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On solving the inequality problem in cities

Here is another quick share of an article that is timely and relevant not just now but for years (maybe decades?) to come:

Grossman, D. (2020) “New Study Proposes a Mathematical Solution to Big Cities’ Inequality Problem,” Inverse, [Last accessed: 9/15/2020]

I will just leave it here for future reference but to summarize, the article explains how cities should be planned or replanned based on the distribution or redistribution of certain facilities like hospitals, banks, schools, supermarkets, and parks. It argues that there is an optimum location for these in relation to where people live and work. If properly planned, travel distances and times can be significantly reduced.

On data on mobility trends

There are actually a lot of data available on mobility if you know how to look for them. One good source is Apple. Yes, Apple has access to thousands of smart phones that allow them to track individuals (oh you didn’t know that?) movements. Here is the link to Apple’s data:

And here is a graph showing mobility trends in the Philippines from that resource:

Some politicians and political appointees are now saying that we are in this predicament about COVID-19 because of a lack of discipline. That is bullshit. Many stayed home and/or reduced their movements. And then there’s that study showing 90% wore masks when they go out. No, it’s not lack of discipline that’s the problem but the lack of essential services and goods that are supposed to be delivered by those who are suppose to govern and the deficiencies from the start in addressing the spread of the virus especially from abroad. Perhaps these people criticizing Filipinos should look at their mirrors more closely and look left, right and across from they comfy seats to see what’s wrong with the way government has been handling the pandemic?

On car-shaming and reducing car use

Here is another article I am sharing (re-sharing?). I have seen or read a lot of posts on social media about how we should not go back to the car-centric traffic before the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and its variations. I do agree with this point. However, I take reservation about how some people seem to be resorting to car-shaming rather than be more proactive and progressive about coming up with strategies and/or plans that I hope would be evidence-based or supported by valid data. As the article states, “it takes more than car-shaming to change car use”:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “It takes more than car-shaming to change car use”, Medium, [Last accessed: 4/29/2020]

A key message from the article: “People are most open to changing their travel habits during major life events, such as a move. But even a well-timed message isn’t enough.” Perhaps the opportunity is here now to reform our transportation system. But that will take a lot of will or effort from all sectors most especially the national agencies (e.g., DOTr, DPWH) and local governments who have the authority and responsibility to implement changes. These changes include the assignment of exclusive lanes for bicycles, public transport and logistics while restricting car use. There are also other elements that need to be in place as we transition into the so-called “new normal” and so there will be a lot going on among the sectors or parties collaborating or interacting for transportation. Hopefully, there are context-sensitive strategies that will be adopted and implemented in order for everyone to transition more efficiently and effectively. And as they say…life goes on.

Politics: Questions on Succession

Here is another political post so click on another if this is not your thing. In a previous post, I wrote about politics in general and cited the example of Rizal politics. I write more about this topic based on my observations and assessment.

A big problem with patronage and clan politics is succession. Ipinamamana na lang ba ang posisyon sa gobyerno? (Are positions in government supposed to be like things that are handed down like inheritance?] Many cities and municipalities are like that and there are many so-called prominent families who hold top positions with some occupying Mayor, Vice Mayor and several Councilor positions. The more powerful ones also hold Governor, Representative and even Senator (which is a national post).

Rizal has very much similar circumstances with the congressional districts of the province and the capital city of Antipolo practically being dominated by certain families. The first district of Rizal has not had anyone except a Duavit while the second was for a while been held by a Rodriguez until a defeat in the last election by what seemed to be an upstart. He is actually from a political family from the southern Philippines whose been a good staff of the Ynares clan. Antipolo’s two districts are controlled by the Punos and the Acops. With both already juggling the post among their immediate families, there seems to be no one to end their dynasties. Even well-performing politicians like Cainta’s Nieto will be hard-pressed to run for Governor or Congressman.

It would take much more like perhaps a crisis or something disastrous for these well-entrenched politicians to be defeated. Nieto did it just when his predecessor was attempting to build a dynasty on the heels of subsequent disastrous floods in Cainta. But perhaps the case of Vico Sotto’s campaign and resulting upset of another dynasty in Pasig offers as a more interesting study of engaging and transformative politics? Let’s wait some more and see how things develop. Will they remain and sustain their momentum without losing (part of) their souls? Or will they end up being succumbing to the temptations of the ‘system’?

National Transport Policy is out!

The National Transport Policy is out and there’s a lot of buzz about the wording of the policy. NEDA released the following infographics on their official Facebook page:

Definition of what the policy is about

Hierarchy of transport modes (note the emphasis on walking and cycling)

Checklist for programs and projects: I am already anticipating what proponents will be writing to justify projects according to this checklist.

I will reserve my commentaries for future blogs. There is really a lot to discuss about this policy and how it will implemented (properly or improperly), There are lots of different ideas, advocacies, interests and agendas on transportation that come into play here. And we can only hope that the policy and its implementing rules and regulations will be clear enough (not vague as to have so many loopholes) for this policy to effect transformation and inclusive and sustainable development.

Politics: Fresh Faces at the Local Level?

A major factor in shaping our cities and municipalities is the leadership in the form of local politicians, most especially the Mayors, who are the decision-makers for many aspects of their constituencies. Mayors have a hand in most if not all policies pertaining to land use (e.g., zoning, planning, etc.) and transportation (e.g., schemes, policies, franchises, etc.).

The likes of Vico Sotto, Isko Moreno and Francis Zamora are currently being praised for what seems to be their fresh and aggressive approach to addressing problems and issues in their respective constituencies. The three’s ascendance to mayor of their respective cities have also exposed the alleged graft and corruption of their predecessors. The dominance of the latter in the form of dynasties have all but assured that whatever anomalies passed on from one term to another are internalised and made unknown to their constituencies who are to remain blind to these abnormalities. Instead, the people are made to believe that progress is achieved with some worthwhile projects here and there to show that taxpayers’ money are spent well.

Prior to these personalities, there were others who sort of broke the dynasties in their respective towns. I can name at least two cases that I am very familiar with; both with the Municipality of Cainta – Mon Ilagan and Kit Nieto. Both ended long reigns with Ilagan making Cainta history by finally upending the Felix dynasty there. Previous to him, the only one who almost upset the then reigning dynasty was a woman – Eunice Fermindoza. Ironically, Ilagan’s attempt at a dynasty by making his wife run after his 3 terms was up was nipped by Nieto, an erstwhile ally who has come to represent not just the emergence but the establishment of people who have settled in suburban town in the various subdivisions developed over the course of the last 50 years. These are the middle class comprised of professional and office workers and their families who decided to reside in Cainta because of the town’s proximity to Metro Manila and homes their being relatively affordable.

Even before Sotto, Moreno and Zamora have embarked on their own programs, Nieto has shown that the efficient use of resources coupled with transparency and a genuine feel for the requirements of his constituents will get one re-elected and gain attention. Cainta has transformed and blossomed under this current mayor. For one, he has been able to complete many infrastructure projects and strengthened social and medical programs in the municipality. It is a wonder how Cainta is not yet a city considering its income and continued growth. One only wishes this growth is not sustained by poorly planned land use development where the town basically relies on developers (i.e., Megaworld and Filinvest) for the plans instead of being involved in order to avoid exacerbating the enduring traffic and flooding issues that are still the bane of this town. Unfortunately, Nieto is on his last term and it is unclear for now who might be competent and progressive enough to replace him. Among the current councilors in the current administration is a Felix and an Ilagan, scions of the two previous families that lorded it over Cainta. Will one of them rise again to reclaim what they probably regard as their right place? Hopefully not…Kawawa naman ang Cainta.




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.