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Modernized jeepneys in Marikina

Passing through Marikina City on the way home, I chanced upon these versions of the so-called modernized jeepneys plying routes in the city. Marikina has some of the oldest routes I’ve known including those originating from Parang and SSS Village. These were at the edges of the city and back in the day were bordering on rural as compared to the urbanized areas what was then still a municipality. The opportunity presented itself so I took a few photos of the mini-buses posing as jitneys or modern jeepneys.

Jitney/mini-bus turning a corner towards A. Bonifacio Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Marikina City that eventually becomes Sumulong Highway.
The vehicles are manufactured by Hino, a Japanese company that specializes in large vehicles such as buses and trucks.
The ‘Parang-Stop & Shop’ route was served by jeepneys. Stop & Shop used to be a popular supermarket in the Sta. Mesa area of Manila. It is no longer there but the name stuck just like ‘Buendia’ is still the term used for ‘Gil Puyat Avenue’ in Makati. From Stop & Shop, one can transfer to other jeepneys to take you to various destinations in Manila including the University Belt, Quiapo, Divisoria, and Intramuros

Unlike the old, conventional jeepneys, these are closed, air-conditioned vehicles. While there exists concerns about virus spread in such configurations, one cannot argue vs. the improved comfortability of these vehicles over the old ones especially when the Covid threat is already addressed. The vehicles seat 20+ passengers on average with more room for standees, if required and allowed in the future.

These vehicles are operated by transport cooperatives, which are encourage by the government in their PUV modernization program. Cooperatives have many advantages compared to the old set-up of individual operators. These include the personality or modality to engage financing institutions for acquiring fleets of PUVs. As such, modernization (or the replacement of old PUVs) is expedited. Note the logos along the side of the vehicle? These are DOTr, LTFRB, LTO and DBP. DBP is, of course, the Development Bank of the Philippines, which is one of the underwriters of the modernization program.

More on these vehicles, modernization and rationalization in future posts.

Some observations and thoughts about the EDSA carousel

Much has been written or said about the EDSA Carousel. This is the express bus service the government implemented along Metro Manila’s busiest thoroughfare, EDSA or Circumferential Road 4. I feel that it is a decent effort from government to address the lack of supply to address the huge demand for public transport along EDSA considering that it serves to also distribute trips collected from major roads connecting to it. Is it an admission of something wrong in terms of the transport infrastructure along EDSA? Perhaps and from the current administration and DOTr. The admission of flaws certainly did not or will not come from the previous administrations that failed to address problems pertaining to Line 3 including maintenance and operations issues.

Buses queued before the Trinoma/North Avenue Station of the carousel. Overhead is the junction to the EDSA-MRT depot underneath Trinoma.

The overhead junction is the MRT’s branch to/from the depot

Buses queuing towards the North Avenue Station

The carousel stations are basically part of the MRT station with the platform located at ground level at the otherwise underutilized space that is the median island of EDSA. Access to the express buses are via the MRT stations as there are no other means for crossing to/from the carousel berths.

The carousel is an attempt to have a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along EDSA. It is perhaps the most practical solution to supplementing the already limited capacity of elevated Line 3 despite the continued operations of regular buses. The express bus service is not a new idea along EDSA since Line 3 had to compete with a BRT proposal (though it didn’t use the term BRT then) back in the 1990s. Insiders at NEDA relate that it was then President Fidel V. Ramos himself who allegedly ‘lobbied’ for the MRT instead of an elevated bus transit system. Unfortunately, the MRT proposed, constructed and now in operation is a light rail system like Line 1 and could not easily be upgraded to a heavy rail system like Line 2 or the future Line 7. The line is already problematic due to maintenance issues and the aging rolling stock. And there are questions regarding interoperability with Line 1 (definitely not interoperable with Line 7). So the grand central station currently under construction will really be a terminus for 3 lines as trains will not be able to pass through to other lines like how it is in other countries.

