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Metro Manila public transport – addition is good but we need subtraction, too

The company providing the P2P bus services is very enthusiastic (aggressive?) in promoting their services especially via social media. Satisfied commuters have also shared their experiences and a lot of photos about the buses and their commutes through social and mainstream media. I have read some articles carried by the likes of Rappler and Inquirer as well as blogs relating about the buses features, what people liked about the service and their suggestions on how to further improve and expand services. These have provided commuters with a taste of how good public transport could be in terms of quality of service.

The operations and the operator seems to have the blessings of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and not just the present administration but from the previous one when the P2P services started. The fact that they have expanded services further these past few months is a testament to their popularity and the demand for high quality public transport services in Metro Manila. I personally believe that the next step is to give these buses exclusive lanes along their routes. Such would allow for buses to travel faster and providing a significant decrease in the travel times of commuters. Current operations, despite having non-stop runs between origin and destination, run in mixed traffic so their impacts in terms of travel times are diminished. Also, with exclusive lanes, they can probably consider adding a few stops between the route ends and be able to simulate bus rapid transit (BRT) services of which there seems to be little appreciation so far in the Philippines.

While the new buses and routes are very welcome and provide attractive options for commuting, there is still a need to address what is perceived as an over-supply of buses, jeepneys and UV express vehicles in Metro Manila. The attractiveness and higher service quality of P2P buses can pave the way for reducing the numbers of buses, for example, along EDSA. A similar strategy of introducing high quality bus services along other corridors and then reducing bus, jeepney and UV express units there can be implemented but will require much in terms of political will. The latter is important when dealing with operators and drivers of displaced vehicles, who may oppose such transport reforms and probably throw in legal impediments including those pertaining to franchising. Whether such opposition can be addressed by emergency powers or not remains to be seen but hopefully, even without such powers, the government can engage the transport sector to effect reforms and improve public transport (and ultimately commuting in general) not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.

On BRT being a game changer for Philippine cities

There’s a nice interview about transport on ANC’s early morning program. The topic is bus rapid transit (BRT) and the interviewee is a colleague of mine at the University of the Philippines. Dr. Cresencio M. Montalbo, Jr. is actually a faculty member of the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) and a Fellow at the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS). Here’s the link to the interview:

Will bus rapid transit (BRT) remove bias against public transport?

Line 2 to be transformed into a BRT? Definitely not a good idea!

There are news reports stating that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) is considering replacing the LRT Line 2 with a BRT instead. I think this is not something worth considering at this point since the construction of the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is already underway. Also, there is the fact that Line 2 is the only heavy rail system among the three LRT/MRT lines in Metro Manila. It has the potential to have the highest capacity among the three as well as the potential to have the highest ridership especially after the extension is complete and the two additional stations are operational.

With lots of people requiring public transport beyond Masinag, the question is not whether to convert Line 2 into a BRT but instead what services can be provided for a more efficient system for Rizal and Marikina. I took the following photos along my commute from Antipolo to Quezon City. Note the number of people waiting for public transport along Marcos Highway.

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These are people who would typically take jeepneys or UV Express for their commutes. It is obvious from my regular observations that jeepneys and UV Express cannot cover the demand for public transportation and my opinion is that it is high time to introduce a higher capacity and more efficient mode in order to encourage people to keep taking public transport and to encourage those taking private transport to shift to PT.

A BRT service can be connected to Line 2. Since the Line 2 extension to Masinag is scheduled to be completed next year and be operational by third quarter of 2017, a bus service can already be piloted between Santolan and several end points. Four for consideration would be Cogeo, Antipolo Simbahan, Marikina and Cainta.

  • Cogeo should be a no-brainer given that there is already demand there and this is growing rapidly with all the subdivisions being developed in this area.
  • For Antipolo Simbahan, perhaps the final stop need not be at the shrine but at Robinsons Antipolo.
  • For Marikina, there can be three lines – one branching from Ligaya where there is a major Ayala development, a second at Gil Fernando and another at Masinag. These may terminate at the city center, perhaps in the vicinity of the Rodriguez Sports Complex, which is near the Marikina City Hall and public market.
  • The last line could traverse Felix Avenue (Imelda Avenue) and may terminate at Cainta Junction where commuters can transfer to transport along Ortigas Avenue Extension.

