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Early December 2020, Metro Pacific Corporation suddenly had to deal with jam-packed toll plazas and queues that affected roads connecting to the North Luzon Expressways. Fast-forward and Valenzuela City apparently had enough of it and revoked the tollway corporation’s business permit. Later, matters were resolved with the tollways reverting to mixed toll collection to manage the queues at the toll plazas.
Prior to this, tollways corporation scrambled to meet the deadline set and re-set by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) through the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) for contactless, cashless toll payments. The question is if there was enough time for tollway operators to acquire the best (not just the minimum required) system for this endeavor. There are some opinions that this was basically required on short notice and for the government to get some brownie points for this.
Were there issues about technology and the corresponding costs to the acquisition and deployment of the necessary devices for seamless, contactless, delay-free (in relative terms) transactions for tollways? Probably so. Those RFIDs and the readers installed at strategic locations along tollways (i.e., entries and exits) were certainly not state of the art or the best available out there. Singapore, for example, uses a more sophisticated system for their expressways where you no longer have toll plazas and you won’t have to slow down to be detected by the system. That system has corresponding costs but is perfect for the city state given that most roads are tolled anyway because of their road pricing policy. In the case of our tollways, not all travelers are actually going to utilize the tollways as frequently as it would necessitate them having to get either the Easy Trip or Auto Sweep tags. That is obvious from the relatively low penetration rates for electronic toll collection (ETC). So it still makes sense to have hybrid booths for those not availing the ETC option. Anyway, travelers will have to exercise disinfection protocols to ensure infections are prevented.
If you didn’t notice, the government (national agencies and local government units) has implemented and successfully employed experimentation and crowd-sourcing to find solutions for transport and traffic problems. In the case of experimentation with traffic, this has been going for a while now but not at the level of those conducted during Bayani Fernando’s stint at the MMDA. At the time, full scale experiments were undertaken as the agency dabbled with the U-turn scheme. The ultimate product of that time are the twin U-turn flyovers at C5-Kalayaan. I say ultimate because it involved both experimentations and traffic simulation, where the latter was used to justify the U-turn flyovers over what was originally proposed as an underpass along C-5. As I recall, the model was not calibrated or validate contrary to the agency’s claims. I say so because I personally saw how the model ran and the presentations were more like demonstration of the software used. Meanwhile, the DPWH at the time made their own simulation models and did the necessary calibration and validation to come up with sound models for other projects including the Quezon Avenue-Araneta Avenue underpass.
Crowd-sourcing, mainly through social media is a more recent approach. It is not an entirely new animal because prior to social media, there were a lot of inter-agency committees that included people from various stakeholders (some invited, some not) who were the primary “sources”. The crown now is larger and perhaps more diverse. Whether this is a conscious or unconscious effort is uncertain. And this can easily be denied or shrugged-off. But in this age of social media, there are just so many enablers or influencers for crowd-sourcing each of whom have their own agenda. Some mainly to promote or prop up the current administration. Some to mainly criticize without offering solutions. And others to invite constructive scrutiny or assessment while also providing options to address problems and issues. It is the latter group whose opinions and recommendations should carry more weight if indeed the administration is fishing for solutions from the so-called crowd.
Consider the following recent examples (not in any order):
a) Closing U-turn slots along EDSA
b) Requiring face masks for all who are outdoors including cyclists
c) EDSA carousel
d) Resumption of public transport with mostly air-conditioned vehicles
e) Bike lanes along major roads
f) Public transport reform (in general)
There are others but the six listed above have been discussed a lot on social media after government picked up an idea or two about them, and implemented each seemingly without conducting due diligence or paying attention to the details including potential glitches. They ended up with mixed results, many very costly (I wouldn’t say disastrous at this point). However, in all cases, they seem to welcome (though at times begrudgingly or feigning resistance) crowd-sourced solutions particularly those from organized groups who are only too happy for themselves to be in the limelight.*
One thing is for sure and that is that there is still a lack of capabilities among government agencies and LGUs when it comes to transportation. Don’t get me wrong. National government and many LGUs have the resources and capacity to address transport problems. However, their capabilities are in question here because they seem to be unable to harness their capacities and resources to come up with sound and suitable solutions. In the end, they appear to buckle under the pressure of their own crowd-sourced schemes only to emerge as manipulators after they are able get what they want with the willing assistance of the naive.
