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On the issuance of provisional units for ‘modernised’ jeepneys

There seems to be a proliferation of various models of the so-called “modernized jeepneys”. They have been deployed along what the DOTr and LTFRB have tagged as “missionary routes”. The latter term though is confusing because this used to refer to areas that are not yet being served by public transportation, hence the “missionary” aspect of the route. The routes stated on the jeepneys are certainly new but they overlap with existing ones. Thus, the new vehicles are actually additional to the traffic already running along the roads used by the existing (old?) routes. The number of units are said to be “provisional” meaning these are trial numbers of these new vehicles and implying the route and service to be somewhat “experimental”. There can be two reasons here that are actually strongly related to each other: 1) the actual demand for the route is not known, and 2) the corresponding number of vehicles to serve the demand is also unknown. Unknown here likely means there has been little or no effort to determine the demand and number of vehicles to serve that demand. The DOTr and LTFRB arguably is unable to do these estimations or determinations because it simply does not have the capacity and capability to do so; relying on consultants to figure this out. That work though should be in a larger context of rationalizing public transport services. “Provisional” here may just mean “arbitrary” because of the number (say 20 or 30 units?) of units they approve for these new routes.

A ‘modernised’ jeepney with a capacity of 23 passengers. The vehicle is definitely larger than the conventional jeepneys and yet can only carry 23 seated passengers. That’s basically the number of seats for most “patok” jeepneys that are “sampuan” or 10 passengers on each bench plus 2 passengers and the driver in the front seats.

Modernized jeepney unloading passengers along the roadside

Rationalization should require not only the replacement of old jeepney units that seems to be the objective of the government’s modernization program. Rationalization also entails the determination and deployment of vehicles of suitable passenger capacities for the routes they are to serve. I have stated before that certain routes already require buses instead of jeepneys and that jeepneys should be serving feeder routes instead. Meanwhile, routes (even areas) currently having tricycles as the primary mode of transport would have to be served by jeepneys. Tricycles, after all, are more like taxis than regular public transportation. Such will also mean a reduction in the volumes of these vehicles and, if implemented and monitored strictly, may lead to an improvement in the quality of service of road public transport.

[Note: May I add that although I also use ‘jeepney’ in my articles, these vehicles should be called by their true names – ‘jitneys’. The term jeepney is actually a combination of the words Jeep (US military origins) and jitney (a public utility vehicle usually informal or paratransit offering low fares).]

Is there really a transport or traffic crisis in Metro Manila?

I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.

“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.

And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:

  1. Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
  2. It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
  3. People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
  4. People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
  5. Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.

To be continued…

Some commentaries on the jeepney modernisation

The nationwide transport strike last Monday elicited a lot of reactions from both supporters and opponents of the the initiatives to modernise the jeepney. Both sides have valid points but both, too, have weak points. Much has been discussed about the cost of acquiring new jeepneys to replace the old ones and whether you agree or not, these are really a bit steep to the typical jeepney driver-operator.

A low downpayment will certainly mean higher monthly amortisations. And most drivers/operators can only afford a low downpayment with or without the 80,000 pesos or so subsidy from the government. Even if you factor in some tax incentives, the net amount to be paid every month will still be too much for a typical driver/operator. Anyone who’s ever purchased a vehicle, new or used, through a loan should know this, and to deny it means you probably are privileged enough not to take out a loan.

Certainly there are exceptions like certain Beep operations that are supposed to be run like a company or cooperative, and where fleet management techniques allow these to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. The latter supposedly allows the owners to recover their capital (return of investment) for the purchase of the new jitney units.  The reality, however, is that not all routes are good enough for the required revenues and the better earning ones subsidize (forced?) those that are not profitable. The ‘company’ or ‘coop’ can therefore hide these unprofitable cases as the collective performance of the routes they operate along become the basis for assessment.

