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On the issuance of provisional units for ‘modernised’ jeepneys

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).]

Some commentaries on the jeepney modernisation

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.

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.