I also use ‘jeepney’ in my articles, these vehicles should be called by their true names – ‘jitneys’. The term jeepney is actually a combination of the words Jeep (US military origins) and jitney (a public utility vehicle usually informal or paratransit offering low fares).]
The nationwide transport strike last Monday elicited a lot of reactions from both supporters and opponents of the the initiatives to modernise the jeepney. Both sides have valid points but both, too, have weak points. Much has been discussed about the cost of acquiring new jeepneys to replace the old ones and whether you agree or not, these are really a bit steep to the typical jeepney driver-operator.
A low downpayment will certainly mean higher monthly amortisations. And most drivers/operators can only afford a low downpayment with or without the 80,000 pesos or so subsidy from the government. Even if you factor in some tax incentives, the net amount to be paid every month will still be too much for a typical driver/operator. Anyone who’s ever purchased a vehicle, new or used, through a loan should know this, and to deny it means you probably are privileged enough not to take out a loan.
Certainly there are exceptions like certain Beep operations that are supposed to be run like a company or cooperative, and where fleet management techniques allow these to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. The latter supposedly allows the owners to recover their capital (return of investment) for the purchase of the new jitney units. The reality, however, is that not all routes are good enough for the required revenues and the better earning ones subsidize (forced?) those that are not profitable. The ‘company’ or ‘coop’ can therefore hide these unprofitable cases as the collective performance of the routes they operate along become the basis for assessment.
Snapshot inside a jeepney while waiting for it to fill with passengers
It is true that the business model (or what is passed off for one) for jeepney operations is flawed. More so if you place this in the context of transport demand for a metropolis like Metro Manila. That is why perhaps corporatization or cooperatives can probably help in terms of improving processes and practices (e.g., maintenance regimes, deployment). So perhaps this is where government should step in and be more aggressive in organising jeepney drivers and operators. I would even dare say that government should be willing to extend more financial support if significant change in public transport is to be achieved. The Office of the President, Senators and Congressmen enjoy a lot of pork and the numbers for a single year indicate that they can, if willing, purchase new jitneys for their constituencies perhaps focusing on the cities and retiring the old, dilapidated public utility vehicles. That, I think, is a more ‘intelligent’ use to these funds that are allegedly being misused by our politicians.
So, was the strike a success? I think the answer is yes it was. Government cannot deny this as it was forced to suspend classes in schools in order to address the impending shortfall of services during the strike and many LGUs were forced to provide free transport services (libreng sakay) in many forms (e.g., dump trucks, flat bed trucks, etc.). You can only say it was a failure if it was business as usual with commuters feeling minimal impact of the stoppage in jeepney operations.