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A lot has been said and written for or against Uber and Grab. Social media made sure the more popular but not necessarily the truthful ones are spread. One popular personality associated with motoring has even led an online petition against the rulings by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). An objective check of the facts reveal that LTFRB is not solely at fault here. Uber and Grab should not have promoted themselves and took in additional drivers (nagpaasa ng mga drivers) after the agency issued a moratorium last year. Estimates vary but it seems they have taken in tens of thousands of drivers (20.000? 30,000? 40,000?) and earned revenues along the way to what is now an historic penalty levied upon Uber and Grab by the LTFRB.
Perhaps the most level-headed article I’ve seen online is the following:
The thing about Grab, Uber and the LTFRB [by Vince Pornelos, July 18, 2017, https://www.autoindustriya.com/editors-note/the-thing-about-grab-uber-and-the-ltfrb.html]
It seems all is well, for now, as meetings were held between the DOTr, LTFRB and the concerned parties (Uber and Grab). In one of the meetings, a couple of Senators seem to have brokered a deal to resolve what appeared to be an impasse that a lot of people on social media reacted to. There are definitely a lot of vested (and veiled) interests involved here including those by various “operators” in the transport sector on both the sides of government and private sector. One takeaway though that I observed is that many appear to be against LTFRB even though the agency was truthful about their statements regarding the illegally operating transport vehicles. They seem to have made up their minds about the LTFRB and this is not surprising as transport problems have been festering for decades with little progress in terms of improving transport, conventional or innovative. Most people seem to have lost their patience about transport services and regulation, and perhaps this is a good thing if it translated to demanding for mass transit, too.
Much has been written and said about the new law against distracted driving. The people who crafted the law, Senators and Congressmen, are in agreement that their intention was mainly to address the rampant use of gadgets including cell phones by motorists. Yet, when the agencies in-charge of implementation drew up the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), their interpretation was the subject of a lot of complaints. Many opined that the IRR didn’t take into consideration actual vehicle dashboard designs or that the definition of the term “line of sight” was open to interpretation. This necessitated another round of consultations with stakeholders leading to the infographic below:
Frankly, I am more concerned about speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving in traffic. These are equally if not more dangerous than many aspects of the distracted driving law. Quite serious would be the combination of distractions with any of the three behaviors mentioned. More disturbing would be the deliberate (definitely not distracted) or conscious acts of speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving that are often the cases if one observes the incidence of these three driving behavior. We can only wonder about the likelihood of crashes due to these behaviors.
There are two articles recently that are worth reading for those who are into ride-sharing/car-sharing. And I am not necessarily referring to those who regularly take Uber or Grab, or those who opt to use these whenever they need a taxi ride. There are many who are already studying these services being provided not by your traditional or conventional taxi companies or rental vehicle companies but by supposedly private individuals who supposedly have the spare time and spare vehicle that they can use to provide transport for other people. I use the word “supposedly” here because this is a big assumption and the premise by which transport network companies like Uber, Grab and Lyft have been able to go around the bureaucratic processes that taxi and other companies have to go through as formal public transport (i.e., public utility vehicles). These articles are along the lines of the discussions in previous articles I have posted here about ride-sharing/car-sharing, and are mostly based on the experiences in countries who have more developed and presumably better transport than us in the Philippines.
Denton, J. (2017) Two Federal Lawsuits Could Spell Big Trouble for Uber, Pacific Standard, http://www.psmag.com, April 10, 2017.
I leave it up to my readers (any researchers out there?) to pick-up the main points and perhaps look at the issues from different perspectives. I have pointed out before that the situation in Metro Manila could be very different from the situations in other major cities like Cebu, Davao and Iloilo. And so transport network companies may not necessarily succeed in cities where taxi services, for example, are significantly better than what we have in Metro Manila.
The company providing the P2P bus services is very enthusiastic (aggressive?) in promoting their services especially via social media. Satisfied commuters have also shared their experiences and a lot of photos about the buses and their commutes through social and mainstream media. I have read some articles carried by the likes of Rappler and Inquirer as well as blogs relating about the buses features, what people liked about the service and their suggestions on how to further improve and expand services. These have provided commuters with a taste of how good public transport could be in terms of quality of service.
The operations and the operator seems to have the blessings of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and not just the present administration but from the previous one when the P2P services started. The fact that they have expanded services further these past few months is a testament to their popularity and the demand for high quality public transport services in Metro Manila. I personally believe that the next step is to give these buses exclusive lanes along their routes. Such would allow for buses to travel faster and providing a significant decrease in the travel times of commuters. Current operations, despite having non-stop runs between origin and destination, run in mixed traffic so their impacts in terms of travel times are diminished. Also, with exclusive lanes, they can probably consider adding a few stops between the route ends and be able to simulate bus rapid transit (BRT) services of which there seems to be little appreciation so far in the Philippines.
