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Is Antipolo ripe for high capacity and premium transit services?

About 5 years ago, I wrote about transport in Antipolo in another blog. The article was more about this old city being a major destination attracting people for pilgrimage (Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) and tourism (e.g.,  Hinulugang Taktak). I am quoting from that article from 5 years ago and adding a few comments here and there. Note that for most of the article, nothing much has changed except perhaps that the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is now underway.

“There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.”

I didn’t mention there that another backdoor was via Marcos Highway if one were coming directly from Tanay instead of through Teresa. This route is now popular and traffic has been steadily increasing due in part to some additional attractions in that part of Antipolo and Tanay.

“Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo Simbahan, referring to the shrine.”

There are also UV Express and shuttle vans (legitimate vans for hire or colorum operations) offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownership and operations do make them serious competitors to the jeepneys even during the merry month of May (fiesta period) and the Lenten Holy Week.

“There was an Antipolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto with the cassette tapes stacked along the bus dashboard). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.”

At present, there is another bus company operating along Ortigas Ave and the Manila East Road – RRCG. There is also a revival of the EMBC with buses providing transport services between Quiapo and Tanay. The only other bus is the inter-provincial Raymond Transit, which operates between Crossing, Mandaluyong and Infanta, Quezon via Antipolo, Teresa, Morong and Tanay.

“In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.”

This proposition for rationalizing public transport to/from Antipolo and other towns of Rizal plus Marikina is all the more important as the Line 2 extension from Santolan, Pasig to Masinag, Antipolo is currently underway. There is an opportunity here to upgrade public transport following the hierarchy of transport modes. I have noticed, for example, electric and conventional tricycles providing what are basically feeder services but along Marcos Highway between Cogeo and Masinag. And a lot of people have been stranded or have difficulty getting a jeepney or UV express ride along the Marcos Highway corridor. I am aware that the DOTC in the previous administration was mulling an express bus service through Marcos and Sumulong Highways terminating and turning around at Robinsons Place Antipolo. That, of course, never happened but is something that I think is worthwhile and would be beneficial to a lot of commuters.

Latest model electric jeepney

In case my readers missed my feature on the recent electric vehicle summit hosted by Meralco, here are a few photos of the latest model of the electric jeepney. Note the passenger door is no longer at the rear but at the side across from the driver. They have also added a distinctive snout to the vehicle. This model is the latest from PhUV, which also manufactures electric tricycles.

IMG_1570Profile of the electric jeepney currently in use for a Department of Energy-funded project being undertaken jointly by the National Engineering Center (NEC), the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) and the Vehicle Research and Testing Laboratory (VRTL) of the Department of Mechanical Engineering; all of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

IMG_1571A peak at the interior shows the passenger seats in bench layout and a more generous headroom for passengers.

IMG_1572Driver’s seat and panel. There is space to install fare collection machines like the ones that can enable the use of BEEP cards by passengers.

IMG_1573E-jeepney front showing the distinctive face from its conventional ‘ancestors/predecessors’. A colleague noted that perhaps the manufacturer should add some accessories like horses or airplanes on the hood.

This model is already similar in size with the big COMET electric jitneys. They also run on a more powerful electric motor that will enable these vehicles, according to the maker, to climb slopes like those along the route of Antipolo jeepneys. We hope that this design gets mainstreamed (read: replace conventional jeepneys) along the many existing jeepney routes not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.

Curiosities of transport services in Metro Manila

There are a few interesting observations we can make out of transport services in Metro Manila and chief among them is the poor quality of service that we can generalize among most if not all modes of public transport available to commuters. This poor quality of service of public transport is what drives many people to aspire to own and drive or ride their own vehicle. Already there has been a surge in motorcycle ownership in Metro Manila and its neighboring towns and cities (collectively Mega Manila) and car ownership is also on the rise. These trends have led to increased congestion along many roads. And we will probably not see a significant improvement until the mass transit projects have all been completed. These include the Line 2 Extension to Masinag, the MRT 7 along Commonwealth, the Line 1 Extension to Cavite, and yes, the capacity improvement of MRT 3. Hopefully, there will also be BRT lines along C-5 and Quezon Avenue to complement the rail transport projects.

The UV Express is actually a response to poor public transport services as it evolved out of the FX taxi services of the 1990s that later mixed with informal van and AUV services. These are actually a precursor of today’s ride sharing modes. Only, in those days when the FX service was born, you didn’t have tools like apps to facilitate your ride. People had to agree about the fares and the destinations from terminals like those in Cubao (Quezon City) and Crossing (Pasig/Mandaluyong).

But let us focus on three services that would not have been attractive if only services by their conventional counterparts were (very) satisfactory and if there was a comprehensive and efficient mass transit network in the metropolis. These are Uber, P2P buses and airport express buses.