Surely, pilot services can be provided where limited stops or express services can be experimented on to see what clicks in terms of ridership. It would be nice to get feedback about such services and hopefully there will be champions for these bus services. Note that such services terminating at Santolan means that there should be terminal facilities in that area. Former MMDA Chair and now Marikina Congressman Bayani Fernando has developed an area precisely for an eastern transport terminal and so bus services present a good opportunity for this terminal to be a busy one. Maybe BF can champion these bus services? And perhaps the Antipolo and Cainta (paging Mayors Ynares and Nieto!) can also push for these services as commuters from these would stand to benefit the most from a good transport system.

Unprepared and incomplete – realizations from the APEC transport experience

Before I forget about what transpired during the holding of APEC in Manila a week ago, here’s a couple of photos I found over the internet and shared via social media.

Trapec mb1Commuters along Roxas Boulevard walk past a column of the unfinished NAIA Expressway, one of the transport infrastructure projects that has not been finished. [Photo from The Manila Bulletin]

04_APEC_Traffic_CNNPHAPEC lanes and severe traffic congestion along EDSA – there’s an opportunity here for a prrof of concept test for BRT. [Photo from Facebook]

I saw many memes and read some articles mentioning BRT specifically as one solution to Metro Manila’s transport problems. The second photo above was modified to replace the car travelling along the APEC lanes with a bus.

It is easy to imagine what could have been if the government decided to use the event and the lanes they allocated for APEC vehicles to do a ‘proof of concept’ run of BRT services or at least express bus services (what some DOTC people call high quality bus services). Perhaps what could have been done for part of the 10 billion PHP expended for APEC was to buy a fleet of brand new buses and provided these for free public transport for people who would need to commute during APEC. Services along two corridors would have sufficed – these two would have been EDSA and Roxas Boulevard. [The other option would have been to talk to bus operators and cooperate with them to organize express bus services along EDSA and Roxas Blvd.] Aggressively promoting these free services ahead of APEC would also have meant commuters, including those who usually used their own vehicles, could have opted for these transport services and not affected by the ‘carmageddon’ that ensued over that period. There should have been services to the airport terminals, too, but I will write about this in another article.

The dry run could have yielded essential data for assessing the feasibility of such bus services as an alternate to rail systems that would take much time to build. Incidentally, if the LRT Line 1 Extension to Cavite was built right after the current administration took over, that line could have already served tens of thousands of passengers from the south who regularly commuted to Metro Manila for work and school. The first photo above does not lie about just how many people could have benefited from that rail project. Meanwhile, MRT Line 3 remains dysfunctional and with its reduced capacity could not handle the demand for transport that it should have been able to carry if services had not deteriorated over the years.

On the new transport categories by the DOTC

An article came out recently about the four new transport categories introduced by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

These are:

  • Transportation Network Vehicle Service (TNVS),
  • Premium Taxi,
  • Airport Bus, and
  • Bus Rapid Transit

To quote from the article from Rappler, TNVS are:

“Vehicles of application-based, ride-sharing service providers, like Uber, GrabTaxi, Tripda, and EasyTaxi, will now fall under the category TNVS.

TNVS will cover vehicles that provide pre-arranged transportation services for compensation, using an online-enabled application or platform technology to connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles, Abaya said.

These new rules will also allow ride-sharing service providers to accept regular passengers heading to any point of destination in the country, Abaya added.

Operators of TNVS, called Transportation Network Companies, are also required to screen and accredit drivers and register them with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

All TNVS vehicles will also be required to install and use global positioning system (GPS) tracking and navigation devices. Only sedans, Asian Utility Vehicles, Sports Utility Vehicles, vans, or similar vehicles will be allowed, and these should not be older than 7 years.

The new framework makes the Philippines the first country to have nationwide rules on ride-sharing, according to both the Philippine transport department and Uber. Previously, only local and city governments have regulated the services…”

Premium Taxis are described as:

“…vehicles with a 7-year age limit under this new category will be equipped with GPS, online and smartphone booking capability, and cashless transactions through credit or debit card payments.

