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New public utility vehicles in Cebu

There have been a lot of new models of vehicles serving as public transport in Metro Manila. It came as no surprise that we found similar vehicles (e.g., Beep or modern jeepneys as some people refer to them) as well as buses in a city that was supposed to have had the first operational Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in the country. Sadly, the Cebu BRT has not been constructed and now national government agencies and the local government is mulling a light rail transit system instead. Here are some photos of the Beep vehicles operating in Cebu as well as a couple of bus services.

Beep mini-bus beside an old jitney – the vehicle sizes are comparable but the Beep capacity is larger. The Beep is also air-conditioned and features a layout similar to buses.

Free shuttle bus service provided by Robinsons Malls

Beep serving the City Hall – IT Park route

MyBus depot at the SM City Cebu North Reclamation Area – these are currently plying the route connecting SM City Cebu with SM Seaside. The route is actually one that was considered for a pilot Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line – supposedly the first one in the Philippines – that did not come into reality.

Why more low capacity PUVs?

I’ve written about the recent additions of new (the government I think prefers to call them ‘modern’) model jitneys along corridors like Marcos Highway, C-5, Quezon Avenue, Espana Avenue, etc.). My main comment has always been about the capacities of these vehicles considering the high transport demand along these routes where the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) have authorised these so-called “experimental” routes. The services actually overlap with existing lines of other PUVs like jeepneys, UV Express and buses. Their value is apparently the single, direct ride they provide to commuters, who otherwise would have to transfer vehicles to get to their destinations. The popularity of these “experimental” services only underlines or emphasizes the need for rationalising transportation services especially in Metro Manila.

There are surely opportunities to improve the network including those taking advantage of the improvement of rail services. But rationalisation is not just about changing routes. It also means determining the right capacity vehicles for these routes. Thus, high demand corridors require higher capacity modes in terms of both vehicles and their frequencies.  Perhaps authorities should look into the examples of P2P bus operations as a way of determining the type of vehicles to be deployed as part of the so-called experiment rather than appear to be just promoting these modern jitney models. PUV modernisation, after all, should also mean upgrading the existing vehicles servicing certain routes by replacing them with ones that are more efficient and with higher passenger capacities.

This mini-bus lookalike has a capacity of 23 passengers. That’s practically the same as the newer model jeepneys that are generally longer and with some cleverness of the driver and conductor may seat more (i.e., Benches placed inside the jeepney increases their seating capacity. This set-up, however, is unsafe.)

Snapshots on a Zamboanga trike

I like taking photos from the vehicle when I’m traveling. It doesn’t matter whether I am on a car, on a bus or even a motorcycle as long as it is safe and there’s no danger of dropping my camera or my phone. Here are a few photos taken as we were on a tricycle in Zamboanga.

Old building on a corner of a street in Zamboanga showed how buildings in the downtown area were built. The ground floor is likely a shop, store or office while the upper one is likely to be a home. From the photo, it becomes obvious that pedestrians were protected against the elements (sun or rain) for this arcade type of development.

Inside the tricycle, the fare rates are printed on the side car. That includes the discounts that are supposed to be given for senior citizens and students.

At the transport terminal of a major mall in the city, the lines are long for taxis. However, there are few taxis serving the city and the usual mode of transport that are basically 3-wheeler taxis (the tricycles) wait for passengers.

Sign warning against abusive tricycle drivers who overcharge their passengers. There are penalties including a fine of 4,000 pesos (about 80 USD).

I will post more photos of Zamboanga scenes next month when we head to Zamboanga for some field work. That will give me the opportunity to take a lot of photos as we make an initial assessment of road safety around selected schools in the city.

Some concerns about future rail ridership

Traveling along Commonwealth Avenue and Marcos Highway the past week, I both hopeful and worried about what happens after the Line 7 and Line 2 Extension finally becomes operational. Much has been said or reported about the potential of these two lines to change the way people commute; at least from the areas served by these two mass transit lines. However, how big an impact these would have in terms of actual reduction of private car use  remains to be seen.

Will there be significant decreases in the volume of motor vehicles along Commonwealth Avenue, Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard? Or will there be just the same traffic along these roads? The worry is based on the likelihood that those who would be taking Lines 2 and 7 would be people who are already taking public transportation and not those who have chosen to leave their cars (or motorcycles) at home.

