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On mass transit and active transport

I recently gave a talk on transport in the new normal. There are a lot of materials that you can refer to if you want good visuals for a presentation. It helps to capture the attention and maybe the imagination of your audience, which in this case was varied. While I assume many to be in the physical, chemical & social sciences, and engineering, I knew that there were also people from media and those who were just interested in the topic. And so I made sure there were a lot of infographics mixed in with bullet points to drive the message clear about mass transit systems being the backbone of transport in highly urbanized cities, conventional transit like buses and jeepneys supplementing and complementing these, and active transport enabled and encouraged as a safe option for many.

I wasn’t able to include the following graphic shared by a friend advocating bicycle use especially for work and school trips. The following graphic comes from TUDelft, which is among the major universities in the forefront of research in transit and cycling. Clicking on the graphic will take you to their Facebook page and more links to their programs.


Note the essential information relating bicycles and transit in the graphic. Do we have similar data in the Philippines (or at least for the National Capital Region)? I hope this stirs interest for research work. There are a lot of topics to take on including even data collection to capture the information required for substantial studies on cycling, transit and their relationship.

Whatever happened to those ‘enhanced’ pedestrian crossings?

Before the lockdowns, a lot of people seem to have become excited with what a private company did as part of their PR campaign (I’m certain about this because their ads feature these.). That is, they painted on the existing pedestrian crossings in Antipolo City along major roads such as Sumulong Highway and the Sumulong Memorial Circle. While coordination with the LGU was done, there seems to be none with the DPWH considering these are national roads and any matter concerning them are under the agency’s jurisdiction through their District Engineering Office. The following photos were taken prior to the lockdown and as you can see (if you were objective) there’s nothing really notable about them though they appear to enhance the existing crosswalks.

The artwork is practically invisible to motorists especially those on cars whose drivers’ eyes are lower than those driving SUVs, jeepneys, buses or trucks (i.e., larger and taller vehicles).


There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety. 

There is no strong evidence that such works enhance road safety and you can check on this by doing either a quick or even an extensive search for literature proving significant impact. I guess the key here is to also install other devices such as a speed table or rumble strips for motorists to feel that they are approaching a pedestrian crossing. Also, perhaps instead of just painting on the crosswalks, they could have painted so as to widen the crosswalk. Then they could have increased the visibility for pedestrian crossings. That said, they should also have used the standard paints for these facilities that make them visible at night and could have been more resistant to weathering. 

COVID-19 Infection Risk Assessment of Transport Modes

I posted about the work we have been doing to assess the infection risk (i.e., spread of COVID-19) for various modes of transport considering the transition of many areas including the National Capital Region (NCR) to the General Community Quarantine (GCQ). The work was undertaken through the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is under the umbrella of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS). Here is the outcome in the form of an “Infection Risk Classification of Transport Modes or Vehicle Types” developed by a core group of public transportation and road safety specialists among its members:

Note again that this is the product of a rapid assessment using the mentioned criteria and factors. It is a qualitative assessment and a quantitative one, given the data, would obviously been preferred. Moreover, this is an assessment for risk of infection rather than for road safety. In the “old normal”, for example, cycling and motorcycle use may have a higher risk in traffic given traffic mix, human behavior and lack of facilities to make these modes safe.

On urban planning resources or references for the pandemic

I am posting for reference this article compiling helpful references for urban planning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the references listed are based on the US experience and I am sure there is already a wealth of information coming from other countries as well including those that have been successful in mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

Brasuell, J. (2020) “Urban Planning Resources for COVID-19”, Planetizen, [Last accessed: 5/16/2020]


On Pasig’s ordinance promoting and supporting the use of bicycles

I am posting a couple of LGU issuances that would be good references to other LGUs as we all tread along through these quarantines, curfews and lockdowns (or whatever it is they call it these days). First off is the Ordinance from Pasig City. The city has been in the news quite frequently for the very progressive, responsible and active handling of the situation led by its popular mayor Vico Sotto. His policies and programs are claimed to be based on data or information on his constituents that his team is using with much efficiency. This shows us how data analytics can prove useful in times of crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The ordinance also shows a grasp of realities for transport and the so-called “new normal” that people have been talking about once we transition out of the quarantines and lockdowns.


I guess it begs the question if Pasig is also coming out with a formal policy or statement regarding other modes of transport such as tricycles, jeepneys and buses. They did allow tricycles for a while until national government told them to cease tricycle operations citing health issues while not really delving into details to find a way to improve people’s mobility during these times. Meanwhile, other LGUs specifically one that is close to the President’s heart has defied the very same orders from national agencies to restrict tricycle operations as public transport. I will post that issuance next…

School shuttle bus service in Cebu

Almost 20 years ago, there was an initiative by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) involving the fielding of buses to take students of Ateneo and Miriam from certain pick-up points (e.g., SM North EDSA, White Plains, SM Marikina, etc.). That was in an effort to reduce the private vehicle traffic that clogs Katipunan during the weekdays. That did not meet any success and was scrapped. Years later another initiative was hatched with buses again provided with a pick-up point at SM Marikina. That is supposed to be still operational at present but one acquaintance observed that there are fewer passengers on this bus and that he fears it will soon be scrapped, too.

Last January, we chanced upon a bus service provided by the University of Cebu. The pick-up point was SM Consolacion, which was to the north of Cebu City. Consolacion town was the second town to the north after Mandaue City. We chanced upon this after observing the early arrival and formation of a queue by students at the still-closed mall. Security informed us of the service after we inquired with them. We were conducting surveys for a transport study we were doing in the area and were deploying our surveyors when we saw the students.