Will the carousel be a permanent fixture along EDSA? Perhaps. But it should be improved further for the convenience of commuters as well as for more efficient operations. The current buses being used are the not the right vehicles if capacity is to be maximized. Articulated buses would be necessary for this purpose. The current barriers should also be replaced with more appropriate and perhaps more clever designs partly for aesthetics but for the system to be safer and more functional in terms of spaces for passengers and vehicles.

On maximizing seating capacities of public transport

The restrictions for physical distancing for public transport seems to be easing. The reason for this statement is the observation that passengers of public utility vehicles are no longer one seat apart (less than the ideal 2m distance between people but deemed sufficient with physical barriers installed in the vehicles). If allowed to be seated next to each other (of course with some sort of physical barrier between them), the set-up will increase the allowed passenger capacities of PUVs to at least their seating capacities. Conventional jeepneys will be able to seat the 16 to 20 passengers their benches are designed for and buses, depending on their sizes and seating configurations may seat perhaps 40 to 60 passengers. That doubles or even triples the number of passengers that can be carried by each vehicle from the time these were allowed to resume operations after the lockdowns.

Plastic barriers separate passengers seated beside each other

Not all physical barriers are designed and installed to provide whatever protection passengers can get from them. The photos above for a G-Liner bus seems to be the more desirable design as the barriers are practically like curtains. I have seen token plastic barriers installed in jeepneys. I wonder if these even went through some approval process of the DOTr, LTFRB or local government unit. Such inferior designs do not help the cause of promoting public transport use over private vehicles.

Public transport along Route 8: Cubao-Montalban

I had to go back to my usual commuting route to my workplace via Tumana as Marcos Highway is usually congested in the mornings. As such, I had the opportunity to take some photos of public transport modes along the way.

Bus plying Route 8 – Cubao Montalban along the Marikina – San Mateo – Montalban Road (J.P. Rizal Avenue in Marikina City). Montalban is the old name of the Municipality of Rodriguez in Rizal Province.

A Beep, a modern jitney that is actually a minibus plying to Parang-Stop & Shop route that used to be dominated by conventional jeepneys. That is, of course, a conventional tricycle on the other side of the road. By conventional I mean a motorcycle with a side car, which is the most common type of 3-wheeler in the country.

Recently, I saw G-Liner buses along Route 8. That means the bus company’s fleet is now distributed along 3 routes serving Rizal province and connecting it to Metro Manila. While, capacities are still limited due to physical distancing requirements, these buses should be able to carry a lot more passengers once the situation ‘normalizes’ so PUVs are able to maximize their seating (and standing) capacities.

Requiem for the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys?

From the time Metro Manila and Rizal transitioned to General Community Quarantine (GCQ), there have been limited public transport services connecting the two considering most Rizal towns are like bed towns to Metro Manila. The term “bed town” refers to towns, or municipalities, even cities, that are basically the place of residence of persons who during the day time usually travel out to workplaces or schools outside their areas of residence. Many who reside in Rizal province actually work or study in Metro Manila. Similar cases may also be found in the other provinces surrounding Metro Manila like Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite. These connections are made mainly by public transport, which for the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas currently comprise about 70% of total trips. The rest is by private transport. [Note: Not counted are trips mainly by walking and cycling. While everyone walks, walking is usually at the ends of the commutes.]

Current public transport services now comprise of buses plying the Antipolo-Cubao and Taytay-Gilmore routes that were among the first operationalized under the rationalization program of the Department of Transportation (DOTr). For the Antipolo-Cubao route, several companies have shared the load with mostly aircon buses running between Quezon City and Antipolo City. I wrote recently that there are now non-aircon (referred to as ordinary) buses serving this route and that in addition to the main line (Aurora Blvd.-Marcos Highway-Masinag Junction-Sumulong Highway via) there was now a branch going through Cogeo and via Olalia Road.