Our students have been studying ridesharing and P2P bus operations the past few years and the conclusion has so far been a shift from one mode of public transport to what’s perceived as a better one. It’s somewhat a difficult thing to accept for advocates of public transport especially those behind TNVS, P2P buses and railways but it is what it is, and its important to accept such findings in order for us to understand what’s going on and come up with better ways to promote public transport and convince car users to use PT.

Traffic flows at the Masinag junction with the Line 2 Masinag Station and elevated tracks in the background

What is more intriguing is the proposed subway line for Metro Manila. The alignment is different from the ones identified in previous studies for the metropolis and from what I’ve gathered should have stations that serve a North-South corridor that should make for a more straightforward commute (i.e., less transfers) for those taking the subway.

Probable MM Subway alignment (from the internet)

It is another line that has a big potential as a game-changer for commuters but we won’t be able to know for sure until perhaps 5 or 6 years from now. What we know really is that there was a lost opportunity back in the 1970s when government should have pushed for its first subway line instead of opting for the LRT Line 1.

Incomplete rationalisation of public transport?

The current initiative to rationalise road public transport services is not as comprehensive as necessary or as some people want us to believe. The drive appears to be mainly on (some say against) jeepneys while little has been done on buses and UV Express vehicles. Most notable among the modes not covered by rationalisation are the tricycles.

A smoke-belching tricycle along Daang Bakal in Antipolo City

What really should be the role and place of tricycles in the scheme of themes in public transportation? Are they supposed to provide “last mile” services along with walking and pedicabs (non-motorised 3-wheelers)? Or are they supposed to be another mode competing with jeepneys, buses and vans over distances longer than what they are supposed to be covering? It seems that the convenient excuse for not dealing with them is that tricycles are supposed to be under local governments. That should not be the case and I believe national agencies such as the DOTr and LTFRB should assert their authority but (of course) in close cooperation with LGUs to include tricycles in the rationalisation activities. Only then can we have a more complete rationalisation of transport services for the benefit of everyone.

Local Public Transport Route Plan Manual – Philippines

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) recently shared the Local Public Transport Route Plan (LPTRP) Manual that was the product of the collaboration among government and the academe. While the date appearing on the cover is October 2017, this manual was actually completed in April 2017. [Click the image of the cover below for the link where you can download the manual.]

I don’t know exactly why the DOTr and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) were hesitant in releasing this manual. Perhaps they wanted to pilot test it first on a city? Yup, this manual has never been tested yet so we don’t really know whether it will work as a tool for planning public transportation.

With all the opposition to the government’s PUV Modernization Program, the DOTr and the LTFRB should be piloting the program first and show a proof of concept to dispel doubts about the program. The same essentially applies to this transport route plan manual. Only once these are piloted would we know first hand its flaws and allow us to revise or fine tune them. I would suggest that both the modernization program and the manual be piloted in cities that are perceived or claim to have strong local governance. Davao City comes to mind and perhaps Iloilo City. Can you think about other cities where the program and/or manual can be piloted?

On motorcycle taxis in Saigon and legalizing these in Metro Manila

Among the things I wanted to observe in Ho Chi Minh City were their motorcycle taxis. These are a popular mode of transport in Vietnam. They are so popular that ride sharing companies Uber and Grab have the motorcycle taxi as an option in their apps. They even have their own helmets for promotion and easy identification.

Uber moto is among the most popular options for the ride sharing app

Grab is also popular and the photo shows people wearing other helmets that may be about other companies facilitating motorcycle taxis

Uber has a motorcycle taxi option in its app in Vietnam. This is a screenshot I took as I loaded their promo code for our conference (Uber was a major sponsor.).

Grab moto rider browsing for his next passenger

Vietnam has shown that motorcycle taxis can be both popular while being regulated and relative safe (there are tens of thousands of motorcycles moving around their cities including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh). Should the Philippines, particularly Metro Manila, also consider this at least while it is building more mass transit lines? Again, this is not for everyone and perhaps can help alleviate the worsening transport and traffic conditions in the metropolis. Of course, there are the expected implications if motorcycle taxis are legalized including a further surge in motorcycle sales and ownership and, more troubling, the likely increase in the number of crashes involving motorcycles (hopefully not the fatal ones). But then again, the reality is that there are already motorcycle taxis operating around Metro Manila with upstart Angkas operating against the wishes of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). It is more advantageous to recognize these and perhaps allow Grab and Uber to offer them as options. That way, LTFRB can formulate and issue the necessary rules and regulations covering these and be able to monitor as well as make companies providing them answerable to the public for concerns such as safety and fares.