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I continue with my comments on current and persistent transport issues. This time, I focus on one of two hot topics – motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”.
1) On motorcycle taxis:
I am not a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that’s supposed to be evaluating the trial operations. I know one or two of the key members of the TWG and am surprised that they have not referred to the academe for studies that may have already been done about this mode of transport. I know there have been studies about it in UP and DLSU. Perhaps there are more from other universities in the country. Motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”, after all, are practically everywhere and would be hard to ignore. Surely, researchers and particularly students would be at least curious about their operations? Such is the case elsewhere and many studies on motorcycle taxis have been made in the region particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, where these modes also proliferate.
The terms “trial”, “experimental” or “pilot” are actually misleading because motorcycle taxis have been operating across the country for so many years now. They are supposed to be illegal and yet they serve a purpose in the areas where they are popular. What is often referred to as an informal transport mode is ‘formal’ to many people who are not being served by so-called formal modes including the tricycle. Of course, one can argue that these terms (i.e., trial, experimental and pilot) refer to the app that are supposed to enhance the existing habal-habal operations.
I would strongly endorse motorcycle taxis but companies need to be held accountable should there be fatal crashes involving their riders. They are supposed to have trained and accredited them. The companies should also have insurance coverage for riders and passengers. LGUs tolerant of these should be watchful and do their part in enforcing traffic rules and regulations pertaining to motorcycle operations in favor of safe riding. This is to reduce if not minimize the incidence of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis.
I think one of the problems with motorcycle taxis is not really their being a mode of choice but the behavior of their drivers. While companies like Angkas and Joyride conduct training sessions with their riders, many revert to reckless on-road behavior including executing risky maneuvers in order to overtake other vehicles on the road. This is actually a given with many ‘informal’ motorcycle taxis (i.e., those not affiliated with the recognized app companies). But then this is also an enforcement issue because we do have traffic rules and regulations that are poorly enforced by authorities. Thus, there is practically no deterrent to reckless riding except perhaps the prospect of being involved in a crash.
I will refrain to include the politics involved in the issue of motorcycle taxis. I will just write about this in another article.
Coming up soon: hot topic #2 – Obstacles to the PNR operations
I end the year with commentaries on transport issues. I recently responded to a request for an interview. This time, it was not possible to do it in person so we corresponded through email. Here are my responses to the questions sent, which are mainly about the public utility vehicle modernization program of the government.
· Will old-school jeepneys finally disappear on Philippine roads before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends, barely three years from now? What is a more realistic timeline of jeepney modernization?
Old school jeepneys won’t disappear from Philippine roads. For one, the modernization program has slowed down a bit and even the DOTr and LTFRB have stated and admitted that it is not possible to have 100% modernization before the end of term of the current administration. It’s really difficult to put a timeline on this because of so many factors that are in play including social, political, institutional and economic ones. The technical aspects are not issues here as there are many models to choose from and suitable for replacing jeepneys in terms of capacity.
· What are the bumps on road to jeepney modernization?
As mentioned earlier, there are many factors in play here. Economic/financial-related bumps pertain mainly to vehicle prices. The new models are quite pricey but it should be understood that this is also because the new ones are compliant with certain standards including technical and environmental ones that most ‘formally’ manufactured vehicles must pass unlike so-called customized local road vehicles (CLRV) like the conventional jeepneys. The financial package is not affordable to typical jeepney operators/drivers. The cost of a modern jitney (the technical term for these vehicle types) is close to an SUV and revenues may not be able to cover the combination of down payment, monthly payments, and operations & maintenance costs of the vehicle.
· Should local government units dictate the pace of jeepney modernization, not national agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board? Why?
I think the word “dictate” may be too strong a term to use. Instead, I prefer the word “manage”. After all, LGUs are supposed to capacitate themselves to be able to rationalize and manage public transport operations. That is why the DOTr and the LTFRB are requiring them to formulate and submit for evaluation and approval Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP). Though the deadline was supposed to be 2020, the agencies have relaxed this deadline after few submissions from LGUs. Few because there were only a few who were capable or could afford consultants to prepare the plans for the LGUs. These plans should be comprehensive covering all modes of public transport including tricycles and pedicabs that are already under the LGUs. Buses, jeepneys, vans and taxis are still under the LTFRB. Plans may also contain future transport systems that are being aspired for by LGUs such as rail-based mass transit systems and other such as monorail or AGT.
· Transport groups like PISTON are against drivers and operators merging into cooperatives. Is consolidation into cooperatives unworkable? Why?
I think consolidation into cooperatives is workable and should be given a chance. Unfortunately, there are still few examples of successful transport cooperatives. And the success also depends on the routes served by their vehicles. And that is why there is also a need to rationalize transport routes in order to ensure that these are indeed viable (i.e., profitable) for drivers and operators.
