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EDSA MRT 3 chronicles

A friend referred an article to me today and I thought it would be a very good read to a lot of people interested in what has happened and what is happening to the EDSA MRT 3. I think that this article is so far the most comprehensive, not-necessary-legal treatment of events leading to what we now have as a mass transit system along arguably the country’s busiest thoroughfare:

On a clear day you can see the MRT

It’s a must read for a lot of people who want to know about the dealings related to MRT 3 and perhaps understand how complex this has become. I would also recommend people read the very good discussions in the comment section of the article. It’s good to see the healthy exchange of opinions rather than have trolls ruin them.

Tricycles in the Philippines – Part 1

We start the “ber” months strong with an initial feature on an ubiquitous mode of transport in the Philippines. While the jeepney seems to have had most of the attention when the subject of public transport in the Philippines is discussed, the truth is that there is arguably another, more dominant mode of public transport in the country. These are the tricycles, a motorized three-wheeler consisting of a motorcycle and a sidecar. You see these everywhere around the country in most cities and municipalities where they thrive particularly in residential areas. They are usually the only mode of public transport for most people in rural areas where local roads are typically narrow. In many cases the only roads connecting communities may be national roads. And so, there is really no other choice for tricycles but to travel along national roads and against existing laws prohibiting tricycles from these roads.

IMG06146-20130606-1556Tricycle along the motorcycle lane of Circumferential Road 5

IMG02491-20120511-0949Tricycles racing along the Olongapo-Castillejos Road in Zambales

IMG_5783Tricycle along Romulo Highway, Tarlac

catolico-gaisanoTricycles along Catolico Avenue in Gen. Santos City

Unlike buses and jeepneys, tricycles are not regulated under the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Instead, they are under the local government units that through one office or another issue the equivalent of franchises for tricycles to operate legally. Fares are quite variable but are usually according to distance though there are special rates for when passengers want to have the vehicle for themselves much like a taxi.

Unfortunately, few LGUs have the capacity to determine the optimum number of tricycles for service areas under their jurisdictions. As tricycle operations are often the source of livelihood for many, the granting of franchises is often seen as a way for mayors to have influence over people who would have “utang na loob” (debt of gratitude) for being granted franchises. The tendency, therefore, is to have too many tricycles as mayors try to accommodate more applicants who seem to have no other options to earn income or to invest in. This poses a challenge to many who want to reform the system and modernize or upgrade public transport in cities around the country.

Manila’s bus experiment

Manila recently banned provincial and city buses from entering the city stating this is because many of them do not have franchises and/or terminals in the city. Those without franchises are the ones labeled as “colorum” or illegally operating public transport vehicles, which really don’t have a right to convey people in the first place. It’s become difficult to catch them because many carry well-made falsified documents. But it’s not really an issue if the LTFRB, LTO and LGUs would just cooperate to apprehend these colorum drivers. The LTFRB and LTO are under the DOTC, and so the agency is also responsible for policies and guidelines to be followed by the two under it. LGUs (and the MMDA in the case of MM) are tasked with traffic enforcement and so they can apprehend vehicles and act on traffic violations including operating without a franchise.

Those without terminals are both city and provincial buses. For city buses, this can be because they  “turnaround” in Manila and operators do not feel the need to have a formal terminal. For example, G-Liner buses plying the Cainta-Quiapo route will stop at Quiapo only to unload Quiapo-bound passengers, and then switch signboards and proceed to load Cainta-bound passengers as they head back to Rizal. There is very little time spent as the bus makes the turnaround. It’s a different case for provincial buses, whose drivers should have the benefit of rest (same as their vehicles, which also need regularly maintenance checks) after driving long hours. Thus, if only for this reason they need to have formal, off-street terminals in the city. Following are photos I took near the Welcome Rotunda en route to a forum last Friday.

IMG06490-20130726-0752Commuters walking to cross the street at the Welcome Rotunda to transfer to jeepneys waiting for passengers to ferry to Manila.

IMG06491-20130726-0752Commuters and cyclists moving along the carriageway as there are no pedestrian or cycling facilities in front of a construction site at the corner of Espana and Mayon Ave.

IMG06492-20130726-0752Advisory for buses coming from Quezon City

IMG06493-20130726-0752 Commuters waiting for a jeepney ride along Espana just after the Welcome Rotunda

IMG06494-20130726-0755Some pedestrians opt to walk on instead of waiting for a ride. Manila used to be a walkable city but it is not one at present. Many streets have narrow sidewalks and many pedestrian facilities are obstructed by vendors and other obstacles.

