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Increasing the number of TNVS units? Not so fast!

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is planning to increase the number of TNVS units (i.e., rideshare vehicles) in Metro Manila to meet what is perceived as the demand for them based on the numbers provided by TNCs like Grab. The problem with this number they want to eventually achieve, 65,000 units supposedly, is that this is based on current transport conditions in the metropolis. Also, this is based on data that is biased for the interests of TNCs, which obviously want to increase their driver and vehicle base in order to maximise profits. Here is a nice article that should provide some context from abroad where rideshare vehicles are actually generating more car traffic and taking people away from public transport.

Fried, B. (2018) “Uber and Lyft Are Overwhelming Urban Streets, and Cities Need to Act Fast,” Streetsblog, https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/07/25/uber-and-lyft-are-overwhelming-urban-streets-and-cities-need-to-act-fast/ [Last accessed: 7/26/2018]

Currently under construction are the Line 7 and Line 2 Extension projects and soon there will also be the Line 1 Extension. Also, in the pipeline are the proposed subway and rehabilitation of PNR that is supposed to revitalise its commuter line. These are examples of projects that will likely be game changers in terms of commuting with the objective of drawing people away from car use. In the bigger scheme of things, perhaps there is a need to rethink numbers for TNVS and instead focus on improving taxi services in Metro Manila. The same can be said for other cities as well where there is already a need for better public transport services to avert a transport future similar to what Metro Manila is already experiencing now.

On the continuing evolution of Uber and Lyft, and some thoughts on TNCs in the Philippines

Here’s a nice read about ridesharing/ridehailing/ridesourcing in the US:

Madrigal, A.C. (2018) “Will Uber and Lyft Become Different Things?”, medium.com, https://medium.com/the-atlantic/will-uber-and-lyft-become-different-things-2d0442472a15 [Last accessed: 6/13/2018].

It seems that companies like Uber and Lyft are evolving and that should benefit commuters. Meanwhile, the latest news on TNCs in the Philippines is on the issuance of a Department Order by the Department of Transportation (DOTr). The new Department Order (DO) effectively amends and supersedes an earlier DO issued in 2015 (DO No. 2015-011), wherein TNCs were allowed to set their own fares, subject only to oversight by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). This means more regulations for TNCs that might actually harm the new players more than the remaining big player – Grab.

Uber recently sold its Philippine operations to Grab in exchange for shares of Grab. One colleague quipped “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” And that seems to be the case here where Uber’s vulnerability was exposed when faced with a strong competitor together with a government bent on having a firm regulatory control of TNC operations. While I am for regulations in order to protect both the interests of commuters as well as the drivers-operators of TNCs, I believe too much regulations will weaken this mode while taxi services remain wanting (to use a kinder term). The DOTr and the LTFRB is again not addressing the root cause of a problem on taxi-type services and allowing generally poor services among taxi companies in Metro Manila to continue.

Build, build, build, and the cost of pursuing legacies among our leaders

Much has been written about the current administration’s Build, Build, Build program including it being billed as a “Golden Age of Infrastructure”. Many infrastructure projects though can be classified as “nice to have but not necessary”. They might become necessary in the future but then there are other projects that are more urgently needed now and need to be prioritised given the limited resources that we have. A good example of these “nice to have” projects would be the bridges proposed to connect Panay, Negros, Cebu and Bohol islands. The reality is that it is quite easy to manipulate studies in order to obtain results to support the construction of these bridges including justifying loans that will bring us deeper into unnecessary (for now) debt. You get more bang for the buck if you build instead mass transit systems and transform transportation in major cities of these same islands to favour active transport rather than be dependent on cars. Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod and other highly urbanised cities now require better public transportation and people-oriented systems. That’s where money should go and that will have a bigger impact from now to the long-term. The government’s infrastructure build-up is linked to the new tax scheme (TRAIN) but also requires a lot of borrowing from various entities including one country that has been documented to take full advantage (i.e., very disadvantageous to the borrower) of countries taking out loans from them (you know which one – China). Do we really want to get mired in such debt?

