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Mobilizing sustainable transport for development

The United Nations (UN) has recently published a new report on “Mobilizing sustainable transport for development” authored by a High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport formed by the UN. The report and other resources may be found at the following website:

Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport

This is under the UN’s Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. You can check out the other materials at the website. The UN has many initiatives on sustainable transport and has been very active in promoting or advocating for sustainable transport for a long time now. It is through the UN Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD), for example, that the Philippines and other ASEAN countries were able to formulate their national EST strategies. The new report continues on the UN’s commitment to promote sustainable transport to improve people’s lives around the world.

10 principles for sustainable urban transport

We start October with a graphic on sustainable transport. I first saw this shared on social media (FB) by the Clean Air Asia. The organizations behind it are on the graphic itself so I don’t have to list them down for the reader. This is a good material to share and learn from especially for those who don’t have a clear idea of what sustainable transport is and is all about. As they say, pictures paint a thousand words. And illustrations such as this convey so much about sustainable transport in the urban setting in layman’s terms.

st10principles

Progress in promoting and realizing sustainable transport in the Philippines

There is a very good article that came out of Rappler last March 28, 2016:

Creating sustainable transport systems: PH’s progress so far

The article caught my attention as I have lost track of what should be the monitoring of sustainable transport initiatives anchored on the pillars of EST as described in the National EST Strategy and the article. The formulation of the national EST strategy started under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza) and was completed under President Benigno C. Aquino III (DOTC Secretary Jose Dela Cruz). The formulation was initiated and supported by the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) and is unique partly because it is the only one to be completed among similar projects across ASEAN. The other countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia were only able to get to the baseline and consultations stages of their own national EST strategy formulations. The Philippines National EST Strategy document eventually became an input for the formulation of the National Transport Policy Framework (supported by AusAID) as well as the National Transport Infrastructure Framework (supported by the WB).

Looking back at EST social marketing

With all that are happening today that are related to sustainable transport, I tend to pause and look back with a smile on how it was more many years ago when we were struggling to promote environmentally sustainable transport (EST). At that time, most local government units were not yet into sustainable transport and were unaware of the principles. There were a few who already had a project or program in place but didn’t know that these were classified as EST.

CAPACITY-BUILDING AND SOCIAL MARKETING FOR ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT

Under the project, we identified several local good practice examples for EST and invited representatives of those LGUs to spread the word to other LGUs. Those who regularly went with us to promote EST were representatives of the Marikina City Bikeways Office, and San Fernando, La Union’s City Planning Office who shared their experiences in phasing out 2-stroke motorcycle-run tricycles.

I recall that one major Visayan city wasn’t so receptive at the time as the City Planning Coordinator seemed more interested in international trainings and foreign assisted projects than the city actually developing sustainable programs and projects on its own. The irony now is that despite his being not so excited about sustainable transport that city now has good examples for EST including a bicycle corridor and pedestrian and bike-friendly riverside developments.

But there was the case of the very receptive and progressive City Planning Coordinator of another major Visayan city who helped us immensely in promoting EST. His eagerness, particularly for public transport options, paved the way for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to gain a foothold in the discussions paving the way for more efficient transit systems to be considered (and now planned and designed) for his city. That interest led to his city getting the attention of an international agency that brought in then former mayor and now the recently re-elected Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, to do talks about his city’s Trans Milenio BRT system. I remember a couple of visits of Mr. Penalosa including a series of dinner meetings sponsored by the private sector in Makati City who were interested in the Bogota’s transport success story.

We always wondered who, when and how EST would be advocated by others and particularly by a younger generation who would turn out to be more outspoken and aggressive in promoting EST. These include those calling for better public transport systems, those advocating for pedestrian and bicycle facilities, those pushing for safer roads, and those lobbying for clean air. With all that we are seeing now around us (Congratulations Firefly Brigade for a very successful Tour of the Fireflies last Sunday!) and on various media platforms, I strongly believe that we are on the right path towards achieving better quality, sustainable and equitable transport for everyone.