So, is it really a move towards better transport systems and services in Manila or is it just a publicity stunt? If it is to send a message to public transport (not just bus) operators and drivers that they should clean up their acts and improve the services including practicing safe driving, then I’m all for it and I believe Manila should be supported and lauded for its efforts. Unfortunately, it is unclear if this is really the objective behind the resolution. Also, whether it is a resolution or an ordinance, it is a fact that the move violates the franchises granted to the buses. These franchises define their routes and specify the streets to be plied by buses. Many LGUs in the past have executed their traffic schemes and other measures intended to address traffic congestion, without engaging the LTFRB or at least ask for the agency’s guidance in re-routing public transport. Of course, the LTFRB is also partly to blame as they have not been pro-active in reviewing and optimizing PT routes.

One opinion made by a former government transport official is that this is just a ploy by the city to force bus companies to establish formal terminals in the city. This will require operators to secure permits, purchase or lease land and build terminals. And so that means revenues for the city and perhaps more traffic problems in the vicinity of the terminals just like what’s happening in Quezon City (Cubao) and Pasay City (Tramo).

Transport planning is a big part of the DOTC’s mandate and both the LTO (in charge of vehicle registration and driver’s licenses) and LTFRB (in charge of franchising of buses, jeepneys and taxis) look to the agency for guidelines and policy statements they are to implement. Meanwhile, LGUs have jurisdiction over paratransit like tricycles and pedicabs. In the case of Manila, these paratransit also include the “kuligligs,”  3-wheeler pedicabs that were fitted with engines and have been allowed (franchised?) by the city to provide transport services in many streets. Unfortunately, most LGUs do not have capacity nor capability for transport planning and so are limited or handicapped in the way they deal with transport (and traffic) issues in their jurisdictions. We have always maintained and promoted the stand that the DOTC should extend assistance and expertise to LGUs and the LGUs should also actively seek DOTC’s guidance in matters pertaining to transport. There needs to be constant communication between the national and local entities with cooperation leading to better, more suitable policies being formulated and implemented at the local level.

Too late?

A friend posted her disappointment over what she regularly observed through her condominium window overlooking EDSA Guadalupe. The traffic jams along EDSA seemed to be a 24-hour thing and she lamented about whether  Metro Manila could solve this problem on congestion. She continues to be an active advocate for the environment and we have worked together on the electric jeepney that is now operating a 3rd route in the City of Makati and is also found operating elsewhere in other cities where its applications, to be fair, is still quite limited.

My response to her is something I have also mentioned in other venues including previous posts on this blog and interviews granted to major media networks that have asked me what’s wrong about transport and traffic in our country. It’s really simple – we have failed to build the necessary infrastructure when they needed to be constructed. And we continue to NOT build the infrastructure that could have saved us much in terms of fuel costs alone and perhaps contributed much more to our economy, and definitely outweighing the costs that have often been cited as if it were a deterrent to the realization of a mass transit network for Metro Manila.

Being one who has lived in both Tokyo and Singapore where they have good public transportation systems, I could not help but become excited when, returning from Japan before the turn of the century I came upon plans for Metro Manila’s rail network. I was excited because the decade before I was first exposed to similar plans for MM at a time when other capital cities in Southeast Asia like Bangkok, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur where also planning for their own mass transit systems. In fact, they were also planning expressways in their respective metropolitan areas (i.e., Bangkok Metropolitan Area or BMA and Jakarta-Bogor-Depok-Tangerang-Bekasi or Jabodetabek/Greater Jakarta). Flash forward to the present, it is frustrating, if not depressing, to see that Bangkok and Jakarta were able to implement many of their plans that were critical for the growth of these metropolitan areas and definitely contributed to the overall sustainable development in those countries. Granted, Bangkok and Jakarta still experiences congestion like the legendary jams along urban highways in Bangkok. But which city around the world does not experience congestion? The  key is to provide a viable and more efficient (also convenient and comfortable) alternative to taking one’s car. That should be in the form of a mass transport system that is comprehensive enough that it will allow for both mobility and accessibility to the traveler/commuter. The following figure from the 2005 World Transit Maps envisioned a network that is still now unrealized and, for the existing lines, have become the subject of controversy and other issues that include the absence of a single ticketing system similar to the smart and octopus cards found in other countries.

