Caught (up) in traffic

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Article on housing and transportation

Here’s another excellent piece from Todd Litman about the dynamics of housing and transportation. This is a very relevant topic in many cities today and especially so for those like Metro Manila, which is struggling with issues pertaining to affordable housing and transportation infrastructure and services. Arguably, a lot of households are spending more than the 45% threshold of incomes mentioned in the article but people continue to get homes away from the city as these are relatively cheaper than those closer to their workplaces and schools. Unfortunately, transportation costs are on the rise and congestion and a lack of an efficient transport system are among the culprits for what many have already labelled as undignified and atrocious costs of commuting.

Litman, T. (2018) “Affordability Trade-Offs,” planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/99920?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-08092018&mc_cid=e2a69b6eb4&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 8/9/2018]

I envy the guy for being able to present these topics clearly. It is a complex subject and one that isn’t understood by many in government who are supposed to be responsible for crafting and implementing policies and programs to address issues pertaining to affordable housing and commutes. I wonder if Todd is coming over for the ADB Transport Forum. He’s make for a good resource person in some of the sessions there and perhaps can also be invited to speak about this and other relevant and urgent topics in a separate forum. Anyone out there care to sponsor him?

Safe and healthy journeys to school

I recently attended a workshop organised by UNICEF in cooperation with UN Environment and the WHO. The main topic was about road safety, particularly for children and focusing on their journeys between homes and schools. This is definitely a big issue and the concern is not without basis. Take the example shown in the photo below where two motorcycles are carrying more passengers than what they are designed for.

Children on-board motorcycles bound for a school in Zamboanga City

The passengers are children being taken by what looks like a parent or parents driving the motorcycles. Such are common scenes in Philippine roads and in many cases, the children are at risk of being involved in a crash. Most will have no protection and will likely be seriously injured or be killed in case of a crash. Then there are the cases of children walking between their homes and schools and are exposed to the dangers brought about mainly by motor vehicle traffic along the roads they travel on. It is a wonder how there are few crashes occurring despite these conditions (or is it because few are reported and recorded?)!

I will be pursuing research topics related to safe journeys to schools more than other road safety topics that the staff and students I supervise are usually taking on. Hopefully, too, my new advisees this coming semester will be interested in related topics particularly graduate students who work for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

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.

Commuting and stress

Here is another quick post but on a topic that’s related to health and therefore is something that I think many should be interested in and perhaps take important note of.

Commuting: “The Stress that Doesn’t Pay”

There are many links to various medical articles within the article. At the last part, there is also a list of references that the reader may want to look at. I’m also posting this for future reference. This would contribute to the formulation of topics for research especially the inter-disciplinary or collaborative kind.

Some relief due to the number coding adjustments?

A friend asked me about my commute after the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) had implemented a tweak in the number coding scheme. To those not familiar with the recent adjustments to the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) or more popularly known as the number coding scheme, the MMDA has recently eliminated the window that was applied to many roads. The 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM window is no more and the MMDA also extended the coding period to 8:00 PM from the old 7:00 PM lifting.

My observation from my personal experience commuting in the mornings between Antipolo and Quezon City is that my travel times have somewhat improved. After Undas, I have enjoyed travel times of 45 minutes to 1 hour during the same morning periods when I choose to travel. This has improved significantly from the 1.5 hours I had spent prior to the adjustment. My usual route was mainly through Marcos Highway so perhaps its not just the coding aspect but also the fact that much of the construction work for the LRT Line 2 Extension have been completed and there have been less obstructions due to this project between Masinag and Santolan. My homebound trips seem to have improved too for the same reasons although not as significant as my morning commute. Another friend has similar observations and is very happy about the big improvements he says he now enjoys considering he has even longer commutes between Antipolo and Manila (Intramuros) or Makati (Gil Puyat).

