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Partas’ Deluxe and Ms. Universe Buses

Colleagues are currently undertaking a study for the Partas Bus Company. The management was gracious to tour them around the current terminal in Cubao that is proposed for some major renovations. Part of the tour was taking them inside one of their new deluxe buses, and the bus used in the recent Ms. Universe pageant held in Manila. Here are photos of the interiors of those buses.

Interior of a Partas deluxe bus

One of the company’s deluxe buses

Interior of the “Ms. Universe bus”

Another look at the interior, which includes an entertainment area

The bus has a bar for passengers who might want to prepare some food and drinks while traveling

The leather seats of the “Ms. Universe bus” look comfortable and perhaps perfect for long trips like those¬†typical running between Manila and Vigan in Ilocos Sur (northern Philippines).

Regular buses flanking the “Ms. Universe bus”

On P2P bus services

We decided to take a Point-to-point (P2P) bus from Quezon City to the Ortigas Center to attend a meeting there. The venue was close to SM Megamall so we thought it best to just take the bus service from SM North EDSA. It was my first time to take a P2P bus but was familiar enough with the service from the research our students have been doing on public transport. Here are some photos from the experience.

There’s a line for passengers riding the P2P bus from SM North to SM Megamall. It appears to be long but it moves pretty quickly because of the frequent bus arrivals that time in the morning (around 9:00 AM).

The bus before ours was quickly filled with passengers. There is a “no standing” policy for this service so when all seats are taken, people in queue would have to wait for the next bus.

Here’s a view of the bus bays at SM North EDSA. The white bus at the right is the P2P bus that just departed.

Our bus arrives at the terminal.

Unlike the first bus that had generic signs/markings on it and only had a signboard on the windshield identifying it as a P2P bus, this one had the service on its livery. The rapid increase in the number of P2P bus routes and buses serving those routes meant that bus companies had little time to properly change the livery of their buses to clearly show these were for P2P services.

Passengers pay at the head of the line and just before boarding the bus.

Our ticket showing the fare paid and the name and contact details of the operator of this service between SM North and SM Megamall. Froehlich is one of the first companies granted a permit to provide P2P services by the government. They actually started the service during the previous administration when DOTr was still DOTC.

The P2P bus services present an attractive option for commuters who are not satisfied with their usual public transport options (e.g., bus, jeepney or UV express) and cannot afford to frequently take taxis or ridesharing (Uber, Grab). They may or may not be car-owners but have longed for better public transport services especially in terms of comfort and convenience. Many are likely able to afford higher fares and will pay such if the services are worth it.

In Antipolo, for example, I have noticed that the parking lot near the P2P bus terminal at Robinsons already have many cars parked (parking is free so far), which I assumed are owned by people opting to take the bus instead to go to Ortigas Center. They have the jeepney and regular bus options (G-Liner and RRCG) but are turned off by the frequent stops and the cramped conditions during the rush hours.

My only other critique of the P2P buses aside from their drivers apparently being just the same as other buses in the way they drive (i.e., I’ve observed many of them are as aggressive if not as reckless as regular bus drivers.) is that these services are actually the higher capacity versions of UV Express. Note that UV Express (previously called Garage to Terminal Express or GT Express and generically the FX taxis of the 1990s) basically operated under the same conditions before with fixed routes and with supposedly only 2 stops (i.e., “point to point”). Hopefully, they won’t be but I also wonder how these services will continue once the new rail transit lines come into operation.

Riding the bus in Sydney

We rode the bus twice in Sydney – first to get from the city to Bondi Beach and the second to go to a train station from Bondi Beach. I wasn’t really able to get a lot of photos inside the buses as they quickly filled with passengers and I wasn’t sure what people thought about someone taking photos inside a bus even for touristy purposes. It is usually better to blend in with the crowd than attract attention to yourself; though it probably didn’t matter much since there were so many Asians in Sydney and wherever we went.

You can use the Opal card to pay for your bus fare.

Buses are laid out to optimize the number of passengers it could carry. There are just enough seats for those who need to be seated. Others have to stand but standing space is important for commutes.

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?

Is Antipolo ripe for high capacity and premium transit services?

About 5 years ago, I wrote about transport in Antipolo in another blog. The article was more about this old city being a major destination attracting people for pilgrimage (Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) and tourism (e.g.,  Hinulugang Taktak). I am quoting from that article from 5 years ago and adding a few comments here and there. Note that for most of the article, nothing much has changed except perhaps that the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is now underway.

“There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.”

I didn’t mention there that another backdoor was via Marcos Highway if one were coming directly from Tanay instead of through Teresa. This route is now popular and traffic has been steadily increasing due in part to some additional attractions in that part of Antipolo and Tanay.

“Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo Simbahan, referring to the shrine.”

There are also UV Express and shuttle vans (legitimate vans for hire or colorum operations) offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownership and operations do make them serious competitors to the jeepneys even during the merry month of May (fiesta period) and the Lenten Holy Week.

“There was an Antipolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto with the cassette tapes stacked along the bus dashboard). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.”

At present, there is another bus company operating along Ortigas Ave and the Manila East Road – RRCG. There is also a revival of the EMBC with buses providing transport services between Quiapo and Tanay. The only other bus is the inter-provincial Raymond Transit, which operates between Crossing, Mandaluyong and Infanta, Quezon via Antipolo, Teresa, Morong and Tanay.

“In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.”

This proposition for rationalizing public transport to/from Antipolo and other towns of Rizal plus Marikina is all the more important as the Line 2 extension from Santolan, Pasig to Masinag, Antipolo is currently underway. There is an opportunity here to upgrade public transport following the hierarchy of transport modes. I have noticed, for example, electric and conventional tricycles providing what are basically feeder services but along Marcos Highway between Cogeo and Masinag. And a lot of people have been stranded or have difficulty getting a jeepney or UV express ride along the Marcos Highway corridor. I am aware that the DOTC in the previous administration was mulling an express bus service through Marcos and Sumulong Highways terminating and turning around at Robinsons Place Antipolo. That, of course, never happened but is something that I think is worthwhile and would be beneficial to a lot of commuters.

On a proposal to redesign bus stops and signs in Metro Manila

Here’s another quick post but it is something that should be picked up by government agencies particularly the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA). The following link is from Sakay.ph, which conducted a study on their own and came up with this:

A Redesign of Bus Stops and Signage in Metro Manila

The idea is not at all a new one considering you will see such appropriate stop designs and signs abroad. These are good designs that make a lot of sense (See the visuals in the article for you to be convinced). Only, the MMDA and other agencies including local government units are notoriously stubborn when it comes to innovative ideas that challenge the templates that they are used to. Perhaps the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) can also take a look at these ideas considering public transport is regulated by LTFRB and the agency can take a progressive stance in ruling for more uniform bus body designs. Meanwhile, the DPWH is in-charge of most road signs along national roads like EDSA and should also be proactive in the design of signage while also keeping in mind the international standards that we need to conform with. As for the buses themselves, the recommendations underline the need to streamline (read: reduce) the number of buses and players and the rationalization (read: simplify) routes in Metro Manila. Maybe they can start doing the livery for the P2P buses to show how the concept works?