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On cultivating a culture of public transportation

There’s this recent article about cultivating a culture of transit (i.e., public transportation). We probably take this for granted despite most of us taking public transportation for our commutes. I would like to think such cultures exist with variations and uniqueness for various towns, cities, even countries. There is a uniqueness about the different paratransit modes that you might find around Southeast Asia, for example. These include Thailand’s Tuktuk and Songthaew, Indonesia’s Bajaj and Angkot, and the Philippines’ jeepney and tricycle.

A Philippine jeepney waiting for passengers at a terminal

 

Here is the article via Planetizen:

Gifford, D. (February 23, 2021) “Cultivating a Culture of Transit,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/112361?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-02252021&mc_cid=c3b203ffe6&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 2/26/2021]

Some takeaways from the article:

“What are the common factors for great transit? Well funded, frequent transit is one key to a successful transit system, and funding goes a long way to support transit culture. When a system is well funded, it is more frequent, more useful, more people use it, and it becomes part of the culture. Many of these systems are so popular they even have their own stores where riders and transit fans can purchase merchandise.”

and

“Improved service would cultivate a diverse culture of transit as more people rode. Just imagine a far reaching system with dedicated lanes that would not only be beneficial for commuters, when in office work resumes, but one that will improve life for daily riders who depend on it most.”

What is culture anyway? It refers to society, a way of life; including lifestyles, customs and traditions. Perhaps its worth mentioning that the jeepney and the tricycle (the conventional/older ones) are considered cultural icons. This did not happen overnight and probably involved romanticized concepts of anything about jeepneys and tricycles; including stories, true or fictional, about the people involved.

Questions: Can we develop and nurture a similar culture about bicycles?  And can it happen immediately?

It’s not that simple: the math on vehicle sales and registration

I read the statement of a government official about vehicle sales, and the subsequent responses it got. He cited math and seemingly joked about not being good at it while trying to make sense of the numbers. It is not as easy as he supposes. And I think that is partly why we fail to address the transport problems. For one, we think it is just about road capacities. For another, it may be about public transport supply. These are not mutually exclusive but rather intertwined along with so many other factors.

Housing, for one, (i.e., its availability, affordability and location) is among the most important factors that affect or influence how we commute. I have been asking the question about housing affordability in CBDs such as Makati, Ortigas and BGC. Lucky for those who already reside at or near those places but most people working there have to contend with expensive mortgages, leases or rents. How much is a condo unit in BGC, for example? If you have a family of 4, you certainly can’t and won’t opt for a studio unit just because its near your workplace. It’s obvious here that you also would have to consider where your children will be going to school as well as the workplace location of your partner if he or she is also working. No schools for now but imagine how it was and would be once our children go back to physical school. Such facts of life seem lost to many pundits commenting or offering opinions about transportation.

I think to be fair this should also be framed from various perspectives. For example, those vehicle purchases don’t necessarily mean additional vehicles on certain roads. like what one MMDA official claims. These will be distributed across the network of roads, and these will be operating during certain times of the day. Some of these vehicles were purchased by new car owners. Others as replacements to older or unserviceable units (e.g., upgrades). It would be nice to see, for example, the stats from 2008, 2009 & 2010. Thousands of vehicles were doomed by Ondoy in the greater Metro Manila in 2009 resulting in their replacements late that year until 2010. Then there was the boom in sales in the following years as people ventured into TNCs (Uber and Grab). The recent surge in private car use and what seems to be strong sales of these vehicles in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is more out of necessity (why do you think people aren’t taking to cycling for their commutes as much as is desired?)

The question why people still prefer to purchase and use their own vehicles has not been answered in the most honest way because different people with their own agenda tend to paint different pictures of the car owner. In some cases, car owners are being portrayed as ‘evil’ while those taking the more environment-friendly modes as ‘good’. Again, it should be obvious that this is not a ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ discussion nor is it something that is black and white. We should pay (a lot of) attention to the grays, which can have so many different shades when it comes to transportation. No one really wins a “holier than thou” exercise where people on opposite sides tend to take hard line stances and close their minds to constructive ideas from either side.

On planning our cities from a child’s perspective

Wouldn’t it be interesting to find how children would plan their cities? No, this is not the lego building kind of exercise but something closer to actual planning exercises where children not only act as planners but stakeholders themselves. We always say they are the future and that know that they will inherit whatever good or bad we are doing now, and yet they have little say in that future. Perhaps we should heed what they think our cities require?