Another angle here is more political in nature. Note that while PISTON and other like-minded transport groups oppose cooperativism, there are others that have embraced it and even went corporate to some extent. Perhaps there is a fear of a loss in power that the leaders of these opposition transport groups have wielded for a long time? Perhaps there’s a fear that success of cooperatives means the drivers and operators will turn to cooperativism and leave those transport groups? Surely there are pros and cons to this and groups should not stop being critical of initiatives, government-led or not, that will affect them. This should be constructive rather than the rant variety but government should also learn to accept these rather than dismiss them or be offended by them as is often the case.
More comments in the next year!
A common sight along Philippine roads are overloaded public utility vehicles. It may be indicative of how difficult it is to get a ride because such is usually the case when there is a lack of public transport vehicles during peak periods (i.e., when transport demand is greater than the supply of vehicles). That lack maybe due to simply not enough vehicles to address the demand or that there is enough on paper and operating but they are not able to make the return trips fast enough. The first case means demand has grown but the number and capacity of vehicles have not kept pace with the demand. The second means that technically there are enough vehicles (franchises) but the traffic conditions along the route have worsened and has resulted in vehicles not being able to travel fast enough to cover the demand.
Jeepney with 6 passengers hanging by the back. All look like they are laborers or workers (construction?) but it is not uncommon to see students in their school uniform similarly dangling from jeepneys especially during the peak hours when its difficulty to get a ride.
Sabit is actually illegal and, if enforcers are strict, will incur apprehension and a ticket. Many local enforcers including those of the MMDA though are lax about this especially during peak periods. Jeepney drivers are more cautious when they know that Land Transportation Office (LTO) enforcement units are on watch as these are usually strict about passengers dangling from the vehicles. Newer jeepney/jitney models basically eliminated sabit as the doors are now on the right side of the jeepney instead of the back and there are no spaces or features to hold and step on to in the new models. It is for good as this is an unsafe situation for the passengers and there are reckless jeepney drivers who tend to exacerbate the situation by deliberately maneuvering the jeepney as if he wants passengers to fall off the vehicle. To those looking for a thrill (or death wish as a friend calls it), it is an exhilarating experience. But in most cases, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
There seems to be a proliferation of various models of the so-called “modernized jeepneys”. They have been deployed along what the DOTr and LTFRB have tagged as “missionary routes”. The latter term though is confusing because this used to refer to areas that are not yet being served by public transportation, hence the “missionary” aspect of the route. The routes stated on the jeepneys are certainly new but they overlap with existing ones. Thus, the new vehicles are actually additional to the traffic already running along the roads used by the existing (old?) routes. The number of units are said to be “provisional” meaning these are trial numbers of these new vehicles and implying the route and service to be somewhat “experimental”. There can be two reasons here that are actually strongly related to each other: 1) the actual demand for the route is not known, and 2) the corresponding number of vehicles to serve the demand is also unknown. Unknown here likely means there has been little or no effort to determine the demand and number of vehicles to serve that demand. The DOTr and LTFRB arguably is unable to do these estimations or determinations because it simply does not have the capacity and capability to do so; relying on consultants to figure this out. That work though should be in a larger context of rationalizing public transport services. “Provisional” here may just mean “arbitrary” because of the number (say 20 or 30 units?) of units they approve for these new routes.
A ‘modernised’ jeepney with a capacity of 23 passengers. The vehicle is definitely larger than the conventional jeepneys and yet can only carry 23 seated passengers. That’s basically the number of seats for most “patok” jeepneys that are “sampuan” or 10 passengers on each bench plus 2 passengers and the driver in the front seats.
Modernized jeepney unloading passengers along the roadside
Rationalization should require not only the replacement of old jeepney units that seems to be the objective of the government’s modernization program. Rationalization also entails the determination and deployment of vehicles of suitable passenger capacities for the routes they are to serve. I have stated before that certain routes already require buses instead of jeepneys and that jeepneys should be serving feeder routes instead. Meanwhile, routes (even areas) currently having tricycles as the primary mode of transport would have to be served by jeepneys. Tricycles, after all, are more like taxis than regular public transportation. Such will also mean a reduction in the volumes of these vehicles and, if implemented and monitored strictly, may lead to an improvement in the quality of service of road public transport.
[Note: May I add that although I also use ‘jeepney’ in my articles, these vehicles should be called by their true names – ‘jitneys’. The term jeepney is actually a combination of the words Jeep (US military origins) and jitney (a public utility vehicle usually informal or paratransit offering low fares).]
