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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.
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.
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.
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.
There will be a public consultation tomorrow entitled “EDSA Decongestion Consultation” at the GT Toyota Auditorium at the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines Diliman from 1:30 – 3:30PM. The consultation will tackle transport and traffic in Metro Manila but particularly along EDSA. The consultation will be facilitated by the TWG headed by Sec. Almendras who is the cabinet secretary put in-charge of addressing (solving?) the traffic mess in Metro Manila. The TWG includes DPWH, DOTC, DTI, MMDA, LTO, LTFRB, and the PNP-HPG.
This would be a good venue for stakeholders to articulate their concerns as well as offer their ideas towards alleviating transport and traffic problems. Invitations are supposed to have been extended to academic institutions, transport groups and other interested parties. Hopefully, this event will be a productive and constructive one. Pointing fingers and playing the blame game will not get us anywhere.
Social media is again abuzz with stories about Uber and how Philippine government agencies like the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) are hassling Uber, Grab and similar companies into complying with government regulations covering their services. Is it really a hassle and are these “Transport Network Companies” or TNCs the real deal in terms of solving part of Metro Manila’s transport woes?
I believe Uber and other services like it have good intentions towards providing high quality, on-demand transport services. However, based on what I’ve read about the service in other countries (particularly in the US and Europe), the intention (original?) was to take advantage of surplus or excess capacity of vehicles being driven by “owner-drivers” between origins and destinations such as their homes and offices. That means an improvement of sorts for traffic as, instead of having one vehicle per person, two or more can share a single car. The main differences with conventional carpools is that the driver and his passengers practically do not know each other, and the passengers pay the driver a fee that is agreed upon at the start of the transaction. This works well in car-oriented cities as well as those with less than satisfactory public transport services especially when it comes to taxis.
The last sentence seems to be the right description for Metro Manila and other rapidly growing Philippine cities. And so, Uber, Grab Car and other shared service attracted many users who can afford them and providers willing to share their rides with total strangers. I stated “owner-drivers” in the previous paragraph as this was supposed to be an essential part of the set-up where Uber and others didn’t add to the cars already on the roads. Problem is, apparently and allegedly, some enterprising people who had the resources thought it would be a good idea to deploy all their vehicles (and even purchase additional ones) by hiring drivers they could register with Uber or Grab Car. That way, they thought they could bypass the typically bureaucratic process of getting a franchise for taxi or rental car franchises that also include all those business permits and, of course, taxes. The result of this would not be the utilization of excess capacity but the addition of more cars on the roads and therefore contribute to worsening congestion.
As far as the LTFRB is concerned, like it or not, they are just doing what they are mandated to do and are supposed to do with any transport service provider that is not purely private (i.e., services with a fee). It just so happens that the DOTC and LTFRB have been on the receiving end of a lot of flak from the public and especially in social media for what is perceived as the agencies’ ineptitude in dealing with major issues in public transportation. These include the continuing saga that is EDSA-MRT 3 and the perceived low quality services provided by buses and jeepneys in general that leave people at the mercy of taxis and UV express if they opt not or cannot afford to purchase their own vehicles.
The main issue is not whether DOTC and LTFRB should pay attention to Uber and others like it. The agencies should as per their mandates. However, there are a lot of other more serious and more urgent issues/problems including the much delayed mass transit projects and the low quality of service being provided by buses, jeepneys, UV express and conventional taxis that the DOTC and its attached agencies need to act on and now. I know it is a generalization (There are many good bus, jeepney, UV express and taxi drivers and operators out there who are also working their butts off to earn a living.) but then when you combine unsafe driving, with high fuel consumption and a lot of harmful emissions then you get a cocktail that’s definitely bad for all travelers.
How many people use Uber or Grab Car or taxis? Do they outnumber those taking the LRT/MRTs, buses, jeepneys and UV express? They don’t and therefore only represent a small percentage of the trips being taken everyday in Metro Manila and adjacent areas. And so the more pressing issues are really those pertaining to mass transit and the dire need to construct these systems once and for all in order to achieve a more sustainable and inclusive transport system for this still growing megalopolis.
A lot of people reacted when the current Philippine President practically absolved the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) from any fault regarding the issues on the EDSA MRT Line 3 during his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA). The main message in some articles appearing on mainstream and social media is that the President should blame DOTC for the mess. I have the opinion that both DOTC and the private entities involved (MRT Corporation, MRT Holdings) are responsible for the problem and its being continuously unresolved.
A week ago, I got the following question in my email:
Who is it that we could blame for the current state of the rail system? What do you suggest that the government or the private partner do in order for them to improve the line?
