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On changes in traffic patterns after the pandemic

We start April with a nice article from Cities of the Future. The article explains how traffic patterns will be changing due to Covid-19. They have already changed for most of us who have to deal with quarantines and lockdowns. And we should not expect things to go back to normal. “Normal” here, of course, is “Business As Usual” or was that. It is quite clear that we cannot and should not go back to BAU and it is probably going to be good for most of us. There will definitely be a lot of adjustments and sacrifices especially for commuters who have been dependent on cars for travel. The transport industry, too, will have to deal with the new supply and demand dynamics. And government should be up to the task of engaging and rethinking how policies and regulations should evolve to address issues coming out of the “new normal” in transportation.

Valerio, P. (2020) Traffic patterns are going to drastically be very different, says Micromobility expert , Cities of the Future, https://citiesofthefuture.eu/traffic-patterns-are-going-to-drastically-be-very-different/ [Last accessed: 4/3/2020]

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.

On commuting characteristics in Metro Manila – Part 2

Late last month, I wrote some comments about a recent survey conducted by a group advocating for improved public transport services in Metro Manila. In that post I stated that perhaps its not a lack of public transport vehicles but that they are not traveling fast enough to go around. Simply, the turnaround times for these vehicles are too long and that’s mainly due to congestion. But how do we translate the discussion into something of quantities that will allow us to understand what is really happening to road-based public transport.

As an example, and so that we have some numbers to refer to, allow me to use data from a study we conducted in 2008. Following are a summary of data we collected on jeepneys operating in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas.

Route Class Coverage Distance Distance traveled per day, km
Short 5 kilometers or less 68.75
Medium 6 – 9 kilometers 98.24
Long 10 – 19 kilometers 111.22
Extra Long 20 kilometers & above 164.00

[Source: Regidor, Vergel & Napalang, 2009, Environment Friendly Paratransit: Re-Engineering the Jeepney, Proceedings of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Vol. 7.]

Coverage distance refers to the one-way distance between origins and destinations. If we used the averages for the coverage distances for each route class, we can obtain an estimate of the number of round trips made by jeepneys for each route class. We assume the following average round-trip distances for each: short = 3.5 x 2 = 7km; medium = 7.5 x 2 = 15km; long = 14.5 x 2 = 29km; and extra long = 50 km. The last is not at all unreasonable considering, for example, that the Antipolo-Cuba (via Sumulong) route is about 22km, one way, and there are certainly other routes longer than this.

The number of round trips can then be estimated as: short = 68.75/7 = 9.82 or 10 roundtrips/day; medium = 98.24/15 = 6.54 or 6.5 roundtrips/day; long = 111.22/29 = 3.84 or 4 roundtrips/day; and extra long = 164/50 = 3.28 or 3 roundtrips/day. Do these numbers make sense? These are just estimates from 2008/2009. Perhaps everyone would be familiar with certain routes for their regular commutes and the number of roundtrips made by jeepneys (or buses or UV express) there then and now. Short routes like those of the UP Ikot jeepneys might have more roundtrips per day compared to other “short” route jeepneys since there is practically no congestion all day along the Ikot route. It would be worse in the case of others especially those running along the busiest corridors like Ortigas Ave., Marcos Highway, Commonwealth, Espana Avenue, Shaw Boulevard and others. If you factor current travel speeds into the equation then it can be pretty clear how these vehicles are not able to come back to address the demand for them.

In a recent Senate hearing tackling the transport issues in Metro Manila, a certain study was mentioned. This was the EDSA Bus Revalidation Study conducted in 2005/2006. The findings of that study and subsequent ones showed that there was an oversupply of public transport vehicles in Metro Manila. These studies also recommended for the rationalisation or optimisation of road public transport routes in the megalopolis. I think it is timely to revisit these reports rather than pretend there never were formal studies on public transport in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas.

On commuting characteristics in Metro Manila – Part 1

A friend posted the following two graphics showing commuting characteristics derived from a recent survey they conducted online. The 327 respondents are not much compared to the more comprehensive surveys like the ones undertaken by JICA and there are surely questions about the randomness of the survey. Online surveys like the one they ran can be biased depending on the respondents. This was mainly done via social media and through certain interest groups so statistically there may be flaws here. Still, there is value here considering there is often a lack of hard data on commuting characteristics especially those that are recent or current. We need these to properly assess the state of transportation or travel in Metro Manila and elsewhere.