We all are in the lookout for opportunities that would probably give us something we will be remembered for. This is not limited to the leaders of our country, whether they be politicians or department heads or even district engineers, who perhaps want to be remembered for something they built, or, something they contributed in making a reality. Perhaps this can be in the form of a mass transit line, an expressway, or an iconic bridge? Perhaps for others it is in the form of a nuclear power plant or even a space program. We all have that dream project we want to be associated with.

Why are certain good people not critical of the government’s disastrous war on drugs or the proliferation of what appears to be government sponsored fake news and propaganda? It’s simple. Many of these “good” people are benefitting from the very same government particularly in pursuit of their own legacies (which are their main agenda). If you were an engineer, planner or scientist in government and your projects were funded one way or another, would you dare bite the proverbial hand that feeds you? “Complicit” seems to be a word used by the more hardline among us in terms of the socio-political-economic situation we are in now. But we have to remember that during the regime of Marcos, this was also the situation. The so-called best and the brightest were all employed by the administration back then including prominent names in industry and the academe, who perhaps enjoyed the privileges, perks and funding support for their programs and projects. Never mind martial law and its outcomes.

That is why history and its understanding is important. So we may learn from it and not relive the wrongs made in the past. We are not good in history or its application. Perhaps we only know how to memorise. And memory has its limits. That is among the costs of our current predicament. We withhold history, and memory, in exchange for what we think would be our legacies. At what cost? At what price? Human rights, freedoms, justice, financial stability, and dignity are just a few we can mention. Perhaps the biggest loss will be our humanity as we have become de-sensitized to the well-being of others.

Incomplete rationalisation of public transport?

The current initiative to rationalise road public transport services is not as comprehensive as necessary or as some people want us to believe. The drive appears to be mainly on (some say against) jeepneys while little has been done on buses and UV Express vehicles. Most notable among the modes not covered by rationalisation are the tricycles.

A smoke-belching tricycle along Daang Bakal in Antipolo City

What really should be the role and place of tricycles in the scheme of themes in public transportation? Are they supposed to provide “last mile” services along with walking and pedicabs (non-motorised 3-wheelers)? Or are they supposed to be another mode competing with jeepneys, buses and vans over distances longer than what they are supposed to be covering? It seems that the convenient excuse for not dealing with them is that tricycles are supposed to be under local governments. That should not be the case and I believe national agencies such as the DOTr and LTFRB should assert their authority but (of course) in close cooperation with LGUs to include tricycles in the rationalisation activities. Only then can we have a more complete rationalisation of transport services for the benefit of everyone.

Lazarus franchises?

I was recently asked about my views on Lazarus franchises. At first the term didn’t catch on to me but “Lazarus” is a name that’s associated with coming back from the dead. “Lazarus”, after all, is the Biblical person Brought back to life by Jesus after the latter arrived to find his dear friend had passed away due to illness. It is now being used to refer to a dead public transport franchise that is to be resurrected but under new ownership. I recall I have written about the topic some time ago (many years ago) when I spotted what I thought was a BLTB Co. bus that turned out to be a DLTB Co. Bus. The logo and livery for their buses were the same as are the destinations in Southern Luzon. Then there were the EMBC buses I spotted along my commute that turned out to be operated by RRCG. These obviously are revived franchises and in both cases take advantage of what name recall the brands still have.

DLTB Co. used to be BLTB Co., which stood for Batangas, Laguna, Tayabas Bus Co. Tayabas is the old name of Quezon Province. This is the current company’s terminal along EDSA in Cubao. The old terminal is also along EDSA near Tramo in Pasay City.

I opined “that brands associated with these franchises can be revived but there are prerequisites. These include an inventory of units currently operating in relation to the demand. The rule is to determine first if existing operators/companies can cover the increasing demand. If not, then the LTFRB may decide to open routes for new players including issuance of new franchises. “New” here probably includes “resurrected” franchises that have name recall among people.” To be clear, there is a process by which franchises are granted by the government and this should be followed in order to be fair with current, active franchise holders.

