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Social media is full of news or what is being passed off as news about various transport projects or initiatives. These include a proposed subway line for Metro Manila, road sharing initiatives, inter-island bridges, gateway airports and others major infrastructure projects that are being conceptualized, planned, studied or designed. Too often, people who support the projects/initiatives brand those who do not share their enthusiasm and interest as skeptics and even simply “nega” or negative people. These supporters and their opposites are most likely those who fall under one or more of the following categories:
- Overly optimistic
- Unaware of the process towards a project’s realization
Hopefully, he/she is not of the third kind who basically are posting against anyone and don’t really have any valuable opinion or constructive comment to offer. There are many groups and individuals out there including those who claim to be fanatics of urban planning, railways and other things on transport. Some even get to write in mainstream media. Unfortunately, to the untrained minds their opinions passed on as expert advise appear to be legit and that can be especially true to people who are more inclined to believe them such as very fanatics and trolls I mentioned. It is very important that proper research is undertaken before any article is written. Otherwise, there will always be bias. Of course, some articles are written with bias a given and with the objective of misleading people.
When government officials (or candidates) claim something and offer nothing as concrete proof (e.g., numbers to support a claim of improving traffic), one has to think twice about believing them. One has to be critical of such claims. Promises are often just that – promises. It is important to ask how certain programs or projects will be delivered, how infrastructure will be implemented (i.e., through what mode of financing, timelines, etc.), and what would be its impacts (i.e., social, environmental, traffic). Of course, it should be expected that officials provide suitable answers to these queries.
It should also be expected for officials to understand that institutions such as the academic ones are there to provide objective criticism. Unfortunately, there are those in the academe who themselves have some agenda they are pushing and can be deliberately misleading and misinforming with their flawed assessments and statements. Then there are experts who offer nothing but negative comments. To these people, any idea not coming from them are essentially wrong and it is often difficult to deal with such people among whom are experienced engineers and planners. Being a skeptic is one thing but being a constructive skeptic. That is, one who offers solutions and also willing to tread the middle ground or some reasonable compromise based on the situation and conditions at hand.
This is why an evidence-based approach is needed and should be mainstreamed in many government agencies, particularly those that are involved in evaluations. National agencies like the NEDA, DOTr and the DPWH have the capacity and capability to perform quantitative analysis using recent, valid data. The quality of data tells a lot about the evidence to back up analyses, evaluations and recommendations. One must not forget that with quantitative analysis it is always “garbage in, garbage out”. That is, if you have crappy data, then you will have flawed analysis, evaluations and recommendations.
My colleagues and I were talking about the not so surprising results of the recent national elections in the Philippines. I say not so surprising because people have been clamouring for change for quite some time now. It did not help the current administration and its standard bearer were hounded by the transport and traffic problems experienced by the country especially in Metro Manila. Here are some thoughts for the President-elect and whoever will be part of his transportation team:
- Come up with a framework for developing transportation in the country. The framework should contain both soft and hard measures. On the soft side would be strategies and policies like those promoting sustainable transport especially low carbon transport systems. This many include promoting walking, cycling and public transport at the local level. Hard measures would include infrastructure for all modes of transport including railways, airports and ports. Local roads development might be something President-elect Duterte’s team should look into as local roads basically provide accessibility for rural areas and contribute to development. The framework will serve as a guide for the next 6 years for whoever will be in-charge of transport-related agencies. He should have a sound game plan so as to be systematic in the approach to address transport and traffic issues.
- Watch out for and appreciate low hanging fruits. I think the current administration has already initiated solutions to pressing problems but mostly in Metro Manila in the form of the LRT Line 2 Extension and the MRT Line 7. There is also the new rolling stock for MRT Line 3. Pres.-elect Duterte’s team should already look into the mass transit needs of other highly urbanized cities such as Cebu, Iloilo and his hometown of Davao. Whether these will be road or rail-based systems should be the subject of studies to determine what can be completed immediately and within the term of the President and which need substantial investments and perhaps engagement with the private sector. The mention of “paralysis by analysis” by critics of the outgoing administration can be traced to the latter’s seeming disregard of the accomplishments of its predecessor, which could have been implemented early on during the term. The next administration should not make the same mistake.