Uber offers services much like that of the conventional taxi. Its advantages are mainly having recent model vehicles (not dilapidated ones), a better driver (this attribute is quite subjective), and an app-based system for availing services. Fares are generally more expensive than those for regular taxis. And there is a surge pricing for when congestion is really bad. It has a very good feedback mechanism that allows passengers to evaluate their drivers. However, this wouldn’t have been necessary if taxi drivers in general were more disciplined and courteous to their passengers.

P2P buses operated by Froehlich Tours offers services much like that of conventional buses. Its current advantages over conventional buses are that it operates express services, buses are new, well-maintained, and with drivers that appear to be more disciplined than the typical public utility bus driver. A friend’s take is that P2P’s are the bus equivalent of UV Express. It is not at all necessary if the quality of service of regular buses were much better than it is right now. And I am referring to the practically stop anywhere, recklessly driven and poorly maintained regular buses.

Premium airport buses have recently been introduced and these are operated by Air21, which is a freight forwarding company. It is a service that’s long overdue given the many difficult experiences of people to and from NAIA’s passenger terminals. While an airport limousine bus service should have been provided many, many years ago it also is a reflection of the poor quality of airport taxi services. Airport taxis are expensive and according to many stories circulating can be predatory.

What I am driving at, if it is not yet so obvious, is that many ‘new’ services are actually borne out of crappy services of conventional modes. There are many lessons to be learned here in and lest I be accused of neglecting other Philippine cities, I should mention that Metro Manila presents so many lessons to be learned by other rapidly growing and urbanizing areas in the country. At this time we can mention Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and perhaps Clark/Angeles as metropolitan areas to watch in terms of transport system development. Hopefully, there’s a kind of reverse psychology in their approaches to address their transport needs in that they avoid what has been done in Metro Manila. Surely, transport services in these other cities can do better than Metro Manila’s.

Some advantages of rail over road transport

In my previous article, I mentioned how rail transport is important as part of a country’s transport system, particularly on land. I also mentioned a study conducted by our undergraduate students that was completed back in April 2012.

Our students conducted a simple survey, as part of their research, to determine the travel times and costs for public transportation between several origin-destination pairs. These O-D pairs were selected to simulate costs and travel times of commutes using either primarily rail or all road transport. Note the choices of either ‘school’ or ‘office’ paired with ‘home’ somewhere in the south of Metro Manila.

road-rail travel time 2012Travel time comparisons for commutes using road and rail public transportation – ‘Road’ refers to the entire commute using road-based transport (i.e., buses and jeepneys) while ‘Rail’ refers to commutes utilizing mainly the PNR but with road transport used in the end parts of the journeys (e.g., jeepney ride from near the PNR Espana Station to UST).

road-rail cost 2012Travel cost comparisons for commutes using road and rail public transportation

Relevant to understanding the above are the following

  • Fare rates have changed since 2012. However, this presents a constant change over the fares that are being compared so the basic differences will remain the same across origin-destination pairs.
  • PNR services had to be discontinued for some time due to derailments because of poor conditions of tracks.
  • Road traffic has worsened since 2012 with several “carmaggedon” episodes showing how vulnerable commuters are when using solely road transport.
  • Road public transport services are frequent and practically 24/7. PNR services are of very limited frequency. Waiting times for the trains typically add to travel times in the form of delays, which make commuting by rail an unattractive option due to their unreliability of service.

Trip cutting with respect to the LRT Line 2

Trip cutting is one of the undesirable behaviors of public utility vehicle drivers. It is most common with jeepneys and UV Express than with buses.

The findings of the study completed by our students last June 2015 are the following:

  • It was proven that trip-cutting behavior is a common practice by both jeepney and UV Express drivers with routes along Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard, covering parts of Pasig City, Marikina City and Quezon City.
  • The underlying factors involving trip-cutting behavior by PUV drivers were found to be the following:
    • Jeepneys and UV Express unload most of their passengrs during peak hours at the LRT Santolan and Katipunan Stations – there was a higher likelihood for passengers to ride the Line 2 from these stations to their destinations including Cubao and the University belt. A lot of passengers are students and trying to keep their schedules. Road transport can be very unpredictable and the trains offer more reliable travel times.
    • Drivers can maximize profit by having shorter trips and at the same time having passengers at full capacity – jeepney and UV express drivers unloading most of their passengers at the stations and turning around there (i.e., cutting their trips) means they avoid the congestion along Aurora Boulevard and faster turnarounds translate to their being able to carry more passengers thereby earning more revenues.
  • It was observed that the top trip-cutting routes for PUVs along Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard are as follows:
    • For jeepney vehicles:
      • Cogeo – Cubao and Antipolo – Cubao routes in relation to the LRT Santolan Station;
      • Calumpang – Cubao and SSS Village – Cubao routes in relation to the LRT Katipunan Station.
    • For UV Express vehicles:
      • SSS Village – Cubao and Cogeo – Cubao routes in relation to the LRT Santolan Station;
      • Marikina – Cubao and Rodriguez/Montalban – Cubao routes in relation to the LRT Katipunan Station.

