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A brief history of transport strikes – Part 2: reasons for a strike
The current transport strike is not about fare hikes or the rising prices of fuel. Those are the most common reasons for jeepney drivers and operators going on strike. It’s quite simple for these reasons: Drivers protest when government refuses to increase fare rates amidst rising costs of operations and maintenance. And they don’t when fares are reduced as fuel prices are going down.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) through its Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is tasked with evaluating operations and maintenance costs of public utility vehicles and prescribe the minimum and incremental fares for these services. Fare hikes (and reductions) are the consequence of fuel price increases (or decreases) but are not set as dynamic or automatic. Fuel prices, as can be observed, can fluctuate and currently change every week. Fares are not automatically adjusted whether fuel prices are increasing or decreasing and are heavily regulated by government in part to supposedly protect the interests of the riding public. As such, fare matrices or the structured fares according to the various routes and the distances covered by public utility vehicles
The reason for the current transport strike is generalized as a jeepney phaseout. The term ‘phaseout’ actually refers to the PUV Modernization Program (PUVMP) of the government that seeks to replace all conventional jeepneys with ‘modern’ or ‘modernized’ units. The latter include mini-bus types as well as those that retain the conventional jeepney form but usually larger and with newer engines and interior layout. This is not necessarily a phaseout like the one I described in Part 1 along the LRT Line 1 corridor.
Again, much of the opposition cites the high cost (and therefore unaffordable) of a modern jeepney. The financing schemes currently available as well as the requirement for jeepney operators and drivers to be part of a transport cooperative to avail of these financing schemes are still considered unacceptable by many. And yet, government seems unwilling to extend resources in order for operators and drivers to be able to afford a new vehicle. The old jeepneys would still have some value but definitely not near a substantial down payment needed for low monthly payments. These monthly payments cannot be covered by the typical boundary (basically rent) for operators or the daily income for drivers.*
What is the cost of replacing conventional jeepneys with new, ‘modernized’ vehicles? Well, let’s assume that a new vehicle costs 2.4M pesos. Also, perhaps cover only the ones operating in the urban setting (i.e., exclude for now those serving provincial routes especially those used also for freight (e.g., top loads)), say 50% of the estimated 250,000 units need to be replaced. That goes up to 300 billion pesos. If we were to replace only Metro Manila jeepneys, that will be 132 billion pesos. These numbers can be compared to the cost of major projects like the Metro Manila Subway (488 billion), the Bataan-Cavite interlink bridge (175 billion) and the New Manila International Airport in Bulacan (735 billion). Would it be worth it (benefits-wise) to invest in new jeepneys?
*Of course, this also indicates a flawed business model for jeepney operations. But that’s another story.
A brief history of transport strikes – Part 1: introduction
A nationwide week-long transport strike by jeepney operators and drivers From a CNN news report yesterday, it was stated that an estimated 4 out of 10 or 40% of jeepney drivers will be going on strike and halting operations for a week. These are supposedly members of the group Manibela, which claims to have over 100,000 members nationwide (Aren’t you curious how many jeepneys there actually are nationwide? There are supposedly more than 250,000 public utility jeepneys operating across the country with about 55,000 in Metro Manila.). The other 40% are certain that they will not be going on strike and these include members of the more established groups like PISTON, ACTO and Pasang Masda as well as those who belong to the many transport cooperatives that were formed the last so many years in part for the purposes of modernization. The remaining ones are undecided and include those also affiliated with those groups and those who claim to not have any affiliations.
If media companies like GMA, the defunct ABS CBN and even government station PTV have archives dating back to the 1970s, they will probably see that similar interviews have been conducted of jeepney drivers. Libraries like the National Library or perhaps those of leading universities like the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University would likely have archives of newspapers from way back. I remember UP Diliman having microfiche facilities but I am unsure to what year they have archives. You will likely read similar reports and interviews about jeepney operations during those times. The idea and initiatives for phasing out the conventional jeepneys is not a new thing or topic. It has been out there for quite some time but in different forms and contexts.
For example, there was a proposal to phase out jeepneys along the corridor of the LRT Line 1 in the Feasibility Study for the railway line as well as in the Metro Manila-wide studies that were conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Jeepneys plying the Monumento-Baclaran and Monumento-Harrison Plaza routes were among those identified for phasing out. Careful reading of the reports though will also show that ‘phase out’ actually meant ‘rationalizing’ or ‘rerouting’ the jeepney services so they will complement the mass transit line. That never happened and the jeepneys still operate today (probably many are still the same jeepneys from the 1970s and 1980s!). Do passengers ride them from Monumento to Harrison (or vice versa)? Probably not as the travel will be too long compared to riding the train. They survive because of the short trips, usually less than 4 kilometers, by passengers who probably should be walking or cycling instead if we were in a Japanese, Korean, Singaporean or European city.
