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On the Uber and Grab predicament

A lot has been said and written for or against Uber and Grab. Social media made sure the more popular but not necessarily the truthful ones are spread. One popular personality associated with motoring has even led an online petition against the rulings by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). An objective check of the facts reveal that LTFRB is not solely at fault here. Uber and Grab should not have promoted themselves and took in additional drivers (nagpaasa ng mga drivers) after the agency issued a moratorium last year. Estimates vary but it seems they have taken in tens of thousands of drivers (20.000? 30,000? 40,000?) and earned revenues along the way to what is now an historic penalty levied upon Uber and Grab by the LTFRB.

Perhaps the most level-headed article I’ve seen online is the following:

The thing about Grab, Uber and the LTFRB [by Vince Pornelos, July 18, 2017, https://www.autoindustriya.com/editors-note/the-thing-about-grab-uber-and-the-ltfrb.html]

It seems all is well, for now, as meetings were held between the DOTr, LTFRB and the concerned parties (Uber and Grab). In one of the meetings, a couple of Senators seem to have brokered a deal to resolve what appeared to be an impasse that a lot of people on social media reacted to. There are definitely a lot of vested (and veiled) interests involved here including those by various “operators” in the transport sector on both the sides of government and private sector. One takeaway though that I observed is that many appear to be against LTFRB even though the agency was truthful about their statements regarding the illegally operating transport vehicles. They seem to have made up their minds about the LTFRB and this is not surprising as transport problems have been festering for decades with little progress in terms of improving transport, conventional or innovative. Most people seem to have lost their patience about transport services and regulation, and perhaps this is a good thing if it translated to demanding for mass transit, too.

On distracted driving vs. other, more urgent, traffic issues

Much has been written and said about the new law against distracted driving. The people who crafted the law, Senators and Congressmen, are in agreement that their intention was mainly to address the rampant use of gadgets including cell phones by motorists. Yet, when the agencies in-charge of implementation drew up the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), their interpretation was the subject of a lot of complaints. Many opined that the IRR didn’t take into consideration actual vehicle dashboard designs or that the definition of the term “line of sight” was open to interpretation. This necessitated another round of consultations with stakeholders leading to the infographic below:

Frankly, I am more concerned about speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving in traffic. These are equally if not more dangerous than many aspects of the distracted driving law. Quite serious would be the combination of distractions with any of the three behaviors mentioned. More disturbing would be the deliberate (definitely not distracted) or conscious acts of speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving that are often the cases if one observes the incidence of these three driving behavior. We can only wonder about the likelihood of crashes due to these behaviors.

Construction starts for the Line 2 Masinag Station

After several months of waiting, the Masinag Station of the Line 2 Extension project will finally start construction. The contractor has already mobilized and very soon the actual construction work will be starting. Following are photos I captured via my dash cam:

The contractor, DMCI, already installed temporary traffic signs from Masinag Junction.

The contractor, DMCI, also already installed concrete barriers to delineate their staging area for the project.

This is the likely location of the elevated Masinag Station; right across SM City Masinag and Cornell Hospital.

Masinag Station will probably be the highest station for any railways in the entire country judging from the height of the elevated tracks. I have yet to see the plans for this station but it should be a challenge in accessibility. How many steps would it take to go up or down the station and the platforms? How will, and will it be integrated with the surrounding developments like SM?

The Antipolo City Government’s official Facebook page already announced the official ceremony starting the construction to be held on May 30, 2017 (Tuesday). The advisory also cautioned travelers about the traffic congestion expected in the area affected by the construction. Masinag is a major junction where Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway intersect. Construction period will be 18 months or 1.5 years but given the efficiency by which the same contractor was able to complete the elevated tracks, I am optimistic that they may be able to complete Masinag Station in less time. I wonder though if the ceremony tomorrow also includes the start of construction for the Emerald Station across Robinsons Metro East in Pasig. Let’s just hope that the Line 2 Extension will be operational by end of 2018 and be able to help alleviate the traffic woes along its corridor. This will definitely help improve the transport to the east of Metro Manila and directly benefit those from Antipolo and Cainta in Rizal, and Marikina and Pasig in Metro Manila.

Some issues abroad on car sharing/ride sharing companies

There are two articles recently that are worth reading for those who are into ride-sharing/car-sharing. And I am not necessarily referring to those who regularly take Uber or Grab, or those who opt to use these whenever they need a taxi ride. There are many who are already studying these services being provided not by your traditional or conventional taxi companies or rental vehicle companies but by supposedly private individuals who supposedly have the spare time and spare vehicle that they can use to provide transport for other people. I use the word “supposedly” here because this is a big assumption and the premise by which transport network companies like Uber, Grab and Lyft have been able to go around the bureaucratic processes that taxi and other companies have to go through as formal public transport (i.e., public utility vehicles). These articles are along the lines of the discussions in previous articles I have posted here about ride-sharing/car-sharing, and are mostly based on the experiences in countries who have more developed and presumably better transport than us in the Philippines.

Denton, J. (2017) Two Federal Lawsuits Could Spell Big Trouble for Uber, Pacific Standard, http://www.psmag.com, April 10, 2017.

McGraw, D.J. (2016) How Lyft and Uber are Ignoring the Poor, Pacific Standard, http://www.psmag.com, May 12, 2016.

 

I leave it up to my readers (any researchers out there?) to pick-up the main points and perhaps look at the issues from different perspectives. I have pointed out before that the situation in Metro Manila could be very different from the situations in other major cities like Cebu, Davao and Iloilo. And so transport network companies may not necessarily succeed in cities where taxi services, for example, are significantly better than what we have in Metro Manila.

List of infrastructure projects for the Philippines’ BuildBuildBuild initiative

I was looking for a list of projects said to be prioritized by the current administration in the Philippines and mentioned in the presentation made by government yesterday. Here’s one I found from GMA News:

Infrastructure projects lined up by the Duterte administration

Noticeable for me are the following:
1. No mention of major bridge projects that were heavily hyped both on mainstream and social media – these bridges include those that were proposed to connect the islands of Panay and Negros, Negros and Cebu, and Cebu and Bohol. It doesn’t mean, of course, that these have been abandoned but likely only sidelined for the moment.

2. Break-up of Clark Green City into several components – this seems to be a more realistic approach especially considering how big and complex this project is, and how many agencies or entities are and will be involved

3. Mass transit projects in Metro Manila – these include big ticket projects such as the proposed subway, BRT and the rehabilitation of PNR lines. These are all projects that should have been done a long time ago but for various reasons have been delayed. Say what you will about so much resources being poured into Metro (Mega?) Manila but it is the economic center of the country and efficient transport will go a long way in generating resources that can eventually be used in other parts of the country.

4. Emphasis on Clark Airport – it seems to me that the current administration is focused on developing Clark as the alternative (if not the main) gateway to the greater capital region. This is a departure from the hype we have received about a replacement for NAIA including one that was proposed at Sangley Point in Cavite.

5. Scaling down of Mindanao Railways – instead of pushing for a much grander (and unrealistic I think) railway project for the entire island, they identified a more realistic and perhaps practical line connecting Tagum, Davao and Digos. One colleague noted, however, that this corridor is already heavily serviced by buses and vans so rail ridership is at best threatened from the start.

What’s your take on the proposed projects and the list in general?

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.