Technology-driven transit system development

The proposed UP transit system, whether it will be an AGT or a monorail, is a technology-driven project. As such, it can be argued that it does not need hard studies to establish the need for the system. Indeed, it is packaged as a prototype and one which, if implemented properly, will hopefully be a good example that can be deployed elsewhere where such a system is necessary. Such places may include CBDs like the rapidly emerging one in Bonifacio Global City or in small cities where there is a need for a more efficient form of mass transportation but could not afford the conventional MRTs or LRTs that have been constructed in Metro Manila. Also, a significant part of the initiative is the development of the vehicle, which is being undertaken by the DOST’s MIRDC. Their design and their production process should be replicable and they should have been able to bring down the costs according to the marching orders of their Secretary. After all, this system is being touted as something that would cost a fifth of a conventional system.

The conventional way of planning, designing and building transit systems require a lot of studies including the so-called ridership studies that would establish the demand for the system. Of course, there are also considerations pertaining to the stations and analysis of the superstructure that will also cost something. It is no joke that the best examples of AGTs or monorails in other countries are priced so because of all the effort and expertise that went into their developments. We should not kid ourselves by claiming this will cost much less because we did not take into consideration just compensation to people who will be devoting their time and expertise to develop a “home-grown” version of what has been built in other cities. We shouldn’t also sacrifice the quality of the superstructure that includes the stations just because we want to reduce costs. We have to keep in mind that the infrastructure should be able to resist typhoons and the possibility of earthquakes. The foundations for the columns, in fact, should be designed well considering UP’s soil characteristics.

On Wednesday I might just get my first look at the prototype vehicle when I visit the DOST for a meeting not quite related to the proposed transit system although it would be about customized vehicles. The vehicle that is the rolling stock for the proposed system is supposed to have already been built and being tested on a very limited basis at the DOST compound. Perhaps I can see for myself if it is something that will eventually be an impressive piece or something that will need much work once it is brought to UP.

National EST Strategy Formal Launch

The National Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST) Strategy of the Philippines was formally launched yesterday, May 20, 2011. The formal launch event was held at the Columbus Room of the Discovery Suites along ADB Avenue in Ortigas Center, Pasig City. It was graced by the presence of top government officials including Secretary Jose “Ping” P. De Jesus of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and Presidential Assistant on Climate Change Elisea “Bebet” Gozun, who was a former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The DOTC came full force with Undersecretary for Planning and Policy Ruben Reinoso, Assistant Secretary for Planning George D. Esguerra, Office of Transport Cooperatives Chair Leticia Z. Gorrospe, consultant and former Assistant Secretary Alberto Suansing, and senior technical staff of the DOTC and its line agencies including the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and  the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). The DOTC and the DENR are the national focal agencies for the project and will be expected to lead in the operationalization of the national strategy.

The supporting agencies and organizations were represented by Mr. Choudhury Rudra Mohanty of the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD), Ms. Sophie Punte of the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia), and Mr. Akio Isomata, Minister of the Embassy of Japan to the Philippines, who represented his country’s Ministry of Environment. Development agencies and banks were also present with representatives from the World Bank (WB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Also present were stakeholders led by the Partnership for Clean Air (PCA), Philippines – Global Road Safety Partnership (PGRSP), and the Firefly Brigade, and participants from local government units led by Quezon City and Marikina City. The national collaborating center was well represented by the study team from the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

The formal launch even began with the Opening Remarks from the UNCRD delivered by Mr. Mohanty and was followed by a Message from DOTC Sec. De Jesus. The formal messages were followed by a presentation of the highlights of the national strategy by D. Jose Regin F. Regidor, NCTS Director. Afterwards, a panel discussion with the theme “Operationalization of EST in Support of Sustainable Development in the Philippines.” The discussion was facilitated by Ms. Punte and Mr. Herbert Fabian of CAI-Asia. Panel members included DOTC Asst. Sec. Esguerra, WB Lead Transport Economist Baher El-Hifnawi, ADB GEF focal person Bruce Dunn, and Mactan Cebu International Airport Manager Nigel Paul C. Villarete, who is also a former City Planning Coordinator of Cebu City and who is an advocate of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the Philippines. The formal launch event concluded with congratulatory messages from the Government of Japan and the Presidential Assistant for Climate Change, followed by a photo op for all in attendance that day.