The following recommendations were made in relation to the findings of the study:

  • Route modification of top trip-cutting routes to take into account the realities with respect to the current demand.
  • Study on supply of PUVs with respect to the Cubao terminal station in relation to trip-cutting violations.
  • In the future, when the construction of the LRT Line 2’s Masinag and Emerald stations is completed, it is recommend to that further route modifications be made relative to these new stations.

Such studies are important especially in light of the construction of railway lines including this case of the extension of Line 2 from Santolan, Pasig to Masinag, Antipolo. There is an opportunity here for the rationalization of jeepney routes to complement the obviously higher capacity and more efficient trains of Line 2. Rationalization here translates to the shortening of jeepney routes with many units terminating at Line 2 stations. ‘Cogeo-Cubao’ jeepneys would become Cogeo-Masinag jeepneys while ‘Antipolo-Cubao’ jeepneys will become either ‘Antipolo-Masinag’ or ‘Antipolo-Emerald’ jeepneys. A Masinag route end would apply to ‘Antipolo-Cubao via Sumulong Highway’ jeepneys while the Emerald route end would apply to ‘Antipoli-Cubao via Junction’ PUJs. Such will reduce the travel distances covered by the jeepneys as well as reduce their travel and turnaround times. Also, such a rationalization will lead to a better structured public transport system following a hierarchy among modes.

Future of jeepneys?

I spotted a jeepney on my way home with a message (or tagline, depending on how you see it) printed on its side. It says BEEP, which was supposed to stand for Bagong Jeep (translated as New Jeep). From the looks of the vehicle, there was nothing new about it, except maybe this sign that was painted over an older design on the vehicle’s body. Apparently, the tagline does not refer to the vehicle itself but to the image of the jeepney. “Bago” or “New” here refers to a new image for jeepneys. Long regarded as the “King of the Road,” the jeepneys have become synonymous to reckless driving, uncomfortable rides and unreliable services. They have also come to represent unsustainable transport what with most jeepneys being fuel guzzlers and smoke belchers.

2015-06-27 08.57.23I already spotted several jeepneys plying the Cogeo-Cubao route sporting this sign that’s apparently a campaign to uplift the image of jeepneys. It seems really a stretch to call these ‘bago’ as the vehicles I’ve seen are the same customized bodies with second hand engines running them.

There is a campaign to rehabilitate the image of the jeepneys and perhaps it should start with driver behavior and not necessarily the vehicle. Many jeepney drivers (as well as drivers of other public utility vehicles) have attitudes leaning on the rude side. You see many of them driving recklessly along our roads and stopping just about anywhere (e.g., in the middle of the road). Such behaviour is due to many factors including the way these people learned to drive and their motivations for their means of earning a living. Much can also be said about their education both formal and regarding their driving.

There are also many vehicles vying to be the replacement for the jeepneys and among these are electric vehicles including the electric jitneys that I have featured in past articles on this blog. Incidentally, one of those electric jitneys is actually a more recent model of the electric jeepneys that’re currently in operation in Makati and Alabang, and it happens to be called the Beep. Operating in Filinvest City, the e-jeepneys there have been lauded as a viable option for replacing the conventional jeepneys. So far, so good and time will tell if indeed, conventional jeepneys will be phased out in favor of e-jeepneys. The jury is still out there in terms of the e-jeepney’s reliability and durability.

2015-07-03 05.59.42An electric tricycle currently undergoing experimental operations at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus is more a replacement for tricycles and multicabs than for jeepneys.

Future jeepney: COMET

Another vehicle being considered for the study on the comparison of customised vehicles being used for public transport is the COMET (City Optimised Managed Electric Transport). This is a 20-seater vehicle that we have written about in previous posts and was touted by its makers and supporters as the best and most suitable replacement for the conventional jeepney. Unlike the BEEP that was featured in the previous post, it is currently operating along a route with trip ends at North Avenue and Aurora Boulevard via Mindanao Avenue, Congressional Avenue, Luzon Avenue and Katipunan Avenue. This route overlaps in operation with established jeepney routes in those areas and thus competes directly with these jeepneys.

spec sheet COMET

Notice that both the COMET and the BEEP have seating capacities of 20 passengers (except the driver). However, the COMET is the larger vehicle as it is both wider, longer and higher than the BEEP. In fact, a passenger can stand inside the COMET without having to bow his/her head so as not to bump against the ceiling. Perhaps the more significant difference with current operations is that COMET drivers have been trained to drive more responsibly (i.e., less aggressively) than the typical jeepney driver. So far they do not weave in traffic and stop only at designated points along their route. Future jeepneys should have drivers like these but they should also be compensated according to the requirements of their jobs as drivers. Such compensation schemes are among the biggest factors for the way jeepney drivers behave in traffic. Technology-wise, current and subsequent developments in motors, batteries and other components of the vehicle itself should make electric and other environment-friendly vehicles more attractive as replacements (successors?) to jeepneys.