Can we imagine what could have been the experience of commuting in a Metro Manila where such a rail system would have been in place? My former students have related to me about how it was so convenient to move about in Singapore, Tokyo and Hongkong where the mass transit systems where comprehensive and integrated such that rail and bus systems could provide for the transport needs of commuters. I would like to believe that we have all the plans with us by this time and that the construction of transport infrastructure has long been delayed for our cities (not just Metro Manila but also other metros such as Cebu and Davao) so much so that we continue to suffer from the lack of critical systems that could definitely alleviate congestion and improve the plight of the general public. Perhaps people taking their cars and motorcycles will be convinced to shift to public transport if they see the benefits of doing so. For others who are still captives of our inefficient public transport systems, I am sure that the experience of having improved systems (and an expanded network) will be liberating considering their daily sacrifices just to make ends meet while losing much quality time, productive time stranded in traffic.

Enforceable?

Whenever laws and regulations are crafted, one basic question that needs to be considered pertains to whether there is capacity to enforce such laws or regulations. This is quite logical and appeals to common sense since laws and regulations are practically prints on paper that will not have any impacts if not enforced properly and fairly. I mention “fairly” here because laws and regulation may also be the subject of abusive enforcement. That is, there have been cases where motorists are flagged down and charged with violations that are taken out of the context given the traffic conditions, and where the number of apprehensions are related to quotas set by authorities.

Take the case of the unwarranted or illegal use of sirens (wangwang) in the past. There were laws and regulations for its use  but for a long time these laws and regulations were not enforced properly, leading to the wangwang’s abuse by many unscrupulous people. Almost everyone have practically given up on this abuse of the siren when a newly elected President expressed his dismay and ordered the eradication of illegal sirens. Almost overnight, “wangwangs” were confiscated by authorities inspired by the Commander-in-Chief’s orders or removed by owners themselves for fear of the law bearing down on them. This was enforcement at its best. Unfortunately, it was not replicated for other traffic laws and regulations, wasting valuable momentum and the opportunity to make things right along our streets and highways.

Quezon City’s Green Building Ordinance is quite good and well-meaning. It is very timely and relevant, and even includes provisions for upgrading transport in that city. Among others, it requires that tricycles be transformed into cleaner vehicles by stipulating the replacement of 2-stroke and even 4-stroke motorcycles with LPG or electric models. To date, nothing significant has been achieved to address issues pertaining to the tens of thousands of tricycles in Quezon City. The construction of green buildings in Quezon City cannot be mainly attributed to the ordinance but rather to owners and designers who are now much more aware of climate change and its impacts, and are progressive enough to design buildings that are environment-friendly. Of course, there are those who take to the “green” bandwagon but do nothing towards this end. Are these subject to evaluations and inspections that are the equivalent of enforcement?

Now comes a bicycle ordinance from Pasig City that is formally the “Bicycle Transportation Promotion Ordinance of 2011.” It is also good and well-meaning but the jury will definitely be out there if this initiative will be a successful and sustainable one. I am quite hopeful that it would be and not just end up as an example of coming up with laws because anything about the environment is in these days. The provision in the ordinance designating bicycle lanes and requiring establishments to provide bicycle racks for parking are all good but we have seen this before in an even bigger scale in the City of Marikina. There they constructed bikeways practically connecting all parts of the city and they were quite aggressive even after foreign support had ended. Politics and shortcomings (I wouldn’t say failure.) in encouraging people to cycle have made much of the on-street bicycle lanes practically taken over by motorized transport. Bicycle racks there are also being used by motorcycles and scooters. Pasig should learn from these experiences and it is hoped that the city succeed and become another example of EST to be replicated in other Philippine cities.

Traffic Congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP Still Effective? -Conclusion

The MMDA always reports what it claims as improvements of travel speeds along EDSA that past years. They have pointed to this as evidence that traffic congestion is being addressed and that programs like the UVVRP are effective in curbing congestion. However, many traffic experts have cautioned against making sweeping generalizations pertaining to the effectiveness of schemes especially if the evidence put forward is limited and where data seems to have been collected under undesirable (read: unscientific) circumstances.