Mr. Mohanty of UNCRD delivering the Opening Remarks

DOTC Sec. Ping De Jesus delivering a message from the Department

NCTS Director Regidor presenting the highlights of the national EST strategy

CAI-Asia’s Bert Fabian and Sophie Punte facilitated the panel discussion

DOTC Asst. Sec. George D. Esguerra responding to the key questions during the panel discussion

MCIAA’s Nigel Paul Villarete making his comments during the panel discussion

Bruce Dunn explaining about the ADB’s initiatives

The WB’s Baher El-Hifnawi stressing a point during the panel discussion

Embassy of Japan Minister Isomata delivering a congratulatory message from the GOJ

Presidential Asst. on Climate Change Bebet Gozun delivering the concluding message

Group photo showing participants to the national EST strategy formal launch

The messages and the panel discussion were one in conveying a challenge to all stakeholders to use the framework provided by the national strategy to come up with action plans and implement these in order to realize sustainable transport in the country. It was also clear from the proceedings of the event that there should be a strong, collaborative effort among national agencies, local government units, NGOs, and development agencies if EST is to be operationalized and for programs and projects to succeed. Significant impacts would then be realized and perhaps lead to the alleviation of transport and traffic problems and their derivatives. It was emphasized that everyone should carefully consider the co-benefits that may be reaped from the implementation of EST.

For more on the national strategy including the reports and other resources, all these are available from the NESTS Web Portal hosted by the NCTS.

Going electric in the Philippines

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) hosted and co-organized a forum on electric vehicles with the Department of Energy (DOE) today. The forum was divided into two parts where the first part included remarks from the DOE Secretary and two presentations from invited speakers. The second part included mainly presentations of experiences in the deployment of electric vehicle technology around the country and a presentation by the ADB on their program to support electric vehicle deployment in the Philippines.

In the first part, the DOE Secretary was very clear in his message in support of electric vehicles. He emphasized the importance of addressing concerns pertaining to the use of fossil fuels, mentioning the need for fuel efficiency and our transport system’s (over)dependence on fossil fuels. He also expressed concern over environmental aspects, recognizing the direct association between emissions and fuel consumption. His remarks was followed by two presentations on experiences on electric vehicle applications abroad. One presentation was mainly on the infrastructure for charging e-vehicles and included material on the experiences in China. Another was on battery technology but included also the different e-cars that are currently available in the market (e.g., Volt, Leaf, Tesla, etc.).

I must admit, modesty aside, that I was disappointed with the presentations as they were both mainly on private vehicle applications including electric motorcycles and electric cars. I was unimpressed, as were others, with the presentations that had material one could easily pick out of the internet. Even information on battery technology did not provide any new knowledge to most participants that included proponents/advocates of electric vehicles in the Philippines. The comment of one participant said it all when he mentioned that in the Philippines the focus was on public transport applications of e-vehicles.

The second part was more interesting, although two presenters tended to stray away from the topic of electric vehicles. The first presentation of the second part of the forum was delivered by the Congressman representing Taguig City. He did not use any slides but chose to make a rambling speech on Taguig’s experience during his time as mayor of the city. He explained his administration’s push for the e-trikes in Bonifacio Global City and made it appear as if his administration was progressive in its push and that the private sector (i.e., Ayala Land, which had a say on transport at BGC) did not have foresight. In truth, the question that needed to be answered at the time of their push was if the e-trike was the appropriate transport mode at the Fort. Ayala knew it was not but it was clear that Taguig insisted on the deployment of e-trikes at BGC rather than take the more progressive (radically) yet risky push of replacing conventional tricycles in the old Taguig east of C5. His speech was really more a conscious delivery of soundbites and I must say, was quite pretentious and self-serving. It was, for me, simply lip service and a waste of time. In fact, one person near us was already snoring by the time the Congressman finished his speech.

