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Updates on the Line 2 Extension: What’s next?

Marcos Highway is part of my regular commuting route and so I have been able to observe the progress of the construction of the elevated tracks for the extension of Line 2. The contractor, DMCI, is nearing the completion of their part of the project. Unfortunately, the stations and the electrical/power systems for the extension have not been bidded out by the DOTr and so there are not a few doubts whether the extension will be operational by 3rd quarter of 2017, which is the original completion date for the whole project. The construction of the two stations alone are expected to take some time and also will have a big impact on transport and traffic despite the construction sites being more concentrated around the stations at Emerald and Masinag. Here are a couple of photos showing what it looks like along Marcos Highway.

line-2-ext-17jan2017DMCI has almost completed clearing the stretch of Santolan to Masinag of their equipment. The barriers that delineated their work space are mostly gone, freeing up a lane each along either side of Marcos Highway. This has eased traffic along this major thoroughfare connecting Metro Manila to the east.

img_3823The pedestrian overpass across Vermont Royale has been retrofitted so the center section passes under the Line 2’s structure.

Timing is of the essence for the two additional stations of Line 2. As I said, the projected completion and start of operations was 3rd quarter of 2017. Of course, the last quarter of this year would still be most welcome but further delays mean more losses on the part of commuters and, overall, the government. Perhaps it was a mistake for the previous administration to have not included the stations in the package that DMCI eventually got and now has almost completed? Maybe the current administration should expedite the remaining parts of the Line 2 extension. This should prove how serious the current government is with its promises for better public transport (i.e., mass transport).

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.

Emergency powers to solve PH transport problems? – A long list of projects

I am sharing the long list of projects submitted by the Department of Transportation (DoTr) to the Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe. This is a public document and I think should be circulated for transparency and so people will know what projects are proposed to be covered

List of sectoral projects that the Department of Transportation intends to implement and draft bill for emergency powers: dotr-list-of-projects-and-draft-bill

I leave it up to my readers to determine which among the projects listed really require emergency powers. Many I think do not require emergency powers especially since the period requested for such powers is 2 years and not the duration of the current administration’s term. Perhaps those requiring emergency powers would be programs and projects aiming to overhaul our public transport system, which is currently much dependent on road-based modes. Public transportation services do not follow the suitable hierarchy as seen along major corridors served by low capacity modes. An overhaul (i.e., rationalisation) will touch the very sensitive nerves of bus, jeepney, UV express and tricycle operators and drivers and could trigger an avalanche of TROs to prevent or discourage government from doing what should have been done decades ago to bring order to our chaotic transport. I believe emergency powers coupled with the current admin’s political capital (and the “action man” image of Pres. Duterte) can help bring about genuine reform (and change!) to transport in our cities.

A new Department of Information

The big news today is the creation of a new Department by virtue of a new law signed by the outgoing President. The news article describing this new Department may be found in the following link:

Department of Information and Communications Technology created

This is a significant development as the next President of the Philippines already named his man for the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and now he has to deal with a new Department and more appointments.

With the DOTC (or DOT?) now reduced to dealing only with transportation, perhaps it can be more focused on the issues it needs to address immediately, over the next 6 years and beyond (i.e., from a strategic perspective). Also, perhaps the next administration can take a look at the possibility of having a merger of the transportation department and DPWH. Of course, such a merger would require a really good person on top to lead. This person should not only be an excellent manager but also a master strategist, with a clear and progressive vision for a modern, efficient transportation system for this country.

 

On critical government posts related to transportation

The camp of President-elect Duterte has been busy the past week trying to determine, among others, who will be secretary of which agency. As far as I am concerned, my interest is in who will be assigned to agencies that have a lot to do about transportation. Thee include the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Energy (DOE) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). DOTC, of course, is the main agency and has under it several front line agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) and the Philippine National Railways (PNR).

So far, what we know is that the DOTC portfolio will be given to Arthur Tugade, the former head of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC). Tugade has the confidence of Duterte as they are good friends and were classmates at the San Beda Law School. I’ve met Tugade once when we presented the outcomes and recommendations of a traffic study for a project at the Clark Freeport only a few months ago. The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman has had a productive relationship with Clark from the time the Center came up with a comprehensive transport and traffic master plan for the free port back in 2010. Tugade has been very productive in expanding businesses at Clark and has been quite an astute figure in his dealings with various political leaders in the region especially with respect to the local governments of Angeles City and Mabalacat. I wish him well at DOTC and hopefully, he can harness its much maligned organic staff like what he has done at CDC. There are so many challenges at DOTC including assigning good people at the LTO and LTFRB.