But generally speaking, is it possible that there are significant positive impacts of the tweak in the number coding scheme? My assessment is that it is very possible and very likely especially if we see it from the perspective of vehicle trip reduction due to the adjustments made in the restraint policy. The number coding scheme is a travel demand management (TDM) measure designed to reduce vehicle traffic through vehicle use restraint. By introducing the coding window many years ago, the restrictions to vehicle travel were in effect relaxed and that encourage more people to use their cars.

The elimination of the coding window means people could not move their times of commute to later than 7:00 AM or earlier than 3:00 PM. It meant people whose vehicles were “coding” had to leave (forced?) early and go home late. Extending the coding period to 8:00 PM probably was probably a back-breaker to many people. And then the difference now compared to the 1990s and decade after that is the availability of the more reliable Uber and Grab vehicles that many car-owners had no option to use before. I’m not a psychologist but perhaps such factors have led to an improvement in traffic conditions. How long this would last shouldn’t be so difficult to tell given the experiences in the past and the fact that population and vehicle ownership continues to rise. Perhaps a year or two if no significant improvements in transport (e.g., mass transit projects) happen.

Starting November 14, the MMDA is also supposed to be clamping down (read: stricter implementation) on the motorcycle lane policy along EDSA, C5, Commonwealth and Macapagal Blvd. I’m not so sure how they will be doing this as enforcement along the stretches will require a lot of manpower.

Extreme commutes on a jeepney

I chanced upon this overloaded jeepney along Sumulong Highway. I counted eight people hanging behind the vehicle including the conductor. This is actually illegal and not just at present but always. The practice of hanging behind a jeepney is obviously unsafe and there is a high risk of people falling off. It would be a miracle not to have major injuries if one falls from the vehicle, and there is a high likelihood of fatality especially of a falling passenger gets hit by another vehicle trailing the jeepney.

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‘Sabit’ or hanging on for a jeepney ride is more a necessity and males usually do this in order to get a ride home or to work. On many occasions, you will see men or boys in their office or school uniforms in the morning, braving it just so they won’t be late for work of school. While it is illegal, authorities seem to apprehend overloaded jeepneys from time to time (or according to some, just for show). I guess they, too, understand how difficult it is to get a ride and how this somehow allows people to get to their destinations. Surprisingly and despite reckless behavior among drivers, there seem to be few untoward incidents reported. Hopefully, public transport will improve so that people will not have to do such extreme commuting.

Candidates for national positions in the Philippines using public transportation

There was a clamour for public officials to take public transportation in order for them to experience what commuters regularly go through when taking public transport. This was especially the challenge to officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) after what seemed to be an endless sequence of breakdowns involving trains in Metro Manila. While some officials and politicians were quick to respond, most if not all were only for photo opportunities (masabi lang na nag-MRT or nag-jeepney or nag-bus). The DOTC Secretary himself also rode the train but with many alalays and was apparently given special treatment judging by the conditions when he rode the train. I remember one senator who was presidential-candidate-to-be at the time fall in line (a very long line at that) at an MRT3 station in Quezon City to experience it herself and declared it was so the experience could help her frame legislation to improve public transport in the country. That was rare and apparently never repeated by the politician despite the praises she received for her doing so without any bodyguards or alalays (assistants).

Some people have been saying that one Vice Presidential candidate is so desperate that she’s taking public transport and having herself photographed doing so. I happen to know for a fact that the said VP hopeful takes public transportation regularly and even from the time when she was not yet congressman. She almost always takes the bus between her hometown in Bicol and Metro Manila. That is not a desperate act but a natural thing for her that few if any of our national officials, elected or appointed, can claim they also practice. This is the VP-candidate in her natural self with no pretensions and no sense of self-entitlement (compared with others who ride their chauffeured vehicles complete with escort vehicles). We need more people like her if we are to address transport and traffic issues cities and the entire country is now facing. These problems hinder development and is something experienced by most people including those who can afford to have their own vehicles for their commutes. We need leaders with first-hand knowledge and experience of how it is to be someone who takes public transport regularly.