The second presentation was delivered by a representative of the Puerto Princesa Mayor. It was straightforward and wasted no time in explaining PPC’s programs and clearly showed their efforts in deploying environment-friendly transport systems. He also mentioned the incentives that the city has so far offered and proceeded to ask those present to partner with them in promoting e-vehicle use.

The third presentation was on Makati’s experience on electric vehicles. The presenter was city’s traffic consultant and I was expecting him to focus on the electric jeepneys now operating along three routes in that city’s central business district. Instead, he took up much time presenting on Makati’s transport plan including the proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and its extensive pedestrian facilities that included walkways connecting buildings and to the shopping district. Nevertheless, his presentation had its saving grace in that it mentioned how the e-jeepney could serve as feeders to the BRT and how the pedestrian facilities complemented public transport services.

The fourth presentation was by a representative of Mandaluyong City, which is the first recipient of the incentives being granted by the ADB in support of e-vehicles. This was another straightforward presentation and clearly covered the main points of the e-trike application in that city including the infrastructure they put up for charging. These charging stations represented an innovation that can be picked up by entrepreneurs in coming up with a business model for charging stations. It was not clear though if Mandaluyong has set out to replace conventional tricycles as my impression was that the e-trikes they acquired will be on top of the existing tricycles plying routes around the city.

The fifth presentation was from Ateneo De Manila University, and focused on that school’s efforts to pilot e-vehicles for the use of their students and staff. The presentation mentioned their rationale and the apparent marching orders from their newly installed president, who is an acknowledged expert on environment, to address air quality in the vicinity of the campus. I found their presentation awkward and at the very least hypocritical of the fact that the problem they have to face is the overwhelming number of private vehicles the school generates and their continuing coddling of tricycles whose phase out along Katipunan is long overdue. Perhaps I will expound on this and other issues when I write about Katipunan transport and traffic in the future.

The last presentation was a quick one from the ADB. It was mainly on the ADB’s program supporting e-vehicle promotion. It was also explained why ADB chose to focus on tricycles and was unapologetic in their argument that tended to generalize the problem on transport in the Philippines. There was no mention of rationalization considering that there is actually an oversupply of tricycles and this too needs to be addressed.

While it is commendable that the ADB has extended assistance in the form of grants incentives to promote e-vehicles, there are still questions on the sustainability of this effort given that they chose to focus on tricycles. Of course, the statistics on the number of tricycles and their environmental and energy impacts clearly argue for addressing this problem pertaining to conventional motor tricycles. However, the ADB must realize that local government units (LGUs) can be quite fickle-minded or hard-headed in their approaches to public transport regulations. This is a fact given that there are few LGUs that have been successful in regulating tricycles and particularly in restricting their numbers and their operations along routes or areas where they are suitable. If we take a look at many cities, we will find tricycles running on national roads and causing congestion in CBDs. We would also see that many of these cities, among them highly urbanized cities (HUCs), have a need to graduate from these low capacity modes into middle or even high capacity vehicles.

It was noticeable that there were no representatives from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) nor its attached agencies like the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) at the forum. Despite pronouncements by the DOE Secretary that the DOTC and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) were on-board in the former’s push for e-vehicles, experience has shown that DOTC and its attached agencies have been the bottlenecks in the forward movement of e-vehicles. This includes the absence of clear policies pertaining to e-vehicles including their registration as well as the lack of direction pertaining to their mainstreaming as public transport modes (i.e., franchises). Also, lest we forget, all the talk on e-vehicles while being spearheaded by the DOE, is very much the province of the DOTC since we are, after all, talking about transport. It is the main responsibility and the mandate of the DOTC to see the e-vehicles through and lead in the mainstreaming of these vehicles in the context of environmentally sustainable transport. It is a pitch for e-vehicles that would go a long way into ensuring that a critical mass can be realized and that the tipping point for the shift to electric would be reached in the near future.