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Route 9: Antipolo-Cubao

I keep forgetting posting something about the buses that now operate along the Antipolo-Cubao route. Route 9, as the DOTr and LTFRB have designated this route covers one of 2 routes connecting Antipolo and Quezon City’s older CBD. Route 9 is via Sumulong Highway and Masinag Junction. The older route via Felix Avenue and Cainta Junction has not been revived. Both routes used to be served by jeepneys; many of them the “patok” kind that were known for speeding and risky maneuvers. It seems, at this time, that these will not be allowed to operate again along these routes with the rationalization efforts of the government. Following are photos taken at the Robinsons Antipolo transport terminal, which is where one of the end points of Route 9 is located.

 

Buses maneuver at the spacious terminal grounds at Robinsons Antipolo.

There are two bus services currently terminating here. One is the P2P bus service between Robinsons Antipolo and Robinsons Galleria, and the other is Route 9 between Antipolo and Cubao, Quezon City.

Many of the buses were “pulled out” from their former routes. The term pulled out is actually inaccurate since public transport operations were suspended during the lockdown.

The transport terminal is an intermodal one that’s supposed to cater to buses, jeepneys, vans and tricycles. There are currently no UV Express vans operating here and traditional or conventional jeepneys have yet to return to Antipolo.

A big part of the terminal is an area reclaimed from a failed amusement park that occupied the corner of this lot. The rides and other equipment were removed prior to the lockdowns.

There are minimal restrictions to the vehicles accessing the terminal grounds. Here you see a taxi and tricycle moving about. Cars may be parked nearby and these (parked cars) were not uncommon before the lockdown as some people practiced “park and ride” with the P2P buses.

EMBC buses such as this one used to ply the Tanay – Divisoria and Tanay – Quiapo routes

G-Liner buses are a familiar sight in Rizal where they are probably the oldest company continuing service since the 1980s. Correct me if I’m wrong but I only remember them being in operation in the 1980s. Before them were Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses and the baby buses that plied the Binangonan-Recto route.

G-Liners now operate two routes from the rationalization program: Antipolo-Cubao and Taytay-Gilmore.

The passenger capacities of the buses and the service between Antipolo & Cubao have been significantly reduced due to health protocols. Thus, buses can only carry perhaps up to 40 or 50% of their seating capacity. I mentioned seating capacity here because of physical distancing requirements and the ban on standees. Previously, a bus left every 5 minutes and their frequency could not cover the demand along the route. Recently, I observed more buses in operation and the addition buses from two more bus companies that used to ply the Fairview-Baclaran and Fairview-Alabang routes. These could probably help ease the supply issues.

More on the Antipol-Cubao service soon!

Alternatives for the delivery of public transport services in the new normal

No, this is not a dissenting opinion on service contracting as proposed by a coalition of transport advocates. Rather, I write about other options or alternatives that can be taken on by the government in collaboration with the different sectors or players involved in transportation. Other options have not been discusses as extensively as would have been desired and ultimately weighed for application.

Allow me to rattle off a few options stated in the position paper by the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP):

  1. Service contracting – which some groups have proposed and lobbied Congress for Php110 billion funding. This implies a government selecting a few among hundreds of bus operators and thousands of jeepney operators – a process that is bound to be controversial; whilst needing the mobilization of a performance audit and monitoring unit in a government agency. Economic literature is replete with studies that subsidy to producer (i.e., operator) produce bad outcomes over direct subsidy to consumers (i.e., commuter). In this regime, financial risks are borne by the government or authority.
  2. Fuel subsidy – the government was already implementing the Pantawid Pasada Program before ECQ. It incurred Php2.372 billion subsidies in 2019, up by 243% from Php0.977 billion in 2018. At the pump, the fuel subsidy equates to Php1.00/liter discount. Now, the DoTr is proposing a 30% subsidy which it estimates to be Php1,152/PUB and Php366/PUJ. These amounts are NOT commensurate to the theoretical drop in revenues at 50% load limit. Worse, free fuel leads to bad outcomes, as it would encourage higher fuel use and siphoning off to other modes.
  3. Free Fare – this proposal is intertwined with the service contracting model and may be counterproductive to the objective of social distancing. It is a policy that encourages unnecessary travel and crowding – which the distancing rule seeks to minimize. The government needs only to look on ridership on LRT/MRT on free-fare days against regular working days.
  4. Direct Subsidy to Commuter – in this scheme, the operator is allowed to increase its tariff by an amount sufficient to compensate for the 50% volume cut. However, the passenger only pays the same fare level that he paid before ECQ. The government pays the difference. When paired with the Automated Fare Collection System (which LTFRB has required under MC-2020-019 dated 14-May 2020), it is the most efficient method, and is immediately implementable. Subsidy is targeted, rather than all-encompassing. It promotes the wider adoption of AFCS on all public transport, not just on MRT/LRT. Senate Bill No.1417 seeks to fund, among others, for transportation vouchers; this could be disbursed rapidly via the AFCS card