I hope Duterte retains Sec. Rogelio Singson as head of the DPWH . I had made the observation before that the DPWH is only as good as its head and Singson has been an excellent DPWH Secretary, introducing and institutionalizing many reforms to the agency so much so that it has been performing way above expectations and corruption has been curbed in many areas. In terms of e-governance and open data, the DPWH has been a bright spot in the past administration so much so that its performance in implementing infrastructure projects including those convergence programs with other agencies has made the DOTC look really bad.

As for the other agencies, I can’t think of any names yet as I am not very familiar with Duterte’s inner circle but based on what his camp has already announced, there will be people from the administrations of former Presidents Ramos and Arroyo, a throwback perhaps to the once powerful Lakas party than Duterte’s PDP-Laban. I am anxious to know who will be the next NEDA Director General. NEDA has a big role being the agency consolidating infrastructure plans and projects and the convenor of the very influential Infrastructure Committe (InfraCom) that approves projects for implementation. Very interesting, too, would be the appointee to the position of MMDA Chair. The nation’s capital needs a good administrator with an excellent vision for the megalopolis and the skill set to get things done. Hopefully, we will know who these people will be in the next few days.

Bus fixation and quick fixes

The mainstream news and social media have featured a lot about buses recently. These were mostly government initiatives:

  • P2P bus services – are operated by a tourist transport company (and now also by a large bus company that operates some routes for Bonifacio Global City). P2P stands for ‘point-to-point’, referring to the end points of a fixed route. For example, buses run non-stop between Trinoma in Quezon City and Glorietta in Makati. These are express buses that offering services that regular bus companies should be providing their passengers in the first place. Since these are non-stop (no pick-ups or drop-offs in between origin and destination, the main advantage is of course reduced travel times. They still operate in mixed traffic so travel times can still be reduced significantly if they had their exclusive ROW. That would make them operate like a BRT.
  • Airport premium bus services – are offered by a logistics company owned by a controversial government official heading a sensitive post. At 300 PhP per passenger, a close friend made the observation that you can get a decent enough taxi for that price. And if you were part of a group,  then you can probably pool your money to get Uber instead.

There is also the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Road Train, which is an exaggeration of sorts for a multi-articulated vehicle. Typical ‘stretched’ vehicles are the articulated and bi-articulated buses commonly used in BRT systems. The DOST’s Road Train prototype seems to be a combination of 5 buses. Thus, there is the allusion to a train.

The fixation on special buses seems like a stop gap measure (and some state they are), an attempt to address problems due to the government’s failure to deliver any major mass transit projects during its 6-year term. The LRT Line 2 extension doesn’t count as it only began construction a few months ago and won’t be operational until more than a year from now when there is already a new administration in power. The MRT-7 also doesn’t count as an accomplishment of this administration as it is a project that’s been in limbo for over a decade and only has also started work the past two weeks. Actually, these two rail projects were part of the list of low hanging fruits transport consultants and development agencies have identified at the start of the current administration. Hopefully, there are no major snags towards their completion in the next 2 years or so in order to open up opportunities to rationalize road public transport especially along Commonwealth Avenue and Marcos Highway where the impact of high capacity, quality mass transport will be felt once the Line 2 Extension and Line 7 are operational.

City bus layout

At the European Motor Show last weekend at Bonifacio High Street in Bonifacio Global City, there were obviously a lot of European made vehicles on display including the usual attractions from Italy and Germany. What also caught my attention was the new MAN bus currently being used Froehlich Tours for their P2P bus services. Here are some photos of the interior of the bus.

IMG_1040

IMG_1041

IMG_1042

Note the low floor for entry and exits and the layout of the seats that could maximise the number of passengers carried by the bus. The layout maximises the space for standing passengers and seats can be assigned to those with special needs such as persons with disabilities, pregnant women, and senior citizens. Those traveling over longer distances can be seated at the back in order for them not to block those who would be boarding and alighting over shorter distances (i.e., with the likelihood for more frequent movements). This layout should be the standard for city buses in Metro Manila and other cities considering bus services (e.g., Cebu and Davao). In fact, I think the DOTC and LTFRB should seriously consider coming out with a policy/memo requiring bus companies to transition into these buses. That means replacing non-compliant buses over a grace period (i.e., to account for the investments of bus operators/companies). This is one way of modernising bus fleets as most buses for city operations you see now, especially along EDSA, are configured for long distance (provincial?) trips with their narrow aisles and maximising the number of seats as well as the baggage compartments at the buses’ bellies.