Caught (up) in traffic

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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.

Commuting conveniences in Singapore

My recent trip to Singapore allowed me to get reacquainted with its efficient and convenient public transport system. The first thing I did when I arrived at Changi was to proceed to the SMRT station beneath the airport to take a train to the city center where our hotel was located. There I got me a tourist pass for unlimited 2-day commuting over the weekend we were there. I also decided to get a new EZ link card as I saw they released a design for the Chinese New Year (Year of the Monkey). I missed getting myself a Star Wars card, which the staff said were immediately sold out.


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IMG_1067Escalator to the SMRT Station beneath the Changi Airport Terminal 2

IMG_1068Heading down, you realize that the station is way under the airport terminal

IMG_1069After a second long flight of escalators, you reach the station level for the N-S line (green)

IMG_1070Ticket machines for purchasing tickets, cards or topping up (reloading) your card

IMG_1071Ticket office where you can purchase a pass or EZ link card

IMG_1072N-S line platform at Changi Airport Terminal 2

Singapore along with Hong Kong provides very good examples of how public transport should be and the benefits these can provide to people. Tourist passes and the EZ link card gives us a good example of how convenient commuting can be in terms of fare payment/collection.

“New phenomenon” in traffic?

I read in the news recently that the government official currently acting as traffic czar for Metro Manila. The news item may be found at the following link:

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/536851/news/nation/almendras-cites-new-phenomenon-in-edsa

Apparently, the government official found what he claimed as a “new phenomenon” along EDSA. To quote from the article:

“Sa gabi, your honor, may bagong phenomenon na we’re still trying to understand: Bakit ang daming naghihintay ng bus pauwi?” Almendras told senators during the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs’ hearing on the traffic in Metro Manila.

The secretary added that while commuters are having a hard time getting a bus ride in the afternoon, EDSA is packed with passenger buses in the morning.

Almendras has been personally monitoring EDSA since the police’s Highway Patrol Group took over traffic management on the main thoroughfare.

He said somebody told him that passenger buses are no longer going out in the afternoon or in the evening because they have already hit their quota during daytime.

“This is not fact yet… Somebody told me that when the buses hit their minimum targets, the drivers decide, ‘Bakit pa ako magpapakahirap magbiyahe?'” he said.

“I have that question. Why do I see a lot of people on the streets waiting to go home in the afternoon than in the morning?” he added.

It boggles the mind on how our officials are making assessments of the transport and traffic situation around Metro Manila and particularly along EDSA. The statements taken directly shows how detached our officials are from the realities of commuting that most people face on a daily basis in the metropolis. Such statements reinforce calls for public officials to take public transportation themselves in order for them to experience first-hand and understand how most people feel during their daily travels between homes, workplaces and schools. But while people do not deserve such hardships of commuting, there is the lingering (philosophical) question of whether the same commuters deserve the leaders they elected who appointed these same officials who have been and continue to be inutile and insensitive to the plight of the commuting public. Hopefully, the coming 2016 elections will yield officials who will be more sensitive and responsive to the plight of commuters in this country.

Misleading information on comparing modes of transport

A major media network sponsored an experiment pitting a bicycle, bus and rail in a race from Trinoma to De La Salle University along Taft Avenue. The bicycle won but under conditions that are favorable to the cyclist even considering Metro Manila’s road conditions that are not bike-friendly (and not pedestrian friendly, too, in many areas).

Would the bicycle have won against a motorcycle where both riders were of similar skills and experiences? Probably not considering the speed of a motorised vehicle even given congested roads.

Would a lot of people consider cycling between, say, Trinoma and DLSU? Most likely not, even if you provide the necessary infrastructure and facilities like bike racks, showers, etc., short of building exclusive bikeways (e.g., elevated).

I have nothing against bicycles and cycling. I have a bicycle myself and I have cycled between my home and the universities when I was studying and a visiting scientist in Japan. However, I have to caution people into thinking and oversimplifying that one mode is better than all others. If we pursue this line of thinking, then perhaps we should include walking in the discussion. I would like to think that there will also be a lot of people who would state that walking (and even running) is better than other modes including cycling. When comparing these two non-motorized modes, however, the advantages of one over the other become obvious – cycling is faster and requires less energy per person traveling using the mode. Such would extend to the motorized modes and comparisons should clearly show the suitability of certain modes of transport over others once distance and capacity are factored into the equation. Thus, we have rail systems as more appropriate over longer distances and are able to carry much more passengers per hour compared to, say, jeepneys. These are even more efficient in terms of energy on a per passenger basis. Further, we have to appreciate that we have to establish a clear hierarchy of transport systems and provide the necessary infrastructure to enable people to have all the options for traveling and especially for commuting.