Aircon bus approaching the Robinsons Antipolo terminal

Non-aircon (ordinary) bus plying the Antipolo-Cubao route along Sumulong Highway past the Masinag Junction

We got a comment about how perhaps DOTr and LTFRB plans to introduce variations to main routes including adding to the route number to distinguish one variation from another. While the original route signs look like the one on top of the windshield in the Aircon bus in the first photo with the white box on the left displaying the route number, the bus in the second photo shows two boxes. The second box to the right of the route name is blank. So perhaps there can be an ‘A’ to refer to the original Route 9 and ‘B’ can refer to the one via Cogeo. Does this mean there can also be a ‘C’ and that can be via the even older route via Felix Avenue, Cainta Junction and Ortigas Avenue. If this becomes a reality, then that probably puts the proverbial last nail on the coffin of the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys. Jeepneys would have been phased out for the route in favor of the higher capacity buses.

Other buses operating the Antipolo-Cubao route

I had mentioned in previous posts that more buses have been deployed to serve the Antipolo-Cubao route. The route had already evolved to have two alternatives: the original route via Aurora Boulevard, Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway, and the variant that goes through Cogeo and passes through Olalia Road to/from Sumulong Highway. Here are a couple of photos showing a couple more bus companies that used to ply other routes via EDSA.

Jayross Lucky Seven Tours bus – these used to ply the Fairview-Baclaran route via Commonwealth Avenue and EDSA with all aircon buses.

Diamond Star bus – these used to ply the Malanday-NAIA route via EDSA with both ordinary and aircon buses

More photos of other buses now serving the Antipolo-Cubao route.

Antipolo’s bus port

I like taking photos of aircraft of various airlines in airports. Among the photos I like taking are of their tails aligned to show the different airlines docked at the terminals. As we were stopped at an intersection just across from the Robinsons Antipolo public transport terminal, the wife took this photo of buses at the terminal. To me, the terminal has become somewhat like a bus port; with buses serving the long distance routes between Cubao in Quezon City and Antipolo in Rizal province. That’s about 20+ kilometers via Marcos and Sumulong Highways.

What used to be a small amusement part has been cleared prior to the lockdown in March and the area now functions as a parking lot for buses serving the Antipolo-Cubao via Masinag Junction and Antipolo-Ortigas Center routes. The latter was already operational prior to the lockdown with P2P buses leaving every 30 minutes.

When the Antipolo-Cubao bus route first started operation when Rizal and Metro Manila first transitioned to GCQ, there were three (3) companies operating along the route – G-Liner, RRCG and EMBC. All used air-conditioned buses. Before MECQ in early August, there were additional companies including those that deployed regular or non-aircon buses. I will try to take more photos of the terminal, the buses and the paratransit providing local transport (i.e., within Antipolo). These are tricycles of different models including the conventional motorcycles with sidecar, the tuktuks, and the e-trikes.

Partas bus terminal in Cubao

Prior to the lockdown, we were still able to conduct one fieldwork for a provincial bus terminal located in the Cubao district of Quezon City. We had previously conducted a study for the re-design of this terminal and the company again called on us for an update after they were not able to implement the previous study’s recommendations.

You can purchase your tickets at the terminal

Different model buses waiting for their boarding times

The passenger waiting lounge has indoor and outdoor seating.

The terminal has its own fuel pumps so buses need not go to a fuel station.

Bus parking slots are marked but there is little space between buses. The fishbone pattern parking allows for each bus’ door (front) to be accessible as shown in the second photo of this post.

Another view of the terminal’s bus slots. The ones further in the photo are actually across the street from the terminal.

Passengers lining up to purchase tickets at the terminal lobby. The boxes are consigned freight.

The air-conditioned passenger lounge includes shops for meals, refreshments or souvenirs.

Here are the bus slots across the street from the terminal. That’s an informal tricycle terminal on the left. While off-street, the tricycle terminal occupies what little sidewalk is there that is supposedly for pedestrian use.

Taxi passing along the street as tricycles maneuver from their terminal on the sidewalk.

Fuel tankers are allotted slots at the terminal as they deliver fuel for the terminal’s pumps.