Like TNVS, premium taxis will be allowed to accept regular passengers heading to any point of destination in the country…”

And Airport Buses are:

“…should have fixed schedules and off-street stops, low-floor height and adequate luggage space, CCTV cameras, GPS device, free WiFi, and must run on Euro V or clean alternative fuel.”

Abaya pointed out that Green Frog has expressed interest in the airport bus service that would ply three areas including Makati City, Mall of Asia (MOA) as well as Bonifacio Global City (BGC) or Ortigas business centre…”

I won’t mention the BRT anymore. It deserves its own feature (as if the previous ones on it are not enough to describe the system), and is the only mass transit among the 4 categories “introduced” by the DOTC.

These new transport categories are obviously a step in the right direction. These are not new ideas and the institution of these categories by the DOTC is long overdue considering that the agency had to go through this process in order to address legal issues pertaining to such services. In the case of TNVS and Uber, for example, much has been mentioned about franchise issues and how Uber was illegal under the prevailing set-up. It is good to have another option to the regular taxis but then weren’t GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi were supposed to have enhanced services?

As for airport buses, such limousine services have been in operation in many other countries. Unfortunately, in Metro Manila’s case, these buses would have to contend with worsening traffic conditions along most major roads connecting the airport terminals to the various points of interest mentioned in the article (e.g., Makati CBD, BGC, Ortigas CBD, etc.). It is good though that Green Frog was mentioned in the article as the new category provides an opportunity for cleaner and more efficient technologies to be applied to transport services. Still, if these services will be operated by reckless drivers then they won’t be much better than what we already have at present.

Proof of concept

I recall a quote from the cold war era when Nikita Kruschev was supposed to have asked “how many divisions did the Pope had under his command?” This was basically a challenge to the Pope after the latter made some statements regarding the Soviet Union and its military action in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. A similar challenge could be made, albeit vastly reworded, for many advocates of various transport programs and projects to prove they had the numbers or the proof to support their calls for certain projects or programs to be implemented. Often, the proof comes in the form of examples or demonstrations of their proposals. Simplest perhaps would be to present examples of┬ábest or good practices in other countries (e.g., bicycle paths in Europe, transit in Singapore, walkways in Japan, etc.).

One that is still fresh in my mind is what has been said to be the “challenge” of Malacanan to the DOTC to present a “proof of concept” for BRT as a pre-requisite of the proposed project in Cebu to be approved. This “challenge” boggled the minds of many experts and advocates of public transportation as BRT is well established around the world and there are many cities with BRT systems worth emulating (To be accurate, there have also been failures but these were mainly due to compromises made that led to the systems not adhering to essential BRT requirements.). What’s stranger was the response from DOTC to do a demonstration via an experiment at Bonifacio Global City to simulate BRT operations. Obviously, this experiment could not be a really good approximation of BRT (something along Commonwealth would have been more suitable) given the conditions at the Fort.

With the recent approval of the Cebu BRT project, we now look forward to its construction and operation. I am aware of how much work was put into the non-technical aspects of this project (i.e., social and institutional) and so a lot of eyes will be on changes to Cebu City’s transport system once the BRT becomes operational and the expected rationalisation of the existing public transport routes and vehicles would take place. There will definitely be a transition period and it is not known how long this will be or how much opposition the change will encounter. Doing workshops and consultations, and getting commitments here and there is one thing. Having the BRT operational and actually affecting the operations (and revenues) of conventional road transport is another matter.

Many cities will look to Cebu’s experience and probably emulate it should the BRT be a success. Metro Manila is too complicated for other cities to identify with unlike Cebu, which likely has similar transport and traffic issues to cities like, for example, Iloilo, Bacolod, Cagayan De Oro or Legazpi. Of course, there will be exceptions and unique problems for each but density-wise, Cebu compares well with more cities in the country than Metro Manila. Here’s hoping that the BRT would finally have its true and actual “proof of concept” in Cebu and that this can demonstrate the benefits of such a system to other Philippine cities along with a necessary rationalisation of existing public transport modes.