- Just do it. That was the mantra of the late Juan Flavour, which he got from Nike. Transport and traffic problems in this country has worsened over the years due to the slow development of infrastructure coupled with issues on land use planning. These two actually go hand-in-hand. Metro Manila is already at a stage where indeed it will take long-term planning and infra development to solve (i.e., significantly reduce) congestion (note: You cannot eliminate congestion for a megalopolis like the NCR). Meanwhile, it is not too late for other major cities so investments and infra development should start under his watch. For starters, completing the proposed Cebu BRT and building a mass transit system for Davao should serve as inspiration for other cities to follow. Already there is a need for sophisticated public transport in emerging metropolitan areas like Iloilo, Bacolod, CDO and Angeles-Clark-Mabalacat. These do not require 12 years but perhaps with urgent action be addressed within 6 years. This, of course, should go together with the building infrastructure for walking and cycling where applicable and in relation to transit development.
Before I forget about what transpired during the holding of APEC in Manila a week ago, here’s a couple of photos I found over the internet and shared via social media.
Commuters along Roxas Boulevard walk past a column of the unfinished NAIA Expressway, one of the transport infrastructure projects that has not been finished. [Photo from The Manila Bulletin]
APEC lanes and severe traffic congestion along EDSA – there’s an opportunity here for a prrof of concept test for BRT. [Photo from Facebook]
I saw many memes and read some articles mentioning BRT specifically as one solution to Metro Manila’s transport problems. The second photo above was modified to replace the car travelling along the APEC lanes with a bus.
It is easy to imagine what could have been if the government decided to use the event and the lanes they allocated for APEC vehicles to do a ‘proof of concept’ run of BRT services or at least express bus services (what some DOTC people call high quality bus services). Perhaps what could have been done for part of the 10 billion PHP expended for APEC was to buy a fleet of brand new buses and provided these for free public transport for people who would need to commute during APEC. Services along two corridors would have sufficed – these two would have been EDSA and Roxas Boulevard. [The other option would have been to talk to bus operators and cooperate with them to organize express bus services along EDSA and Roxas Blvd.] Aggressively promoting these free services ahead of APEC would also have meant commuters, including those who usually used their own vehicles, could have opted for these transport services and not affected by the ‘carmageddon’ that ensued over that period. There should have been services to the airport terminals, too, but I will write about this in another article.
The dry run could have yielded essential data for assessing the feasibility of such bus services as an alternate to rail systems that would take much time to build. Incidentally, if the LRT Line 1 Extension to Cavite was built right after the current administration took over, that line could have already served tens of thousands of passengers from the south who regularly commuted to Metro Manila for work and school. The first photo above does not lie about just how many people could have benefited from that rail project. Meanwhile, MRT Line 3 remains dysfunctional and with its reduced capacity could not handle the demand for transport that it should have been able to carry if services had not deteriorated over the years.
There seems to be a belief among the more zealous advocates of sustainable transport that if “you build it, they will come.” It seems cliche but this saying is not necessarily applicable to many things especially when referring to transport infrastructure. There are examples of roads, terminals and other transport facilities that have been built but sadly are underutilized mainly due to the demand just not being there and taking much time to attain. The last is usually due to the fact that certain conditions or prerequisites have not been satisfied. One such example of this is the case of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), whose payment for the loan that covered the construction costs was premised on a very high traffic demand forecast. It took some time for more people to use the expressway as the traffic from the major developments (Clark, Subic, Tarlac and Bataan industrial and commercial developments) just didn’t happen as immediately as assumed in the forecast. Still, there is a strategic value to such major infrastructure considering it as an investment and something that will cost a lot more in the future if not built today.