Ergler, C. (January 4, 2021) “Young children are intuitive urban planners — we would all benefit from living in their ‘care-full’ cities”, The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/young-children-are-intuitive-urban-planners-we-would-all-benefit-from-living-in-their-care-full-cities-151365 [Last accessed: 1/15/2021]

On housing and transport

I am always amused about discussions and posts about transport and traffic where people appear to isolate the traffic as what needs to be solved, and where people criticize the latter and state that it is a transport and not a traffic problem. Both do not have the complete picture if that is what we want to start with. Land use, land development and the choices people make based on various other factors (including preferences) are among the other ingredients of the proverbial soup or dish that need to be included in the discussion. Remember land use and transport interaction? That’s very essential in understanding the big picture (macro) before even going into the details at the micro level. Why are there many car users or those who prefer to use private modes over public transport modes? Why do people prefer motorized over non-motorized modes? Maybe because people live far from their workplaces and schools? Why is that? Maybe because of housing affordability and other factors influencing choices or preferences?

Here’s a nice recent article on housing and transportation to enrich the discourse on this topic:

Litman, T. [January 7, 2021] “Housing First; Cars Last”, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/111790?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-01112021&mc_cid=2985a82f48&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [last accessed: 1/13/2021]

What to look forward to Philippine transportation in 2021

I usually wrote a year-ender for transport but somehow never got to it. I’ve spent much of the break working on projects that have been extended due to the pandemic’s impacts on their implementation. Two of these projects are being implemented in Zamboanga City where we are lucky to have hard-working counterparts and a very cooperative city government. I think given what have transpired in 2020, there’s much to expect in 2021. I also want to be hopeful and optimistic about the outlook for this year. So positive thoughts for now. Here are things to look forward to in 2021:

  1. More bike lanes around the country – these include the bike lanes to be constructed using the billions of pesos allocated for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Is there a plan? None yet unless you count the sketch mapping exercise people have been doing. Sure, the DPWH came up with guidelines for bike lanes designs but these are a work in progress at best if compared to the existing guidelines from countries that have built and maintained bike facilities for a very long time now (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, even Singapore).
  2. Construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu – this is a much delayed project (more than a decade in the making already) that needs to be implemented already. This year might just be the year? We certainly hope so. That EDSA carousel is still far from being the BRT the Philippines need to be a model system for its cities. I still think Cebu can be a better model for other cities than Metro Manila. And so a BRT success there has a better chance of being replicated in other cities that need a mass transit system now.
  3. More rationalized public transport routes in major cities – by ‘rationalized’ I am not limiting this to the government’s original rationalization program but also to the other reforms that are being introduced this year including service contracting. Whether the latter will work wonders, we’ll get a better idea of it this year. Will services be better? Will drivers improve the way they drive? Will this be cost-effective in the long run? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, with some of those answers hopefully coming this year.
  4. Full scale construction of the Metro Manila subway – would you believe that there’s actually little work done for this project aside from the preparatory and PR work that have been the focus the past few years. It seemed like they’ve been doing realignments and groundbreakings every year. Meanwhile, they haven’t even started tunneling yet. To be honest, I don’t think there will be an operational subway by 2022. I’ve seen subways being built in Tokyo, Singapore and Vietnam, and you can’t do even a demo project in 1.5 years time.
  5. More air travel – as the vaccines are delivered and administered, there should be a feeling of more safety and confidence for people to travel again. Much inter-island trips are actually done via air travel. Airlines have lost a lot in the last year and are certainly going to come up with nice deals (I already saw a lot of promos from various airlines that I usually book for my flights – PAL, Cebu Pac, JAL and SIA.) Hotels and resorts, too, are welcoming tourists with great deals. So perhaps it will be a rebound year for tourism and…air travel.
  6. More rail transport in general – hopefully this year will be the year when the Line 2 extension becomes operational. Meanwhile, other projects like the PNR and Line 3 rehabs, the Line 1 extension, and Manila-Clark railway line construction continues. Perhaps this year will also see the construction of Mindanao Railways.

What do you think are things to look forward to in Philippine transportation in 2021?

On the burdens of car dependence

Here is a quick share today. This is another excellent article from Todd Litman who makes a great argument for why planning should move away from its being car-centric and contribute towards a significant reduction in society’s dependence on cars.

Litman, T. (December 15, 2020) “Automobile Dependency: An Unequal Burden,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/111535?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12212020&mc_cid=e746a044a3&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 .

Much have been said and written about this topic in many platforms including social media but in many of these, I noticed that the discussion often deteriorated into hating or shaming exercises rather than be convincing, constructive arguments for reforms in planning and behavior and preference changes in transport modes. Litman is always very fair and comprehensive and employs evidence or facts in his articles that should be clear for most people to understand. I say ‘most people’ here because there are still many who are among those considered as “fact-resistant”. Happy reading!

On transportation equity

Here’s another quick share of an article on transport equity:

McQuaid, H. (November 23, 2020) “Equitable Transportation Starts At Community Level,” CT News Junkie, https://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/20201123_equitable_transportation_starts_at_community_level/

How many times have I heard and read about people talking about the concept of “dignity of travel” or “dignity of transportation” referring to the quality of our commutes in terms of the quality of transport services available to us. The article also talks about societal exclusions and biases that sometimes we only attribute to America but in reality are also applicable here based on how we regard people from the rural areas or our being regionalistic.