Snapshot inside a jeepney while waiting for it to fill with passengers

It is true that the business model (or what is passed off for one) for jeepney operations is flawed. More so if you place this in the context of transport demand for a metropolis like Metro Manila. That is why perhaps corporatization or cooperatives can probably help in terms of improving processes and practices (e.g., maintenance regimes, deployment). So perhaps this is where government should step in and be more aggressive in organising jeepney drivers and operators. I would even dare say that government should be willing to extend more financial support if significant change in public transport is to be achieved. The Office of the President, Senators and Congressmen enjoy a lot of pork and the numbers for a single year indicate that they can, if willing, purchase new jitneys for their constituencies perhaps focusing on the cities and retiring the old, dilapidated public utility vehicles. That, I think, is a more ‘intelligent’ use to these funds that are allegedly being misused by our politicians.

So, was the strike a success? I think the answer is yes it was. Government cannot deny this as it was forced to suspend classes in schools in order to address the impending shortfall of services during the strike and many LGUs were forced to provide free transport services (libreng sakay) in many forms (e.g., dump trucks, flat bed trucks, etc.). You can only say it was a failure if it was business as usual with commuters feeling minimal impact of the stoppage in jeepney operations.

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.

Why more low capacity PUVs?

I’ve written about the recent additions of new (the government I think prefers to call them ‘modern’) model jitneys along corridors like Marcos Highway, C-5, Quezon Avenue, Espana Avenue, etc.). My main comment has always been about the capacities of these vehicles considering the high transport demand along these routes where the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) have authorised these so-called “experimental” routes. The services actually overlap with existing lines of other PUVs like jeepneys, UV Express and buses. Their value is apparently the single, direct ride they provide to commuters, who otherwise would have to transfer vehicles to get to their destinations. The popularity of these “experimental” services only underlines or emphasizes the need for rationalising transportation services especially in Metro Manila.

There are surely opportunities to improve the network including those taking advantage of the improvement of rail services. But rationalisation is not just about changing routes. It also means determining the right capacity vehicles for these routes. Thus, high demand corridors require higher capacity modes in terms of both vehicles and their frequencies.  Perhaps authorities should look into the examples of P2P bus operations as a way of determining the type of vehicles to be deployed as part of the so-called experiment rather than appear to be just promoting these modern jitney models. PUV modernisation, after all, should also mean upgrading the existing vehicles servicing certain routes by replacing them with ones that are more efficient and with higher passenger capacities.

This mini-bus lookalike has a capacity of 23 passengers. That’s practically the same as the newer model jeepneys that are generally longer and with some cleverness of the driver and conductor may seat more (i.e., Benches placed inside the jeepney increases their seating capacity. This set-up, however, is unsafe.)

More irrational public transport?

I spotted a new vehicle serving a new route between Cogeo in Antipolo and SM Aura in Taguig. I see these vehicles along Marcos Highway from Masinag to Santolan. Friends have spotted the same along C-5 at Eastwood and at Tiendesitas; confirming the route this mash-up between the jeepney and bus is running along. The route overlaps with existing public transport lines along Marcos Highway (mostly jeepneys connecting the eastern cities and towns with Cubao) including the elevated Line 2.

Jitney running along Marcos Highway in Antipolo (section between Masinag and Cogeo)

The jeepney has a sign stating it is a DOTr project. So is this an experimental run to determine the viability of the route in place of the traditional approach using what was termed as RMC (Route Measured Capacity)? I am not aware of any other ways by which the DOTr or the LTFRB are able to estimate the number and type of public utility vehicles to serve certain routes. There are, however, initiatives to open what they call “missionary routes” but this term used to refer to really new and unserved (referring to formal public transport) corridors or areas rather than those that are already being served by several modes of public transport. The results of this interpretation of “missionary routes” are more overlapping routes that further complicate and undermine efforts for rationalising or simplifying public transport services in the Metro Manila and other cities as well.

I will soon post here three maps showing the public transport route coverage for Metro Manila more than half a decade ago. These show the coverage of buses, jeepneys, and UV express services at the time. I now wonder how these would look like with the new routes overlayed unto the maps.

 

 

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.