I wonder if the Antipolo Bus franchise can be revived to serve the old Antipolo – Divisoria route?

On the PUV modernisation program – Part 1

Much has been written about the government’s PUV (or jeepney?) modernization program so I wouldn’t really be reposting about these. Instead, I will be featuring some opinions, insights and observations about its implementation.

Following are photos of one e-jeepney model that the government appears to be promoting. This is the e-jeepney produced by Star8 that they claim to be have solar panels for charging while they are on the road. Of course, we know they are not wholly dependent on solar power and have to be charged the conventional way through an adaptor that’s plugged into a regular outlet. These e-jeepneys were supposed to supplement the reduced supply of public transport to mainly UP students, staff and faculty members when the i-ACT (Inter-Agency Committee on Traffic) conducted their “Tanggal Bulok, Tanggal Usok” campaign in the UP Diliman area. First-hand reports revealed otherwise as the e-jeepneys spent more time on stand-by and just charging at one of the buildings on campus.

These are the same e-jeepneys that have been deployed and currently roaming around Tacloban City (promoting themselves?). The intent was for these to be the vehicles plying the new routes approved by the LTFRB/DOTr, which they claim was in response to the request made by Tacloban. The new routes though overlapped with many existing jeepney routes, clearly in violation of the general rule regarding overlapping routes, but allowed nonetheless by the regulating authority.

There are many allegations going around about e-jeepneys being forced upon operators and drivers given what has been regarded by progressive groups as unrealistic (read: unaffordable) financing schemes for the new vehicles. These are certainly not cheap, and double to triple the price of a ‘newer’ conventional jeepney. There are also suspicions about the strong motivation for the phaseout in favour of what are peddled as the successor (or replacement) to the jeepney. That includes a possible collusion among officials and the companies behind these vehicles and allegations (again) of some people likely gaining financially from the set-up. The DOTr and LTFRB PR machine, however, deny this and will gang up on anyone posting about this in their social media page.

In memoriam of road crash victims

I wrote earlier this year about a beloved aunt who was involved in a road crash. She was hit by a jeepney driven recklessly as she was walking; on her way to church one early morning. She was in the hospital for weeks before she finally passed away. It was painful to see her in her hospital bed, unconscious but fighting for her life.

No, I don’t feel anger anymore whenever I recall the incident and note that if the driver were just careful then she would still have been alive today. I feel sad. I feel sad and frustrated that despite all the efforts a lot of people have put into road safety programs and projects, there seems to be little in terms of the reduction of recklessness on the roads. The recent weeks, for example, are full of reports of crashes that claimed the lives of many and injured more. These often involved trucks that mowed down everyone in their paths. Then, you see a lot of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, many ride like stuntmen and without regard for life, limb or property as long as they can get away with it.

Additional laws in the form of local ordinances or Republic Acts will not be effective in reducing road crashes and the death toll it has brought upon us. It is the enforcement, the implementation of these rules and regulations. Rules and regulations are just words that, if not acted upon, do not have any effectiveness. And so we get to the root of the problem and that is enforcement; the lacking if not missing ingredient in the road safety broth that is necessary to save lives and create a safer environment for all. Does it deserve more attention and resources from our national government and local authorities who are in-charge of most of the enforce aspects of road safety? I do think so. Statistics on traffic-related deaths, injuries and damage to property compare strongly with if not exceed those attributed to drug abuse. When you purposely drive recklessly and crash into another vehicle or person, one is practically murderous. You also destroy the lives of people related to the person you kill or injure (e.g., that person could be the sole breadwinner of a family). The comparisons and examples are plenty and I am sure a lot of people have their own personal experiences about this as well as their opinions. For now though, let us reflect on those who perished from road crashes and perhaps think not about “what could have been” but instead of “what can be done.”