In Metro Manila, the MMDA has allocated or designated lanes for cycling along several major roads. These included the lanes they created out of painting existing pedestrian sidewalks and marking these as bikeways. One section is between Magallanes and Ayala while another is from Ortigas to White Plains. These are poorly designed, “pwede na yan” types of bikeways that people on bicycles would find very difficult to use because the course is full of obstacles. And how about the plight of pedestrians who would have to share these narrow paths with cyclists? Such mixed signals on providing for the needs of pedestrians and cyclists are not necessary unless of course the main objective of this exercise is just to get the attention of a wider audience that is the general public, which I would strongly agree is needed to advocate for sustainable transport. Focus on the ultimate goal, however, should not be lost for what appears as small victories. Perhaps an even stronger initiative should be towards having the DPWH revise road design guidelines to incorporate walking and cycling requirement especially for national roads.
Bicycle lane along Julia Vargas Ave. in Pasig City
Cebu City enacted an ordinance essentially promoting cycling through the planning and implementation of bikeways, bike lanes or shared lanes. However, initial efforts seem to be following the MMDA’s “pwede na yan” approach. I think Cebu could do better and come up with a better plan for integrating and mainstreaming bikeways into the transport network. But of course, a lot still needs to be done for pedestrian facilities.
In conclusion, building transport infrastructure is not an assurance that it will generate its intended benefits at once. However, some infrastructure are more strategic than others as perhaps they form part of a network. Expressways in Luzon are among these strategic investments. High standard highways in Mindanao are also essential. Rail rehab and building in Luzon is strategic. The same in Mindanao perhaps is not. Mass transit systems in highly urbanized cities are required but perhaps many should start with buses rather than rail. Bridges across islands are not urgent. International-standard airports in major cities are necessary but not all provinces require such airports. Its not a simple task to determine what will work and what wouldn’t. While it is easy to attribute so many benefits in order to justify a project, such practice would usually result in white elephants that few people benefit from.
On our most recent trip to Japan, we took Philippine Airlines instead of the usual Delta in our previous trips. For one, PAL offered full service at a competitive price (Delta and JAL were more expensive) and the new schedules meant we could fly to Narita in the morning and arrive there early afternoon, and return to Manila in the evening. This was practically Delta’s schedule. It also helped that PAL was using NAIA Terminal 2 so that meant a better terminal for us compared to the congested and dilapidated NAIA Terminal 1. Of course, there were other choices including ANA, which I would have preferred if only it wasn’t so expensive even compared to JAL. Low cost carriers were also not on our list as we had the budget for full service and we didn’t like the schedules.
We arrived at Narita after a smooth flight and our plane proceeded to Terminal 2, which most Asian airlines use. I have not used this terminal for quite some time now as I usually planed in via Delta or its predecessor Northwest. The last time I was in Terminal 2 was in 1999 when I was returning home to Manila after 3 years in Yokohama, Japan. That time, I used JAL as part of my benefits of being a Monbusho scholar.
Moving walkway or “walkalator” to the arrivals area for immigration processing.
A view of aircraft docked at the airport shows a couple of JAL planes and one of Cathay Pacific. I like JAL’s old logo compared to its new one. This retro look gives you a feeling of nostalgia.
A computer-generated, anime image of an airport staff member greeting arriving passengers to Japan.
Entry towards the immigration counters
Past immigration and proceeding towards the baggage claim area.
Descending to the baggage claim area, passengers are provided information on a huge board on which carousel their baggage will be coming out of. To be sure, ground staff hold a placard directing PAL passengers to the assigned carousel.
Narita’s expanse becomes more obvious at the baggage claim area.
Luggage coming out for passengers to pick up from the carousel.
Ground staff remind passengers to check whether they got the correct luggage from the carousel. Many bags are identical so people should have a distinctive feature on their luggage whether its a tag, sticker, strap or others.
Airport limousine bus counters – there are limousine buses bound for many destinations in the Kanto area. I usually took the limousine bus to get back to Yokohama when I was a student in Japan in the 1990s.
Keisei Skyliner train counter – the Skyliner is less expensive than the limousine buses and for those who travel light, it is a good option going to Tokyo. The last two stops are at Nippori and Ueno Stations where one can easily transfer to JR or subway lines. Other rail options are JR’s Narita Express (NEX) and JR Yokosuka-Sobu Line’s Airport Narita service. I usually take the latter from Yokohama Station.