The nationwide transport strike last Monday elicited a lot of reactions from both supporters and opponents of the the initiatives to modernise the jeepney. Both sides have valid points but both, too, have weak points. Much has been discussed about the cost of acquiring new jeepneys to replace the old ones and whether you agree or not, these are really a bit steep to the typical jeepney driver-operator.
A low downpayment will certainly mean higher monthly amortisations. And most drivers/operators can only afford a low downpayment with or without the 80,000 pesos or so subsidy from the government. Even if you factor in some tax incentives, the net amount to be paid every month will still be too much for a typical driver/operator. Anyone who’s ever purchased a vehicle, new or used, through a loan should know this, and to deny it means you probably are privileged enough not to take out a loan.
Certainly there are exceptions like certain Beep operations that are supposed to be run like a company or cooperative, and where fleet management techniques allow these to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. The latter supposedly allows the owners to recover their capital (return of investment) for the purchase of the new jitney units. The reality, however, is that not all routes are good enough for the required revenues and the better earning ones subsidize (forced?) those that are not profitable. The ‘company’ or ‘coop’ can therefore hide these unprofitable cases as the collective performance of the routes they operate along become the basis for assessment.
Snapshot inside a jeepney while waiting for it to fill with passengers
It is true that the business model (or what is passed off for one) for jeepney operations is flawed. More so if you place this in the context of transport demand for a metropolis like Metro Manila. That is why perhaps corporatization or cooperatives can probably help in terms of improving processes and practices (e.g., maintenance regimes, deployment). So perhaps this is where government should step in and be more aggressive in organising jeepney drivers and operators. I would even dare say that government should be willing to extend more financial support if significant change in public transport is to be achieved. The Office of the President, Senators and Congressmen enjoy a lot of pork and the numbers for a single year indicate that they can, if willing, purchase new jitneys for their constituencies perhaps focusing on the cities and retiring the old, dilapidated public utility vehicles. That, I think, is a more ‘intelligent’ use to these funds that are allegedly being misused by our politicians.
So, was the strike a success? I think the answer is yes it was. Government cannot deny this as it was forced to suspend classes in schools in order to address the impending shortfall of services during the strike and many LGUs were forced to provide free transport services (libreng sakay) in many forms (e.g., dump trucks, flat bed trucks, etc.). You can only say it was a failure if it was business as usual with commuters feeling minimal impact of the stoppage in jeepney operations.
I saw several posts circulating on social media about public transport routes in major cities that included stylised maps presented like the transit maps you usually see for cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. These show what the makers identify as the equivalent of stops or stations along the public transport “lines”. These, of course, are a simplification because what appears as a single line may actually be comprised of several. Also, the overlaps seem to be also quite simplified compared to what may be found in reality. This post will not attempt to show how complicated road public transport is for Metro Manila. Instead, I am sharing the maps prepared from a previous study we conducted for the then DOTC (ca. 2012) that show the coverage of three road public transport modes: buses, jeepneys and UV Express.
PUB coverage for Mega Manila with distinction of EDSA and non-EDSA routes (2012)
Jeepney route coverage for Mega Manila (2012)
UV Express route coverage for Mega Manila (2012)
I hope these maps have already been updated or are going to be updated in order for us to have good visual references for public transport planning including the identification of locations for integrated terminals as well as connections with rail transit.
I spotted a new vehicle serving a new route between Cogeo in Antipolo and SM Aura in Taguig. I see these vehicles along Marcos Highway from Masinag to Santolan. Friends have spotted the same along C-5 at Eastwood and at Tiendesitas; confirming the route this mash-up between the jeepney and bus is running along. The route overlaps with existing public transport lines along Marcos Highway (mostly jeepneys connecting the eastern cities and towns with Cubao) including the elevated Line 2.
Jitney running along Marcos Highway in Antipolo (section between Masinag and Cogeo)
The jeepney has a sign stating it is a DOTr project. So is this an experimental run to determine the viability of the route in place of the traditional approach using what was termed as RMC (Route Measured Capacity)? I am not aware of any other ways by which the DOTr or the LTFRB are able to estimate the number and type of public utility vehicles to serve certain routes. There are, however, initiatives to open what they call “missionary routes” but this term used to refer to really new and unserved (referring to formal public transport) corridors or areas rather than those that are already being served by several modes of public transport. The results of this interpretation of “missionary routes” are more overlapping routes that further complicate and undermine efforts for rationalising or simplifying public transport services in the Metro Manila and other cities as well.
I will soon post here three maps showing the public transport route coverage for Metro Manila more than half a decade ago. These show the coverage of buses, jeepneys, and UV express services at the time. I now wonder how these would look like with the new routes overlayed unto the maps.