*Some of these are true advocates who have worked hard to make transport better for all while others are the bandwagon types (nakikisakay lang) who are content dropping key words that now sound cliche at every opportunity. I leave it up to my readers to determine which are which. 🙂
The restrictions for physical distancing for public transport seems to be easing. The reason for this statement is the observation that passengers of public utility vehicles are no longer one seat apart (less than the ideal 2m distance between people but deemed sufficient with physical barriers installed in the vehicles). If allowed to be seated next to each other (of course with some sort of physical barrier between them), the set-up will increase the allowed passenger capacities of PUVs to at least their seating capacities. Conventional jeepneys will be able to seat the 16 to 20 passengers their benches are designed for and buses, depending on their sizes and seating configurations may seat perhaps 40 to 60 passengers. That doubles or even triples the number of passengers that can be carried by each vehicle from the time these were allowed to resume operations after the lockdowns.
Plastic barriers separate passengers seated beside each other
Not all physical barriers are designed and installed to provide whatever protection passengers can get from them. The photos above for a G-Liner bus seems to be the more desirable design as the barriers are practically like curtains. I have seen token plastic barriers installed in jeepneys. I wonder if these even went through some approval process of the DOTr, LTFRB or local government unit. Such inferior designs do not help the cause of promoting public transport use over private vehicles.
Traveling along Marikina roads en route to my office, I spotted not a few of the minibuses that are being promoted as modernized or modern jeepneys. These are definitely not jeepneys or jitneys but small (or mini) buses. They are airconditioned with seating capacities about the same as the typical conventional jeepneys but with space for standing passengers once these are allowed given the pandemic. There’s a lot near the end of the Gil Fernando Avenue Extension that serves as a depot or parking lot for vehicles that have not been deployed (or sold?). And here are a couple of photos showing these.
New mini-buses being touted as “modern or modernized jeepneys” parked along the Gil Fernando Avenue Extension connector road.
These mini-buses used to ply the SM Masinag – SM Fairview (via Marikina and Batasan) and Cogeo – SM Aura (via Marcos Highway and C-5) routes.
There is a perceived continued lack of public transport supply in Metropolitan Manila and its adjacent cities and municipalities. This is evidenced from the long lines at terminals and stations and the many people waiting for a ride along streets. With the DOTr and LTFRB slowly but surely adding buses, “modern jeepneys” and conventional jeepneys along many old routes and new ones, it may seem that there are enough vehicles. The situation may be summarized as follows:
- The DOTr and LTFRB are taking advantage of the situation to try to rationalize public transport routes under their rationalization program. Certain routes, for example, that were served by conventional jeepneys are now assigned to buses and ‘modern jeepneys’. You can’t exactly blame them for this as the lockdown presented the opportunity to sort of start from scratch in as far as rationalization is concerned. They won’t get another chance at this without stiff resistance from various stakeholder groups.
- PUVs are still limited in terms of allowed/permitted passenger loads due to physical distancing requirements. These are already being eased for both buses and jeepneys but standees are not yet allowed for buses.
- The observed lack of supply is not as widespread as perceived. Commuters along some routes are better off than others. Traffic congestion due to the preference and use of private vehicles by many who used to travel by public transport exacerbates the situation as PUVs are unable to make quick turnarounds thereby making it appear that there is not enough of them operating. Approving and deploying more public transport without exerting efforts to improve confidence in using them will only lead to more congestion and inefficiencies to their operations.
Personal mobility devices (PMD) are in the news now as the Land Transportation Office (LTO) issued a statement calling for their users to be required to get a license. Apparently, the agency is interpreting the law for people operating motor vehicles as something that extends to users of all powered vehicles. This may be an example of the law not being apt or suitable for the times and not considering the specifications or operating characteristics of these vehicles. Thus, this issue emphasizes the need to update policies and regulations and perhaps re-formulate them to be less car-oriented or biased vs. active transport as well as this emergence of PMDs as another mode choice for travelers.