 

Another idea is the purchase of new model jitneys to replace old jeepneys – this is an idea that I have posted and have discussed with former and current officials of the DOTC/DOTr before (matagal na itong idea na ito). You purchase say 1 modern jitney at 1.6million pesos/vehicle (note: other models are more expensive, exceeding 2M per unit) and replace the old, conventional jeepneys. It will not be free but payment for the vehicle will be deferred until after the transport crisis brought about by the pandemic clears out. The old jeepneys would be part of the collateral and perhaps still have some utility in them to be used for other purposes (freight?). Think about it. How much pork does your typical congressman and senator have? They could probably use this to modernize public transport in their respective constituencies!

It is important to have a lot of ideas out there instead of just one that is being pushed as the only option. In truth, there should be a combinations of solutions as there will not a be single one applicable and effective to all cases and situations. At this time, I am not sure that these options are being considered by the DOTr. The agency and the LTFRB are proceeding with rationalization and modernization simultaneously, at their own pace and at their own terms, taking advantage of the conditions and situations brought about by the pandemic. While it seems to be the ‘perfect’ opportunity to do rationalization and modernization, it might be immoral and inappropriate given the circumstances that doomed a lot of families who depend on public transport operations for their livelihood.

On people’s reactions to the pandemic – more cars?

There is this article that argues that one result of the pandemic and the scare that it caused to a many is that people have resorted to car use during and after the lockdowns:

Vanderbilt, T. (2020) “People Are Buying Cars Because of the Pandemic. Cities May Change as a Result, Medium, https://gen.medium.com/people-are-buying-cars-because-of-the-pandemic-cities-may-change-as-a-result-e0657584f45e [Last accessed: 6/20/2020]

It was amusing for me to read the reference to cars as a sort of PPE but it comes as no surprise. It is psychologically like a suit of armor to some people and I guess this affects them the same way as some people’s personalities change when behind the wheel.

Whether this is true for the Philippines’ case we are now seeing somewhat but I say ‘somewhat’ because of the deficiencies in public transportation especially in Metro Manila. Government agencies in-charge of transportation seem to have found the perfect situation to roll out and push for both route rationalization and modernization. Major public transport routes have resumed operations but with buses instead of jeepneys. And slowly but somehow surely the “modern jeepneys” are being allowed but following the terms and conditions of the DOTr and the LTFRB.

LTFRB Memorandum Circular No. 2020-019 – Guidelines for the Operations of PUBs During the Period of GCQ in Metro Manila

The following images show the full 19 pages of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board Memorandum Circular No. 2020-019: Guidelines for the Operations of PUBs During the Period of GCQ in Metro Manila. Again, no comments for now as I post this for reference. I have not seen it posted on the LTFRB’s Facebook page yet but it is a public document and something that needs to be circulated for the benefit of the riding public.


On the proposed single bus route along EDSA

A friend posted this on social media as news came out about the government’s statement on its considering a single bus route for EDSA. EDSA, of course, is Circumferential Road 4 and perhaps the busiest road in Metropolitan Manila in terms of volumes of people and vehicles traversing this road. Public transportation along EDSA is mainly by buses and the MRT Line 3. Line 3’s capacity is already diminished despite the high demand for it mainly because of the number of train sets that are currently in operation. Buses, meanwhile, are split among the many routes converging along much of EDSA. These routes are shown in the map on the left where you can see the overlapping routes that have various end points.

 

Of course, it is best to read the Final Report of this study. That way, one is able to see the overall context for this section that is part of the concluding part of the report. I recall that the consulting team from UP was able to map the routes of other public utility vehicles like jeepneys and UV Express from that time. Perhaps the DOTr still has a copy somewhere? The NCTS Library in UP Diliman is currently closed so one may have to search the internet first for a copy of the study or perhaps snippets of it here and there. Perhaps related to this is a proposal to revive (or maybe the right word is ‘resurrect’?) the now defunct Metro Manila Transit Corporation or MMTC that used to dominate EDSA and other major roads in direct competition with the few private bus companies during its heydays as well as the jeepneys.