Another private provincial bus terminal across from the Partas terminal. This one’s from the resurrected BLTBCo. (now DLTRBCo.) buses that ply routes to Region 5 (Bicol) and Region 8 (Eastern Visayas via ferry between Sorsogon and Leyte).

Line 2 train traveling atop Aurora Boulevard. The Partas terminal is on the left with cars parked on the sidewalk and curbside.

I think this was the last project when we did fieldwork for before the lockdowns. I wonder when we can do field work again. Transport and traffic are not the usual and the “new normal” in transportation is still evolving especially in Metro Manila.

On the DOTr Guidelines for Public Transport – Layouts for Distancing

Here again, for reference, are the guidelines issued by the DOTr in relation to the transition from ECQ to GCQ and beyond (immediate rather than far future). The following images show the physical distancing prescribed for road transport.

The last image for the tricycle is something that should have been allowed at least for a limited number of tricycles during the ECQ period. That could have eased transport woes for many people especially those who had to walk long distances in order to get their supplies. Some LGUs like Davao were able to issue Executive Orders to that effect that the IATF did not contend (or is Davao a special case?). Now, we see a lot of LGUs issuing EO’s and ordinances allowing public utility tricycles to operate again but limiting their numbers through odd-even schemes. Perhaps the same should be applied to pedicabs or padyak (non-motorized 3-wheelers), too.

On the financial viability requirement for public transport operators

I came upon the news that the P2P Bus service between SM City North EDSA and SM Megamall suspended operations The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) released a statement to clarify the circumstances surrounding the suspension, which apparently was the initiative of the operator rather than the agency. Apparently, too, some people were quick to attribute (blame seems to be the more appropriate adjective to describe how some netizens reacted) the suspension to LTFRB. Here is the statement posted on their social media page:

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board – LTFRB
February 23 at 7:52 PM ·

LTFRB PRESS STATEMENT ON P2P OPERATIONS OF FROEHLICH TOURS, INC.
23 February 2020

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) would like to clarify that it did not order the cessation of the P2P operations of Froehlich Tours, Inc. (FTI) which plied the SM North EDSA-SM Megamall and Trinoma-Park Square routes.

FTI was one of the first to be awarded with P2P routes in 2016. In November 2019, MAN Automotive Concessionaires Corporation (MAN) submitted a letter requesting the Board to look into the financial capability of FTI to maintain its operations, fund expenses that may arise from accidents, and continue to provide public service.

According to MAN, an exclusive truck and bus importer, assembler, and distributor, FTI initially acquired 17 bus units amounting to a total of P185.7 million from them. FTI was only able to pay P39.2 million which resulted in MAN having to repossess 12 bus units. To this day, P19.75 million is still left unpaid by FTI.

While these allegations are still under investigation by the Board, an inspection of the FTI bus units revealed that the company’s Provisional Authority, which allowed them to run and function as a public service provider, has already expired and no renewal was filed.

As of now, an order has been sent out to Froehlich Tours Inc. to submit its 2019 Financial Statement within a period of five (5) days from receipt of a copy. The hearing is reset, upon the agreement of both parties, on 3 March 2020 at the LTFRB Central Office.

Pending the outcome of the hearing, the Board shall adopt measure in the coming weeks to ensure that the riding public will be provided with the needed transport service on the routes affected.

There are two major points in the statement. One is on the financial viability of the operator and another is on the provisional authority granted by the LTFRB, which is a regulatory agency. The latter pertains to something more temporary and authoritative than a franchise, which is basically a license to provide transport services. These provisional authorities are often granted by the agency for so-called “missionary routes” as well as for supplementing the supply of vehicles during peak seasons like Christmas, Holy Week and Undas.

Financial viability is a requirement for all public transport operators. It is part of the formula for determining the viable number of units (i.e., vehicles) considering the fare that is to be charged to passengers taking into consideration the operating costs of operators. If this requirement was implemented strictly, a lot of operators would not be operating PUVs in the first place. The LTFRB, however, as well as its mother agency, the DOTr, have been lax about this requirement for so long a time that it is difficult to recall the last case where this was cited as a reason for suspending operations.