The MMDA also has been using and to some extent overextending its use of a micro-simulation software that is employs to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of its proposed traffic schemes. The software has an excellent animation feature that can make the untrained eye believe in what is being shown as The problem here is when one realizes that computer software will only show what the programmer/operator wants, and is perhaps an example where the term “garbage in, garbage out” is very much applicable. And this is especially true should the computer model be uncalibrated and unvalidated according to guidelines that are well established, and extensively discussed and deliberated in a wealth of academic references. The fallacy of employing advanced tools to demonstrate how one’s proposal is better than another was highlighted when the DPWH acquired the same tool and came up with an entirely different result for an analysis being made for the same project by that agency and the MMDA. Surely this resulted in confusion as the outcomes of the simulation efforts of both agencies practically negated each other.

It should be pointed out that such micro-simulation software is unsuitable for the task of determining whether metro-wide schemes such as the UVVRP is still effective given the actions of those affected by the scheme. What is required is a macroscopic model that would take into account the travel characteristics of populations in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas (cities and towns in the provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna). There are quite a few of these models available but most if not all were derived from the one developed under the Metro Manila Urban Transport Integration Study (MMUTIS) that was completed in 1999. The main beneficiary from the outcomes of MMUTIS happens to be the MMDA but for some reason, that agency failed to build capacity for maintaining and updating/upgrading the model. As such, the agency missed a great opportunity to invest in something that they could have used to develop and evaluate traffic schemes to address congestion and other traffic issues in Metro Manila, as well as to assess the impacts of new developments.

Metro Manila has come to a point where its options for alleviating congestion are becoming more and more limited. The combination of a still increasing rate of motorization and private vehicle use have definitely contributed to congestion while there are also perceptions of a decline in public transport use in the metropolis. The share of public transport users in most Philippine cities and municipalities range from 80 – 90 %, while in many highly urbanized cities the tendency seems to be a decline for this share as more people are choosing to purchase motorcycles to enhance their mobility and as a substitute to cars. This trend towards motorcycle use cannot be denied based on the steep increase in ownership and the sheer number of motorcycles we observe in traffic everyday.

Metro Manila needs to retain the substantial public transport share while accepting that motorcycle ownership will continue to chip off commuters. The latter phenomenon can be slowed down should authorities strictly enforce traffic rules and regulations on motorcyclists, effectively erasing the notion that the latter group is “exempted” from such. The bigger and more urgent issue is how to put up long overdue mass transport infrastructure that is direly needed in order to create another opportunity for rationalization transport services. We seem to like that word “rationalization” without really understanding and acting on what is required to once and for all address transport problems in the metropolis. We are not lacking for examples of good practices that are both effective and sustainable including those in the capital cities of our ASEAN neighbors. However, we seem to be unable to deliver on the infrastructure part that we have tended to over-rely on a TDM scheme that has long lost much of its effectiveness. The evidence is quite strong for this conclusion and perhaps we should stop being in denial in as far as the UVVRP’s effectiveness is concerned. Efforts should be turned towards building the necessary infrastructure and making public transport attractive so that private car and motorcycle users will be left with no excuse to shift to public transport use. It is inevitable that at some time they will understand the cost of congestion and that they will have to pay for their part in congestion like what is being done along tollways or, in the more sophisticated and mature example, Singapore. But this cannot be realized if we continue to fail in putting up the infrastructure Metro Manila so direly requires.

Is it “Commonwealth” or “Commondeath” Avenue?

There is an excellent article appearing today in the Philippine Star written by Arch. Paulo Alcazaren aptly titled “‘Commondeath’ Avenue.” I stumbled on when it was shared by a friend, Dr. Dayo Montalbo, who is a faculty member of the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning. It provides a rare insight into the history of our highways and streets in Metro Manila. It is required reading for planners and engineers with backgrounds in civil engineering, architecture, urban planning, etc., and, I must say, for anyone who can appreciate history and how we seem to not have learned (or refused to learn) from it. It certainly should be required reading for students who want to become future planners and engineers.

When the MMDA “discovered” plans where it was indicated how wide the RROW for Commonwealth should be and started acquiring land left and right from those who were supposed to have been encroaching on the avenue, including UP Diliman, it apparently didn’t study the old plans and the context by which the capitol, Commonwealth, UP and other institutions where laid out back in the day. That interpretation translated into what we see now as probably the widest highway in the country.

I see the article as something that can be used by the DPWH and the MMDA as an input to whatever planning or engineering they plan along Commonwealth. The avenue is just too wide and definitely not friendly to people. Perhaps it should be transformed into the parkway it was meant to be in the first place.