Some thoughts on Uber in Metro Manila

I had wanted to write something on Uber the past weeks but couldn’t because I wanted to have some visuals to go with the text. And so one time we decided to use Uber, I consciously took some screenshots for the photos that are shown in this post.

After opening your Uber app, you can indicate your pick-up point and you destination. You can see how many Uber drivers are nearby based on the map and the quick reference on screen. You can also check for a fare estimate as well as select the service you want. There are currently only two types of services available in Metro Manila – UberX and Uber Black. UberX is the default service and involves a regular car. Uber Black is a bigger and more ‘luxurious’ vehicle. Of course, you pay more for a better vehicle. Once you have inputted the necessary information for your itinerary, you can put in the request. Success in getting a ride is immediately shown on your phone.

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The screen shows that the driver is en route to your pick-up point. Details on your ride are provided including the name of the driver, the vehicle make, model and plate number. The vehicles I have rode on so far are recent models and most have no license plates yet – an indication of how new these vehicles are. Uber is supposed to be screening both the drivers and vehicles being registered to provide their services. One criteria for vehicles is that these are supposed to be recent models and well maintained, what’s perceived to be the opposite of vehicles used as conventional taxis.

During the trip, you can get updates on your progress through the map onscreen. This includes the estimated time of travel until you reach your destination. Information on the driver is also shown including his average rating. Our driver in this example had a 4.6 star average rating. I guess this is good given the star rating scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest rating.

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At the end of the trip, you can receive a receipt on your email. The receipt includes details on your fare, the start and end times of your trip, the travel distance and the route taken in map form. Information on the driver and a note for rating your driver is at the bottom of the receipt. Of course, you can save this for future reference and perhaps print it out in case you will be reimbursing the cost of your trip.

Receipt

After rating your driver, you will receive another message thanking you for rating your driver. Our driver that afternoon was good and drove safely. He wasn’t talkative but was polite and could strike up a conversation (My companion asked a few questions about his driving for Uber in an interview-like manner.).

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What you don’t see is how your driver rated you. Uber also asks drivers to rate users and I would guess that this will have repercussions on passengers with bad attitudes. The ratings work both ways as Uber customers should be wary of their potential drivers as well as their own behavior. I suppose that drivers get information on whether a potential passengers is a rude one and may opt to avoid such passengers.

My take so far on Uber is that it is what conventional taxis are supposed to be. I find Uber drivers to be better in terms of politeness and safety in their driving habits. Fare-wise, Uber has been less expensive than Grab Taxi or conventional taxis as you don’t have to bid to get an Uber ride. The Grab Taxi app basically formalizes the bidding process as it asks you how much gratuity (tips) you are willing to give for a ride. I feel that this gratuity feature is a major determinant for taxi drivers choosing their fares and leads to more expensive fares. Of course, I haven’t experienced Uber’s surge pricing yet but friends who use Uber have informed me that this can be quite steep and can hurt your pocket or wallet. Still, I think Uber provides good service but it is not for everyone especially those on a budget or going to a place where roads are generally congested.

Health and commuting

Why is good public transportation especially transit important? Perhaps transport engineers and planners often get lost in trying to explain this from the perspectives of travel efficiency (e.g., reduced travel times, fuel efficiency, more capacity in terms of people carried, etc.) and environmental concerns (e.g., reduced emissions, reduced noise, etc.). Perhaps, too, there’s a need to articulate the importance of good public transport from the perspective of health. How many people do running, jogging or walking in the mornings, afternoons or evenings just to lose weight? How many go to gyms to workout? Perhaps the key to health lies in just walking everyday and integrating that healthy walk in your daily commutes. Here is a nice article from the Wall Street Journal on the link between the way you commute and a healthy life:

Your Commute Could Help You Lose Weight

Somethings I miss from living in Japan and Singapore are my regular walks to and from the transit station. I recall really good walks between the Transport Laboratory in YNU to the Soetetsu Line Kami Hoshikawa Station. You have to walk up a small mountain almost everyday from the station to the university. I also had good walking buddies back then during my 3 years in Yokohama. Later, I also enjoyed walking or cycling between the Transport Lab at Saitama University and the International House. Often, too, I would walk or cycle to the supermarket, the transit station or just around the neighborhood during free times. In Singapore, our home and the office were also near transit stations so we could take nice walks between them aside from the four flight of stairs to our apartment on the fourth floor. Such healthy commutes can be realized in Philippine cities if proper planning is undertaken and transit projects are implemented not just from the perspective of efficiency but, importantly, from the viewpoint of health. The current state of public transport is not healthy and many, especially those taking the EDSA MRT 3, will say that it is quite stressful to commute in Metro Manila. And stress is definitely not the way to lose weight. Is this true for other Philippine cities as well? Hopefully, we can work out transport solutions that include good public transport to promote healthy lifestyles.