University of Cebu School Service bus turning across SM City Consolacion towards the bay in front of the mall

Students boarding the bus include what looks like grade school, high school and college students

The bus didn’t return for another pick-up, and there were no other buses or school service vehicles that arrived that morning so I guess this was a scheduled service with a capacity just enough for the number of students waiting that morning (typical number?). I do not know if these students are subscribed to or had to sign up for the service but there has to be a system of sorts so the university can assess what type of vehicle and the frequency for pick-ups. We were not able to observe if the bus returned sometime later that day for the return trips of the students.

We thought that such efforts are advantageous to many students and even faculty members and staff of the university. Such practices or services should be replicated by other schools as well and collectively may help alleviate congestion by reducing individual vehicle trips.

On the safety of e-scooters

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, [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.

National Transport Policy is out!

The National Transport Policy is out and there’s a lot of buzz about the wording of the policy. NEDA released the following infographics on their official Facebook page:

Definition of what the policy is about

Hierarchy of transport modes (note the emphasis on walking and cycling)

Checklist for programs and projects: I am already anticipating what proponents will be writing to justify projects according to this checklist.

I will reserve my commentaries for future blogs. There is really a lot to discuss about this policy and how it will implemented (properly or improperly), There are lots of different ideas, advocacies, interests and agendas on transportation that come into play here. And we can only hope that the policy and its implementing rules and regulations will be clear enough (not vague as to have so many loopholes) for this policy to effect transformation and inclusive and sustainable development.

Comments on current transport issues – Part 3: On the obstacles to the PNR trains

2) On the obstacles to the PNR operations

We have done studies before when studies on the PNR were not considered fashionable. People who did research on rail transport were more interested in Lines 1, 2 and 3, and dismissed the PNR as a lost cause. There were many transportation experts who ridiculed it and even taunted PNR about their poor service. And yet we did our studies because we had an appreciation of the importance of this line and how it could play a major role in commuting if given the resources to improve their facilities. It was shown that the line could be more advantageous for commuters particularly those traveling between the southern parts of Metro Manila and Makati and Manila. These would be both workers and students who will benefit from the shorter travel times and less expensive fares. The downside then (and still at the present time) was the long headways between trains. That is, you can only catch a train every 30 minutes.

This photo taken more than a decade ago show the typical conditions along many sections of the PNR. It is pretty much the same today and the agencies involved (DOTr and PNR) have done little to reduce the informal settlers along the line. No, they didn’t just appear now, and are throwing garbage, rocks and other debris on the trains. This was already happening years ago.

Fast forward to the present and they seem to be getting a lot more resources than the last 30+ years. A Philippine Railway Institute (PRI) has been created. New train sets have just been delivered and went into operation. Unfortunately, the new trains were met with rocks and other debris as they traveled along sections occupied by informal settlers. The incident damaging the new trains puts further emphasis on the need to the need to address the squatter problem along the PNR line. Should fences be built to protect the trains and passengers? Should people be relocated? I think both need to be done in order to secure the line and in preparation for service upgrades including more frequent train services (i.e., shorter intervals between trains). And we hope to see the DOTr and PNR working on this as they attempt to attract more passengers to use their trains.

Comments on current transport issues – Part 2: On motorcycle taxis

I continue with my comments on current and persistent transport issues. This time, I focus on one of two hot topics – motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”.

1) On motorcycle taxis:

I am not a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that’s supposed to be evaluating the trial operations. I know one or two of the key members of the TWG and am surprised that they have not referred to the academe for studies that may have already been done about this mode of transport. I know there have been studies about it in UP and DLSU. Perhaps there are more from other universities in the country. Motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”, after all, are practically everywhere and would be hard to ignore. Surely, researchers and particularly students would be at least curious about their operations? Such is the case elsewhere and many studies on motorcycle taxis have been made in the region particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, where these modes also proliferate.

The terms “trial”, “experimental” or “pilot” are actually misleading because motorcycle taxis have been operating across the country for so many years now. They are supposed to be illegal and yet they serve a purpose in the areas where they are popular. What is often referred to as an informal transport mode is ‘formal’ to many people who are not being served by so-called formal modes including the tricycle. Of course, one can argue that these terms (i.e., trial, experimental and pilot) refer to the app that are supposed to enhance the existing habal-habal operations.

I would strongly endorse motorcycle taxis but companies need to be held accountable should there be fatal crashes involving their riders. They are supposed to have trained and accredited them. The companies should also have insurance coverage for riders and passengers. LGUs tolerant of these should be watchful and do their part in enforcing traffic rules and regulations pertaining to motorcycle operations in favor of safe riding. This is to reduce if not minimize the incidence of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis.

I think one of the problems with motorcycle taxis is not really their being a mode of choice but the behavior of their drivers. While companies like Angkas and Joyride conduct training sessions with their riders, many revert to reckless on-road behavior including executing risky maneuvers in order to overtake other vehicles on the road. This is actually a given with many ‘informal’ motorcycle taxis (i.e., those not affiliated with the recognized app companies). But then this is also an enforcement issue because we do have traffic rules and regulations that are poorly enforced by authorities. Thus, there is practically no deterrent to reckless riding except perhaps the prospect of being involved in a crash.

I will refrain to include the politics involved in the issue of motorcycle taxis. I will just write about this in another article.


Coming up soon: hot topic #2 – Obstacles to the PNR operations