 

What’s lacking? Information on car and motorcycle users? And why the long waiting times? Are these really just because of a shortage in the supply of public transport vehicles thereby necessitating additional franchises? [Graphic and data courtesy of Toix Cerna via Facebook]

 

Again, the mode shares reported are incomplete. With the exception of walking, car and motorcycle shares are substantial and significant. There is some info here about trip chains (i.e., the average of 2 rides per commute) but it is unclear what percentage of the trip is made using whatever mode is used. [Graphic and data courtesy of Toix Cerna via Facebook]

The absence of information about cars and motorcycles is glaring due to their significant share of commuters. Yes, the term ‘commuter’ actually refers to someone who regularly travels between home and office. By extension, this may also apply to travels between home and school. The term is not exclusive to public transport users as is often assumed. Walking between home and office qualifies as a commute.

I am curious about how commutes using cars and motorcycles would compare to public transport commutes. The comparison is quite useful to show, for example, the advantages and disadvantages of car use (this includes taxis and ride share). More detailed information may also reveal who among car or motorcycle users use these vehicles out of necessity rather than as one among many choices for their commutes. One thinking is that if public transport quality is improved, then many people will opt to use PT rather than their private vehicles. However, there is also the observation that in many cases, those already using PT are the first to shift from the lower quality service to the better one. I also wrote about this as I posted my worries about how successful can Line 7 and Line 2 extension be in reducing car use along their corridors. Perhaps the ones who will truly benefit are those who are already taking public transport, and car and motorcycle users will just continue with these modes?

In Part 2, I will share some data we collected more than a decade ago for a study on jeepneys in Metro Manila. I will use the information to explain another angle of this issue on public transport supply and demand.

Quick share: “The ‘War on Cars’ is a Bad Joke

Here is another quick share. This time it is an article that I think attempts to diffuse what some many people regard as a war on cars being waged by those who advocate for public and active transport.

Litman, T. (2019) The ‘War on Cars’ is a Bad Joke, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/105877-war-cars-bad-joke?fbclid=IwAR2_SZHQeYEUGiU2G8RUw0Za6GrkR-2peD3eSjshpNUOg9-G5SpDWm6OnFI [Last accessed: 8/25/2019]

The author makes very strong arguments supported by evidence and data to place this topic in the right context. That is, there is no need to “wage war” or use arguments that are more on the hateful side and therefore not constructive to both sides. I think there should be a mutual understanding of the benefits (and costs) of having many options for transport or commuting. That said, infrastructure or facilities should not heavily favour one mode (car-centric?) for transport to be sustainable and healthy.

Sadly, many so-called progressives (yes, I am referring to the younger generations who are still in the idealistic stage of their lives) appear to be blind to understanding but instead opt for the hardline stance vs. cars and those who use them. Instead of winning people over and convincing those who really don’t need to drive to take other modes, they end up with more people becoming more apathetic or unwilling to take a stand vs. the status quo. This is the very same status quo that is definitely degrading quality of life and is described as an assault to human dignity.

Scenic route along my commute

My regular commute between my home and my workplace typically has 5 alternative routes with three taking me to Sumulong Highway. While night-time travels aren’t at all noteworthy, daytime travel especially from home to office provides for some nice views of the city. Along the highway, though, there are also some nice sceneries especially this time of year when the fire trees are in full bloom. Here’s a photo along Sumulong Highway showing some of the fire trees along its stretch.

 

You don’t get these views when you are along Marcos Highway, Ortigas Avenue, C-5 or Felix Avenue.

Summer traffic

The summer break for most students meant less traffic along many major roads around the country. That means improved travel times in many cases and during periods when one usually expects congestion particularly for streets that are the main access roads to and from schools. Among the streets affected by the summer break that means less vehicles are major thoroughfares like C-5, Shaw Boulevard, Aurora Boulevard and Espana Boulevard, which are the main access roads to many schools.

Katipunan Avenue (C-5) near Ateneo Gate 3 during what is usually the morning peak for the area. Obviously, much of the traffic generated by the schools in the area

The new school year, however, is just around the corner; with public schools resuming classes from June 3. In my case, I get to enjoy a bit more of less congested roads along my regular commute since Ateneo, Miriam and UP will be having the mid-year break for their college students from June to July. This is due to the adjusted academic calendars of these universities and college.