Dominant trips during the day

I read this post on social media stating:

“The work commute is statistically the longest and least frequent type of journey we make in a day. Yet it dominates transport planning.Now more than ever, cities must build cycle networks to support recurring local trips: to the corner store, café, community center, or school.”

I am not sure about the context of the word “dominate” as it is used in the statement but this originates from the Dutch so perhaps there is a difference, even slight, between their case and ours. I would like to add though that aside from “going home” trips, the most dominant in the Philippine context are “to work” and “to school”. And dominant here covers frequency and distance traveled. Consequential are travel times as these are affected by the quantity and quality of facilities and services available to commuters.

I think there should also be restructuring of how surveys are conducted to capture these more frequent trips. Typical surveys like JICA’s usually ask only about the main trips during the day so those will have responses of “to work”, “to school” or “to home”. For the metro level, maybe that’s okay but at the local levels, LGUs would have to make their own surveys in order for data to support initiatives for local transport, most especially active transport. A possible starting point would be the trip chains collected that appear to be a single trips with “original origins” and “final destinations”. These can be separated or disaggregated into individual trips made by different modes rather than be defined or associated with a single (main) mode of transport. That surely would expand the data set and redefine the mode shares usually reported.

A bigger picture for the ‘new normal’

Here’s something different thought not totally unrelated to transportation. The article is about the emergence of super typhoons and their aftermaths:

Niiler, E. (November 4, 2020) What Is a Super Typhoon, and Why Are They So Dangerous? Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/what-is-a-super-typhoon-and-why-are-they-so-dangerous/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&mbid=CRMWIR092120&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_110420&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=list2_p2

With the typical influx of typhoons (i.e., during the wet season there are months that can be referred to as ‘typhoon season’) and the prospects of super typhoons becoming more regular, there is now a need to review infrastructure, building guidelines and standards for cities and municipalities to become more resilient vs. these phenomena. Not long ago, disaster resilience became part of the agenda for infrastructure development; including maintenance and retrofitting vs. the anticipated calamities from typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruption that are experienced in many parts of the country. Perhaps the transportation system can be structured to be more disaster-resistant. And, if these phenomena happen, the transportation system can survive and serve for relief operations.

Research topics in the time of Covid-19, Part 1

It’s that time of year again when I usually write about research topics. I am tempted to share the updated research agenda our group prepared for our students at UP but perhaps a quick list would do for now. I guess the most relevant topics are those related to the Covid-19 pandemic including those about transport during the lockdown and post-ECQ. Here are some initial ideas about such relevant topics to take on:

  • Public transport supply and demand, operations – there are many topics that can be developed under this including those relating supply and demand. For example, it would be interesting to have a research assessing the supply of public transport modes with respect to the demand from the lockdown (ECQ to MECQ) to its easing (GCQ to MGCQ). Included here would be topics tackling the attempts at rationalizing transport routes (e.g., the introduction of bus services where there was none before, the continuing restriction for conventional/traditional jeepneys, etc.). For those into transport economics and finance and even policy, perhaps the service contracting scheme can be studied further and its different aspects meticulously and objectively examined. What are its limitations? What are the critical assumptions that need to be realized for it to be most effective and not abused or mismanaged?
  • Traffic engineering and management – there were suddenly many issues pertaining to this during the lockdowns. Among these were traffic management in the vicinity of checkpoints where queuing theory among other principles could have been applied in order to reduce congestion.
  • Active transportation – the DPWH already came out with guidelines for bike lanes along national roads. These will surely be used as reference by local government units (LGU) as they are obliged by a DILG memo to develop facilities for active transportation. Active transport here refers mainly to walking and cycling but in other cases have come to include the use of personal mobility devices (PMD). Much research is to be done for designs, users’ preferences, behavior in traffic, safety and other topics such as those relating active transport with public transport (e.g., as a last mile/kilometer mode for most people).
  • Level of service (LOS) – I had a nice, brief exchange about LOS and the notion that it is outdated. I believe it is not and many who parrot the notion lacks a deeper understanding not just of LOS but the principles, assumptions and data that goes into transportation and traffic analysis. Perhaps a multi-modal LOS criteria can be developed for the Philippines? If so, what parameters or measures can be used to describe our own LOS? What modes and facilities will be evaluated according to this? And how can solutions be developed with respect to such.

Of course, there are just so many of the traditional topics to take on. There will always be a backlog regarding these topics. In the sequel to this article, I will try to identify other topics for transportation research that can be considered as well as recall “old” topics that are still necessary regardless of the pandemic.