I took the following photos while conversing with one of the project research staff at our center who uses an electric PMD for his commute between UP and his home in the Cubao district. He related that he alternates between this and his motorcycle. When asked if he felt safe using the PMD, he said it was the same as when he rides a motorcycle as he also wears a helmet and protective pads when using the PMD.
I’ve seen a few PMD users along my commute and for most I thought they practiced safe riding. There were some though who seem to fancy themselves as stunt riders. These are the ones who endanger not only themselves but other road users with their reckless behavior on the roads. They are not different from other so-called “kamote” drivers or riders (with all due respect to the kamote or sweet potato). Like any road user, these should also be apprehended and penalized for unsafe behavior that endangers others.
I keep forgetting posting something about the buses that now operate along the Antipolo-Cubao route. Route 9, as the DOTr and LTFRB have designated this route covers one of 2 routes connecting Antipolo and Quezon City’s older CBD. Route 9 is via Sumulong Highway and Masinag Junction. The older route via Felix Avenue and Cainta Junction has not been revived. Both routes used to be served by jeepneys; many of them the “patok” kind that were known for speeding and risky maneuvers. It seems, at this time, that these will not be allowed to operate again along these routes with the rationalization efforts of the government. Following are photos taken at the Robinsons Antipolo transport terminal, which is where one of the end points of Route 9 is located.
Buses maneuver at the spacious terminal grounds at Robinsons Antipolo.
There are two bus services currently terminating here. One is the P2P bus service between Robinsons Antipolo and Robinsons Galleria, and the other is Route 9 between Antipolo and Cubao, Quezon City.
Many of the buses were “pulled out” from their former routes. The term pulled out is actually inaccurate since public transport operations were suspended during the lockdown.
The transport terminal is an intermodal one that’s supposed to cater to buses, jeepneys, vans and tricycles. There are currently no UV Express vans operating here and traditional or conventional jeepneys have yet to return to Antipolo.
A big part of the terminal is an area reclaimed from a failed amusement park that occupied the corner of this lot. The rides and other equipment were removed prior to the lockdowns.
There are minimal restrictions to the vehicles accessing the terminal grounds. Here you see a taxi and tricycle moving about. Cars may be parked nearby and these (parked cars) were not uncommon before the lockdown as some people practiced “park and ride” with the P2P buses.
EMBC buses such as this one used to ply the Tanay – Divisoria and Tanay – Quiapo routes
G-Liner buses are a familiar sight in Rizal where they are probably the oldest company continuing service since the 1980s. Correct me if I’m wrong but I only remember them being in operation in the 1980s. Before them were Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses and the baby buses that plied the Binangonan-Recto route.
G-Liners now operate two routes from the rationalization program: Antipolo-Cubao and Taytay-Gilmore.
The passenger capacities of the buses and the service between Antipolo & Cubao have been significantly reduced due to health protocols. Thus, buses can only carry perhaps up to 40 or 50% of their seating capacity. I mentioned seating capacity here because of physical distancing requirements and the ban on standees. Previously, a bus left every 5 minutes and their frequency could not cover the demand along the route. Recently, I observed more buses in operation and the addition buses from two more bus companies that used to ply the Fairview-Baclaran and Fairview-Alabang routes. These could probably help ease the supply issues.
More on the Antipol-Cubao service soon!
No, this is not a dissenting opinion on service contracting as proposed by a coalition of transport advocates. Rather, I write about other options or alternatives that can be taken on by the government in collaboration with the different sectors or players involved in transportation. Other options have not been discusses as extensively as would have been desired and ultimately weighed for application.
Allow me to rattle off a few options stated in the position paper by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP):
- Service contracting – which some groups have proposed and lobbied Congress for Php110 billion funding. This implies a government selecting a few among hundreds of bus operators and thousands of jeepney operators – a process that is bound to be controversial; whilst needing the mobilization of a performance audit and monitoring unit in a government agency. Economic literature is replete with studies that subsidy to producer (i.e., operator) produce bad outcomes over direct subsidy to consumers (i.e., commuter). In this regime, financial risks are borne by the government or authority.