On the financial viability requirement for public transport operators

I came upon the news that the P2P Bus service between SM City North EDSA and SM Megamall suspended operations The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) released a statement to clarify the circumstances surrounding the suspension, which apparently was the initiative of the operator rather than the agency. Apparently, too, some people were quick to attribute (blame seems to be the more appropriate adjective to describe how some netizens reacted) the suspension to LTFRB. Here is the statement posted on their social media page:

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board – LTFRB
February 23 at 7:52 PM ·

LTFRB PRESS STATEMENT ON P2P OPERATIONS OF FROEHLICH TOURS, INC.
23 February 2020

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) would like to clarify that it did not order the cessation of the P2P operations of Froehlich Tours, Inc. (FTI) which plied the SM North EDSA-SM Megamall and Trinoma-Park Square routes.

FTI was one of the first to be awarded with P2P routes in 2016. In November 2019, MAN Automotive Concessionaires Corporation (MAN) submitted a letter requesting the Board to look into the financial capability of FTI to maintain its operations, fund expenses that may arise from accidents, and continue to provide public service.

According to MAN, an exclusive truck and bus importer, assembler, and distributor, FTI initially acquired 17 bus units amounting to a total of P185.7 million from them. FTI was only able to pay P39.2 million which resulted in MAN having to repossess 12 bus units. To this day, P19.75 million is still left unpaid by FTI.

While these allegations are still under investigation by the Board, an inspection of the FTI bus units revealed that the company’s Provisional Authority, which allowed them to run and function as a public service provider, has already expired and no renewal was filed.

As of now, an order has been sent out to Froehlich Tours Inc. to submit its 2019 Financial Statement within a period of five (5) days from receipt of a copy. The hearing is reset, upon the agreement of both parties, on 3 March 2020 at the LTFRB Central Office.

Pending the outcome of the hearing, the Board shall adopt measure in the coming weeks to ensure that the riding public will be provided with the needed transport service on the routes affected.

There are two major points in the statement. One is on the financial viability of the operator and another is on the provisional authority granted by the LTFRB, which is a regulatory agency. The latter pertains to something more temporary and authoritative than a franchise, which is basically a license to provide transport services. These provisional authorities are often granted by the agency for so-called “missionary routes” as well as for supplementing the supply of vehicles during peak seasons like Christmas, Holy Week and Undas.

Financial viability is a requirement for all public transport operators. It is part of the formula for determining the viable number of units (i.e., vehicles) considering the fare that is to be charged to passengers taking into consideration the operating costs of operators. If this requirement was implemented strictly, a lot of operators would not be operating PUVs in the first place. The LTFRB, however, as well as its mother agency, the DOTr, have been lax about this requirement for so long a time that it is difficult to recall the last case where this was cited as a reason for suspending operations.

The problem with public transport in the Philippines…

There is a collage of two photos, one taken in 1975 and another in 2019, showing buses that managed to squeeze themselves into a jam. The 1975 photo was taken at the ramp of the overpass near Liwasang Bonifacio (Quiapo, Manila). There is a commentary describing the photo that attributes ‘monstrous daily traffic jams’ to the behavior of Filipino drivers. Special mention was made of public transport drivers and the photo showed proof of this. This was 1975 and motorization had not reached the levels we are at now so the

The problems pertaining to driver behavior persist today and probably even worsened along with the general conditions of traffic in Philippine roads. I say so since the volume of vehicular traffic has increased significantly from 1975 to the present and there are much more interactions among vehicles and people that have led to a deterioration of road safety as well. Traffic congestion and road crashes are asymptomatic of the root causes of most of our transport problems. And so far, it seems we have had little headway into the solutions. The photos speak for themselves in terms of how many people can easily put the blame on poor public transport services despite the fact that cars are hogging much of the road space. And what have authorities done in order to address the behavioral issues that lead to these incidents?

Someone joked that the guy in the 1975 photo who appeared to be posing in disbelief of what happened is a time traveler. The 2019 photo shows a similar guy with a similar pose though with more people around. Maybe he can tell us a thing or so about what’s wrong with transportation in the Philippines and provide insights to the solutions to the mess we have.

Comments on current transport issues – Part 1

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!

 

 

On the issuance of provisional units for ‘modernised’ jeepneys

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).]

Is there really a transport or traffic crisis in Metro Manila?

I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.

“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.

And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:

  1. Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
  2. It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
  3. People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
  4. People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
  5. Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.

To be continued…