While the new buses and routes are very welcome and provide attractive options for commuting, there is still a need to address what is perceived as an over-supply of buses, jeepneys and UV express vehicles in Metro Manila. The attractiveness and higher service quality of P2P buses can pave the way for reducing the numbers of buses, for example, along EDSA. A similar strategy of introducing high quality bus services along other corridors and then reducing bus, jeepney and UV express units there can be implemented but will require much in terms of political will. The latter is important when dealing with operators and drivers of displaced vehicles, who may oppose such transport reforms and probably throw in legal impediments including those pertaining to franchising. Whether such opposition can be addressed by emergency powers or not remains to be seen but hopefully, even without such powers, the government can engage the transport sector to effect reforms and improve public transport (and ultimately commuting in general) not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.
The mainstream news and social media have featured a lot about buses recently. These were mostly government initiatives:
- P2P bus services – are operated by a tourist transport company (and now also by a large bus company that operates some routes for Bonifacio Global City). P2P stands for ‘point-to-point’, referring to the end points of a fixed route. For example, buses run non-stop between Trinoma in Quezon City and Glorietta in Makati. These are express buses that offering services that regular bus companies should be providing their passengers in the first place. Since these are non-stop (no pick-ups or drop-offs in between origin and destination, the main advantage is of course reduced travel times. They still operate in mixed traffic so travel times can still be reduced significantly if they had their exclusive ROW. That would make them operate like a BRT.
- Airport premium bus services – are offered by a logistics company owned by a controversial government official heading a sensitive post. At 300 PhP per passenger, a close friend made the observation that you can get a decent enough taxi for that price. And if you were part of a group, then you can probably pool your money to get Uber instead.
There is also the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Road Train, which is an exaggeration of sorts for a multi-articulated vehicle. Typical ‘stretched’ vehicles are the articulated and bi-articulated buses commonly used in BRT systems. The DOST’s Road Train prototype seems to be a combination of 5 buses. Thus, there is the allusion to a train.
The fixation on special buses seems like a stop gap measure (and some state they are), an attempt to address problems due to the government’s failure to deliver any major mass transit projects during its 6-year term. The LRT Line 2 extension doesn’t count as it only began construction a few months ago and won’t be operational until more than a year from now when there is already a new administration in power. The MRT-7 also doesn’t count as an accomplishment of this administration as it is a project that’s been in limbo for over a decade and only has also started work the past two weeks. Actually, these two rail projects were part of the list of low hanging fruits transport consultants and development agencies have identified at the start of the current administration. Hopefully, there are no major snags towards their completion in the next 2 years or so in order to open up opportunities to rationalize road public transport especially along Commonwealth Avenue and Marcos Highway where the impact of high capacity, quality mass transport will be felt once the Line 2 Extension and Line 7 are operational.
At the European Motor Show last weekend at Bonifacio High Street in Bonifacio Global City, there were obviously a lot of European made vehicles on display including the usual attractions from Italy and Germany. What also caught my attention was the new MAN bus currently being used Froehlich Tours for their P2P bus services. Here are some photos of the interior of the bus.
Note the low floor for entry and exits and the layout of the seats that could maximise the number of passengers carried by the bus. The layout maximises the space for standing passengers and seats can be assigned to those with special needs such as persons with disabilities, pregnant women, and senior citizens. Those traveling over longer distances can be seated at the back in order for them not to block those who would be boarding and alighting over shorter distances (i.e., with the likelihood for more frequent movements). This layout should be the standard for city buses in Metro Manila and other cities considering bus services (e.g., Cebu and Davao). In fact, I think the DOTC and LTFRB should seriously consider coming out with a policy/memo requiring bus companies to transition into these buses. That means replacing non-compliant buses over a grace period (i.e., to account for the investments of bus operators/companies). This is one way of modernising bus fleets as most buses for city operations you see now, especially along EDSA, are configured for long distance (provincial?) trips with their narrow aisles and maximising the number of seats as well as the baggage compartments at the buses’ bellies.
While stopped at an intersection, my eyes wandered to look at the vehicles around me. I took a photo of the rear tires of a truck stopped beside me. Following are some observations about the tires:
- Most if not all the tires were re-treads
- Most of the tires are worn out
- One tire is already damaged and should not have been used in the first place
Such conditions of trucks’ tires reflect the state of many commercial vehicles in the country. The same observation applies to public utility vehicles. I guess there have been many instances of tire blow-outs involving trucks and jeepneys. These have not been reported as they often lead to traffic congestion (i.e., when a vehicle is forced to stop and block traffic), which is not at all an uncommon experience to many. Few perhaps have led to high profile road crashes featuring fatalities. Still, the potential for major crashes is there and it is contributory to disasters that are always just waiting to happen in many of our roads.