Giant electronic boards at the arrival lobby provide information on flights arriving and departing Narita Terminal 2.
Our hosts gave instructions to take the limousine bus but part of our group were fetched by car. I was invited to join them because we were staying at the same hotel. The others stayed at another hotel. And so we walked to the upper level of the terminal to cross towards the parking building. The yellow line in the photo is a standard feature of many facilities in Japan that make them PWD-friendly. These are guides for blind people who can use their canes to “feel” the directions.
Another view of the information board from the upper level of the terminal.
Quite an unusual description of the parking building levels, which we thought were signature Japanese.
Floor information for Terminal 2
On the bridge from Terminal 2 to the parking building, we have a good view of the driveway and the slots for VIPs.
Paying for parking at one of the machines at the parking building.
We were curious about the sign that also mentioned a pet hotel. I guess travelers who didn’t have anyone to leave their pets with at home can now have the convenience of checking in their pets at the hotel to take care of the animals while they were away.
Waiting zone for vehicles – our host went to get our vehicle while we waited at the designated area.
I am already looking forward to a next trip to Japan. Perhaps I will take PAL again in a future flight? Actually, I was a bit disappointed that they used a smaller plane for our flight even if it was a new Airbus A321 Neo. I think I got used to the B747s that Delta and JAL used for their flights (I think JAL and ANA now uses the fuel efficient B777’s while Delta retained its B747s that eventually continue to the US). I think the smaller aircraft by PAL was the result of a combination of cost cutting (fuel-wise) and their increasing the frequency of flights. No matter, if you know that a nice airport like Narita is waiting on the other end of trip, it is a flight worth looking forward to.
A lot of people have been referring to the traffic congestion and other derivative issues that will be the result of the construction of several transport projects around Metro Manila as “traffic armageddon.” Some friend have appropriately (I think) referred to it more as “car-mageddon.” This seems to be the case since it is perceived to have the most impact on car users than public transport users, cyclists or pedestrians. This is far from the truth as there are more people taking public transport, cycling or walking than those driving their own cars. In fact, estimates for Metro Manila indicate that 70-80% of travelers take public transport while 20-30% take private vehicles. These mode splits do not include bicycles or walking, which obviously will further decrease private car shares.
I would rather refer to this period of construction as a sort of “purgatory” though it has nothing to do with the cleansing that’s associated with it. There is still the suffering involved while improvements are being implemented. But, most importantly, there is hope at the end of this process. This “hope” is not necessarily the “light at the end of a dark tunnel” kind of thing as surely population and the number of vehicles will surely increase over time even as the transport projects are being implemented. By the time these are completed, there are sure to be more people, more vehicles, as well as more of other developments that will put our transport system to a stress test. We can only hope that the designs of these infrastructure we are building now are based on honest to goodness trip or traffic forecasts. Otherwise, we’ll end up with congested or saturated systems by the time they start operating.
Unfortunately, most projects mentioned and those we know have the green light and would likely be proceeding with construction in the near future are basically road projects. It’s ironic considering that what Metro Manila urgently, and maybe desperately, needs now are public transport systems including the much delayed MRT 7, LRT 2 Extension and LRT 1 Extension. The proposals for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) seem to be in a limbo, too, despite extensive studies and surveys to support BRT along corridors such as Ortigas Avenue and Circumferential Road 5. These are blamed on institutional and legal impediments including allegations of shortcomings among officials of agencies responsible for these infrastructure.
I am aware of an initiative led by an environmental lawyer seeking to effect the redistribution of road space in favor of public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians. I think such actions are useful from the perspective of getting the attention necessary to push government and private sector players to have a sense of urgency not just in words but also in actions in as far as transport infrastructure programs and projects are concerned. We are already lagging behind our ASEAN neighbors with regards to infrastructure and at this pace, it is likely that less developed countries like Cambodia and Myanmar might just overtake us in the foreseeable future. From another perspective, it is hard to push for sharing the road when people really don’t have better options for commuting. Walking and cycling are not for everyone and many people have turned to the motorcycle to solve their transport woes. In the latter case, motorcycles are perceived as a vehicle that’s fuel efficient and allows the users to zip through congested streets often at high risks of being involved in a crash or spill.