Quite frankly, I thought the first question was too direct and blunt as to ask who we can blame for the MRT3 mess. It is also very awkward to answer the second question because it assumes that I am an expert on the legal issues on this matter. I am NOT a legal expert nor would I want to pretend to be one. Here was my reply:
That’s actually a very tricky question. We can’t really blame a specific person or persons but perhaps entire organizations that are supposed to be responsible for the mess that is MRT3. The main or root issue seems to be legal and not at all technical. The technical problems experienced are manifestations of a contract that is a textbook case for how NOT to do a PPP. I am not privy to the details of the discussions between the government and the people involved and behind MRTC so it is awkward to make comments specific to this matter of the contract and all its complexities. Perhaps the DOTC wants to follow “Daang Matuwid” by not budging to the terms laid out by MRTC? Perhaps MRTC is aware of the stakes (plight of the riding public) and is using this to force DOTC into a deal that is not favorable to government? We can only speculate on this without firsthand knowledge of their discussions.
However, from the perspective of transport as a service and as a public good, I would say that MRTC indeed is aware of the public’s clamor for improvement. This is all over the news and social media in the form of commentaries, images and even videos of the undesirable experiences of those taking the MRT3. In the end, DOTC must decide whether it is all worth it to maintain the stalemate with MRTC considering that the public interest is at stake here and things will just become worse with inaction. Perhaps the government should move towards the best compromise they can live with considering the urgency of addressing the problem at hand.
I would like to think that my reply was quite cautious. There have been many allegations and claims from both sides of the table regarding how to resolve the impasse and the conflicts that seem to be interwoven with the contract on the MRT3. Perhaps such cases test the limits of “Daang Matuwid”? Much was and is expected from DOTC considering its battery of lawyers including top officials of the department. Aren’t they supposed to have been involved in discussions and negotiations aside from strategic planning for our transportation in this country? I guess the general public especially those who take the MRT3 for their commutes already know who to blame for their plight…
An article came out recently about the four new transport categories introduced by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
- Transportation Network Vehicle Service (TNVS),
- Premium Taxi,
- Airport Bus, and
- Bus Rapid Transit
To quote from the article from Rappler, TNVS are:
“Vehicles of application-based, ride-sharing service providers, like Uber, GrabTaxi, Tripda, and EasyTaxi, will now fall under the category TNVS.
TNVS will cover vehicles that provide pre-arranged transportation services for compensation, using an online-enabled application or platform technology to connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles, Abaya said.
These new rules will also allow ride-sharing service providers to accept regular passengers heading to any point of destination in the country, Abaya added.
Operators of TNVS, called Transportation Network Companies, are also required to screen and accredit drivers and register them with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
All TNVS vehicles will also be required to install and use global positioning system (GPS) tracking and navigation devices. Only sedans, Asian Utility Vehicles, Sports Utility Vehicles, vans, or similar vehicles will be allowed, and these should not be older than 7 years.
The new framework makes the Philippines the first country to have nationwide rules on ride-sharing, according to both the Philippine transport department and Uber. Previously, only local and city governments have regulated the services…”
Premium Taxis are described as:
“…vehicles with a 7-year age limit under this new category will be equipped with GPS, online and smartphone booking capability, and cashless transactions through credit or debit card payments.
Like TNVS, premium taxis will be allowed to accept regular passengers heading to any point of destination in the country…”
And Airport Buses are:
“…should have fixed schedules and off-street stops, low-floor height and adequate luggage space, CCTV cameras, GPS device, free WiFi, and must run on Euro V or clean alternative fuel.”
Abaya pointed out that Green Frog has expressed interest in the airport bus service that would ply three areas including Makati City, Mall of Asia (MOA) as well as Bonifacio Global City (BGC) or Ortigas business centre…”
I won’t mention the BRT anymore. It deserves its own feature (as if the previous ones on it are not enough to describe the system), and is the only mass transit among the 4 categories “introduced” by the DOTC.
These new transport categories are obviously a step in the right direction. These are not new ideas and the institution of these categories by the DOTC is long overdue considering that the agency had to go through this process in order to address legal issues pertaining to such services. In the case of TNVS and Uber, for example, much has been mentioned about franchise issues and how Uber was illegal under the prevailing set-up. It is good to have another option to the regular taxis but then weren’t GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi were supposed to have enhanced services?
As for airport buses, such limousine services have been in operation in many other countries. Unfortunately, in Metro Manila’s case, these buses would have to contend with worsening traffic conditions along most major roads connecting the airport terminals to the various points of interest mentioned in the article (e.g., Makati CBD, BGC, Ortigas CBD, etc.). It is good though that Green Frog was mentioned in the article as the new category provides an opportunity for cleaner and more efficient technologies to be applied to transport services. Still, if these services will be operated by reckless drivers then they won’t be much better than what we already have at present.