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Mixed messages for commuters?

I had spotted buses (or perhaps its just the same bus?) for a P2P service between Antipolo and Ortigas Center bearing what appears to be a statement for improving the quality of life of commuters. Many have been suffering and continue to suffer on their daily commutes starting from difficulties getting a ride to very long travel times. The term “dignity of travel” comes to mind, which a colleague coined many years ago to describe

P2P buses at the public transport terminal at Robinsons Place Antipolo

Whoever thought of this probably meant well; thinking about improving quality of life. The choice of words though may convey a different message as “driving” is in all caps and usually associated with a different, less appealing activity to sustainable transport advocates. I think they should have chosen “improving” instead of “driving” here.

 

This is somewhat similar to a much earlier post of mine showing SMRT buses in Singapore with ads promoting Uber and how it was supposed to complement public transport. That, of course, was a bit of a stretch in the city-state, which already has excellent public transport compared to elsewhere, and already complemented by very good taxi services.

Yesterday, there was a nationwide transport strike and depending on which side you are on, the reality is that we are still far from having more efficient public transport. But that’s another story and hopefully, I get to write about it in the next few days.

Public transport coverage in Metro Manila

I saw several posts circulating on social media about public transport routes in major cities that included stylised maps presented like the transit maps you usually see for cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. These show what the makers identify as the equivalent of stops or stations along the public transport “lines”. These, of course, are a simplification because what appears as a single line may actually be comprised of several. Also, the overlaps seem to be also quite simplified compared to what may be found  in reality. This post will not attempt to show how complicated road public transport is for Metro Manila. Instead, I am sharing the maps prepared from a previous study we conducted for the then DOTC (ca. 2012) that show the coverage of three road public transport modes: buses, jeepneys and UV Express.

PUB coverage for Mega Manila  with distinction of EDSA and non-EDSA routes (2012)

Jeepney  route  coverage  for  Mega  Manila (2012)

UV Express route coverage for Mega Manila (2012)

I hope these maps have already been updated or are going to be updated in order for us to have good visual references for public transport planning including the identification of locations for integrated terminals as well as connections with rail transit.

What happens now to the DOST’s AGTs?

The Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) vehicles that were used in the research and proof of concept at the previous test site in UP Diliman are scheduled to be transported back to DOST’s MIRDC soon. The vehicles are still in UP Diliman and are usable for R&D if someone decides to come up with a viable proposal for these. Unlike the hybrid electric train that is the AGT’s contemporary in terms of them being parallel projects, the future is unclear for both AGT models (i.e., there is another, higher capacity AGT already at MIRDC and tested using the test tracks there).

The two AGT vehicles are wrapped to protect them from the elements. These are functional and should still have value in case someone proposed to continue in their testing and refinement. It doesn’t need to be an elevated guideway for development to continue.

Here’s a closer look a colleague managed to take before we turned at the intersection.

What’s next for the AGT? Is there a future for these vehicles? Will the DOST initiate something with the DOTr or maybe with an LGU (Taguig?) to come up with a project that will employ these vehicles in what can be a full system instead of one on test tracks? Let’s hope these assets can still be utilised and not be wasted.

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.