We can only achieve “paradise” in our highly urbanized cities if we build these mass transit systems along with the pedestrian and cycling facilities that will complement each other. Those for whom car travel is a necessity would also benefit from reduced road congestion so it will eventually (hopefully) play out well for most people. Meanwhile, we would have to endure transport and traffic hell (some more and longer than others) as the government and private sector embark on this round of infrastructure projects implementation. It helps to look back at our experiences with the last major batch of projects in the latter part of the 1990’s when the number coding scheme was first implemented. At the time, it was implemented as a temporary measure to alleviate congestion while projects where being implemented. What was a temporary measure is now still being implemented along with a truck ban that has also been evolving the past years with the latest being the one implemented by the City of Manila starting last February 24. Will these vehicle restraint schemes be modified to cope with the traffic congestion expected from projects like the Skyway connector? Will these be relaxed or removed after all these projects have been completed? Your guess is as good as mine.
Metro Manila and other cities around the country are again in the headlines because of flooding brought about by strong rains. Rains are not new to the Philippines and there are many articles (and blogs) that have been written about the history of flooding in the Philippines. Some even feature old photos or caricatures showing how life was during the Spanish and American periods when floods also occurred, probably due to similar strong rains brought about by the monsoons or by the typical typhoons that regularly visit the country during the wet season.
In those times many years ago, the subject of drainage has already been mentioned and there is evidence that certain infrastructure were constructed to address the problems of flooding. In fact, the esteros that we presently associate with informal settlers and garbage were man-made waterways that functioned as open channels that could alleviate flooding in times of heavy rains. These waterways also functioned as transport facilities as they were constructed wide enough for boats to travel along the network of esteros that also connected with the Pasig River. These were not so different as the waterways that are now being used in Bangkok that have significant commuter and even goods traffic. There are many photos of these esteros as they were back in the Spanish and American periods. There are even more recent postwar photos that allow for comparison with photos at present. Unfortunately, I cannot post these here as there may be IP issues involved. Nevertheless, one can use your preferred search engines to find and view these photos.
Through the years, however, these esteros have been neglected and, as more and more squatters came to construct their shanties above the channels and tons of garbage disposed of, they became clogged and thus resulting to flooding in many parts of Manila. The esteros, however, are not wholly to blame when the subject of floods come up every now and again. It is a fact that the drainage systems of Metro Manila and other Philippine cities are already quite antiquated and their designs cannot accommodate the amounts of rainfall experienced these days. This is the result perhaps of poor planning and even more due to the neglect of national and local governments. And so we now experience floods almost each time we have significant rainfall. In some areas, the floods do not recede until after the wet season is over. Such is the sad plight of many Filipinos who are reduced to prayers and tests of faith if only to assure themselves that things will improve – some day.
Meanwhile, other cities have engaged similar flooding problems head-on and have invested on solutions that have saved their cities from much of the costs due to damages brought about by floods. Among those cities is Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where they constructed a tunnel that is usable as part of their drainage system as well as a highway. Kuala Lumpur’s SMART Motorway Tunnel is an example of an engineering solution that could help alleviate flooding in Metro Manila. It is quite costly, with construction amounting to about USD 514.6 million at the time of its completion in the first quarter of 2007 with construction starting about 4 years earlier in 2003. Much has been written about this infrastructure and its benefits. It has saved KL and Malaysia from potentially disastrous flooding so many times now since its opening. Was it worth it? No doubt our Malaysian friends with tell us it is and will continue to save them from more floods years from now. Thus, the cost of such projects can easily be justified and the return in investment will be quite quick given the costs of flooding that have been compiling these past years including 2009’s Ondoy (Ketsana). In fact, KL’s SMART Motorway Tunnel is part of its tollway system and was built using a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement that is much like what the current administration is preaching.
Perhaps its not yet too late for Metro Manila and other Philippine cities? Maybe we should get our acts together in finding and contributing to solutions that also address multiple problems facing our cities in this era of climate change and extreme weather conditions.