Fast forward today, the call apparently is for a phase-out in favor of the “modern” jeepneys (many are actually mini-buses). Jeepney operators and drivers are also being called to join or form cooperatives under which they can be part of programs that will replace their conventional jeepneys with a ‘modern’ unit. One issue here are the terms for the replacement or the acquisition of a new vehicle. The cost of a new vehicle varies and can be more expensive than a new SUV (e.g., more expensive if not as expensive as a new Montero, Fortuner or Everest) depending on the model and the size of the vehicle. This is apparently the most significant concern among others that is being cited by those opposing or resisting modernization, which they equate to a ‘phase out’.
One of the ‘modern’ jeepney models currently operating in Metro Manila
More in the next article for this series…
What if MUCEP was wrong?
I am not a stranger to the perils of bad data and the analysis, conclusions and recommendations based on it. Last week and the next couple, our students will be presenting and defending their research proposals (one group) and research outcomes (another group), respectively. Many of these students conducted secondary data collection and/or depended on online surveys for their primary data needs including interviews for their respective topics. Much of the secondary data are from past studies including the MMUTIS Update and Capacity Enhancement Project (MUCEP), which was the most recent comprehensive transport planning study for what we basically refer to now as NCR Plus (MUCEP covers Mega Manila, which includes parts of Bataan, Pampanga, Batangas and Quezon provinces aside from Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal).
I share the following quote from one who is in the know or has inside information about what went about during the data collection for a major project that sought to update the Metro Manila Urban Transportation Integration Study (MMUTIS):
“The MUCEP data can not be trusted. A major part of the survey was done by DoTr (via a contracted group) – not by JICA-supervised surveys. Its results revealed a large portion of walking per day, because the surveyor filled up the forms and/or disregarded sampling design as most car-owning HH were not available (working or declined to participate) during the survey.
However, citing it is for convenience (aura of credibility). Its (mis)use is another matter.”
The stories are not at all new and I have heard this from various sources including surveyors and survey supervisors themselves whom we also engage for our own data collection (it’s a small world after all – transportation practice in the Philippines). Whether these are factual or not, should be obvious from the data and whether it is consistent with past studies or presents an abrupt change in matters such as mode share and vehicle ownership.
Of course both the DOTr and JICA will deny there was any error in data collection at the time and the weights of their statements will definitely make these the more accepted even if there are reasonable doubts about the assumptions and the survey implementation. But infallibility claims aside, what if the assertion in the quote was correct? What are the implications to activities such as forecasting, policymaking or master planning? Are we not surprised or dumbfounded that despite what is being reported as lower vehicle ownership for Mega Manila, it seems that people do have the motor vehicles and are opting to use them as public transport reliability and safety perceptions are still at low points. Mode choice after all is not as simple as some people want to make it appear to be. And if the assumptions including vehicle ownership are off then any modeling or analysis will end up with erroneous results.
On the proposed single bus route along EDSA
A friend posted this on social media as news came out about the government’s statement on its considering a single bus route for EDSA. EDSA, of course, is Circumferential Road 4 and perhaps the busiest road in Metropolitan Manila in terms of volumes of people and vehicles traversing this road. Public transportation along EDSA is mainly by buses and the MRT Line 3. Line 3’s capacity is already diminished despite the high demand for it mainly because of the number of train sets that are currently in operation. Buses, meanwhile, are split among the many routes converging along much of EDSA. These routes are shown in the map on the left where you can see the overlapping routes that have various end points.
Of course, it is best to read the Final Report of this study. That way, one is able to see the overall context for this section that is part of the concluding part of the report. I recall that the consulting team from UP was able to map the routes of other public utility vehicles like jeepneys and UV Express from that time. Perhaps the DOTr still has a copy somewhere? The NCTS Library in UP Diliman is currently closed so one may have to search the internet first for a copy of the study or perhaps snippets of it here and there. Perhaps related to this is a proposal to revive (or maybe the right word is ‘resurrect’?) the now defunct Metro Manila Transit Corporation or MMTC that used to dominate EDSA and other major roads in direct competition with the few private bus companies during its heydays as well as the jeepneys.
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.
DMCI 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.
The 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.