- Fuel subsidy – the government was already implementing the Pantawid Pasada Program before ECQ. It incurred Php2.372 billion subsidies in 2019, up by 243% from Php0.977 billion in 2018. At the pump, the fuel subsidy equates to Php1.00/liter discount. Now, the DoTr is proposing a 30% subsidy which it estimates to be Php1,152/PUB and Php366/PUJ. These amounts are NOT commensurate to the theoretical drop in revenues at 50% load limit. Worse, free fuel leads to bad outcomes, as it would encourage higher fuel use and siphoning off to other modes.
- Free Fare – this proposal is intertwined with the service contracting model and may be counterproductive to the objective of social distancing. It is a policy that encourages unnecessary travel and crowding – which the distancing rule seeks to minimize. The government needs only to look on ridership on LRT/MRT on free-fare days against regular working days.
- Direct Subsidy to Commuter – in this scheme, the operator is allowed to increase its tariff by an amount sufficient to compensate for the 50% volume cut. However, the passenger only pays the same fare level that he paid before ECQ. The government pays the difference. When paired with the Automated Fare Collection System (which LTFRB has required under MC-2020-019 dated 14-May 2020), it is the most efficient method, and is immediately implementable. Subsidy is targeted, rather than all-encompassing. It promotes the wider adoption of AFCS on all public transport, not just on MRT/LRT. Senate Bill No.1417 seeks to fund, among others, for transportation vouchers; this could be disbursed rapidly via the AFCS card
Another idea is the purchase of new model jitneys to replace old jeepneys – this is an idea that I have posted and have discussed with former and current officials of the DOTC/DOTr before (matagal na itong idea na ito). You purchase say 1 modern jitney at 1.6million pesos/vehicle (note: other models are more expensive, exceeding 2M per unit) and replace the old, conventional jeepneys. It will not be free but payment for the vehicle will be deferred until after the transport crisis brought about by the pandemic clears out. The old jeepneys would be part of the collateral and perhaps still have some utility in them to be used for other purposes (freight?). Think about it. How much pork does your typical congressman and senator have? They could probably use this to modernize public transport in their respective constituencies!
It is important to have a lot of ideas out there instead of just one that is being pushed as the only option. In truth, there should be a combinations of solutions as there will not a be single one applicable and effective to all cases and situations. At this time, I am not sure that these options are being considered by the DOTr. The agency and the LTFRB are proceeding with rationalization and modernization simultaneously, at their own pace and at their own terms, taking advantage of the conditions and situations brought about by the pandemic. While it seems to be the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do rationalization and modernization, it might be immoral and inappropriate given the circumstances that doomed a lot of families who depend on public transport operations for their livelihood.
There is this article that argues that one result of the pandemic and the scare that it caused to a many is that people have resorted to car use during and after the lockdowns:
Vanderbilt, T. (2020) “People Are Buying Cars Because of the Pandemic. Cities May Change as a Result,“ Medium, https://gen.medium.com/people-are-buying-cars-because-of-the-pandemic-cities-may-change-as-a-result-e0657584f45e [Last accessed: 6/20/2020]
It was amusing for me to read the reference to cars as a sort of PPE but it comes as no surprise. It is psychologically like a suit of armor to some people and I guess this affects them the same way as some people’s personalities change when behind the wheel.
Whether this is true for the Philippines’ case we are now seeing somewhat but I say ‘somewhat’ because of the deficiencies in public transportation especially in Metro Manila. Government agencies in-charge of transportation seem to have found the perfect situation to roll out and push for both route rationalization and modernization. Major public transport routes have resumed operations but with buses instead of jeepneys. And slowly but somehow surely the “modern jeepneys” are being allowed but following the terms and conditions of the DOTr and the LTFRB.
Here again, for reference, are the guidelines issued by the DOTr in relation to the transition from ECQ to GCQ and beyond (immediate rather than far future). The following images show the physical distancing prescribed for road transport.
The last image for the tricycle is something that should have been allowed at least for a limited number of tricycles during the ECQ period. That could have eased transport woes for many people especially those who had to walk long distances in order to get their supplies. Some LGUs like Davao were able to issue Executive Orders to that effect that the IATF did not contend (or is Davao a special case?). Now, we see a lot of LGUs issuing EO’s and ordinances allowing public utility tricycles to operate again but limiting their numbers through odd-even schemes. Perhaps the same should be applied to pedicabs or padyak (non-motorized 3-wheelers), too.
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.