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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.
Social media is again abuzz with stories about Uber and how Philippine government agencies like the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) are hassling Uber, Grab and similar companies into complying with government regulations covering their services. Is it really a hassle and are these “Transport Network Companies” or TNCs the real deal in terms of solving part of Metro Manila’s transport woes?
I believe Uber and other services like it have good intentions towards providing high quality, on-demand transport services. However, based on what I’ve read about the service in other countries (particularly in the US and Europe), the intention (original?) was to take advantage of surplus or excess capacity of vehicles being driven by “owner-drivers” between origins and destinations such as their homes and offices. That means an improvement of sorts for traffic as, instead of having one vehicle per person, two or more can share a single car. The main differences with conventional carpools is that the driver and his passengers practically do not know each other, and the passengers pay the driver a fee that is agreed upon at the start of the transaction. This works well in car-oriented cities as well as those with less than satisfactory public transport services especially when it comes to taxis.
The last sentence seems to be the right description for Metro Manila and other rapidly growing Philippine cities. And so, Uber, Grab Car and other shared service attracted many users who can afford them and providers willing to share their rides with total strangers. I stated “owner-drivers” in the previous paragraph as this was supposed to be an essential part of the set-up where Uber and others didn’t add to the cars already on the roads. Problem is, apparently and allegedly, some enterprising people who had the resources thought it would be a good idea to deploy all their vehicles (and even purchase additional ones) by hiring drivers they could register with Uber or Grab Car. That way, they thought they could bypass the typically bureaucratic process of getting a franchise for taxi or rental car franchises that also include all those business permits and, of course, taxes. The result of this would not be the utilization of excess capacity but the addition of more cars on the roads and therefore contribute to worsening congestion.
As far as the LTFRB is concerned, like it or not, they are just doing what they are mandated to do and are supposed to do with any transport service provider that is not purely private (i.e., services with a fee). It just so happens that the DOTC and LTFRB have been on the receiving end of a lot of flak from the public and especially in social media for what is perceived as the agencies’ ineptitude in dealing with major issues in public transportation. These include the continuing saga that is EDSA-MRT 3 and the perceived low quality services provided by buses and jeepneys in general that leave people at the mercy of taxis and UV express if they opt not or cannot afford to purchase their own vehicles.
The main issue is not whether DOTC and LTFRB should pay attention to Uber and others like it. The agencies should as per their mandates. However, there are a lot of other more serious and more urgent issues/problems including the much delayed mass transit projects and the low quality of service being provided by buses, jeepneys, UV express and conventional taxis that the DOTC and its attached agencies need to act on and now. I know it is a generalization (There are many good bus, jeepney, UV express and taxi drivers and operators out there who are also working their butts off to earn a living.) but then when you combine unsafe driving, with high fuel consumption and a lot of harmful emissions then you get a cocktail that’s definitely bad for all travelers.
How many people use Uber or Grab Car or taxis? Do they outnumber those taking the LRT/MRTs, buses, jeepneys and UV express? They don’t and therefore only represent a small percentage of the trips being taken everyday in Metro Manila and adjacent areas. And so the more pressing issues are really those pertaining to mass transit and the dire need to construct these systems once and for all in order to achieve a more sustainable and inclusive transport system for this still growing megalopolis.
An article came out recently about the four new transport categories introduced by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
- Transportation Network Vehicle Service (TNVS),
- Premium Taxi,
- Airport Bus, and
- Bus Rapid Transit
To quote from the article from Rappler, TNVS are:
“Vehicles of application-based, ride-sharing service providers, like Uber, GrabTaxi, Tripda, and EasyTaxi, will now fall under the category TNVS.
TNVS will cover vehicles that provide pre-arranged transportation services for compensation, using an online-enabled application or platform technology to connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles, Abaya said.
These new rules will also allow ride-sharing service providers to accept regular passengers heading to any point of destination in the country, Abaya added.
Operators of TNVS, called Transportation Network Companies, are also required to screen and accredit drivers and register them with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).
All TNVS vehicles will also be required to install and use global positioning system (GPS) tracking and navigation devices. Only sedans, Asian Utility Vehicles, Sports Utility Vehicles, vans, or similar vehicles will be allowed, and these should not be older than 7 years.
The new framework makes the Philippines the first country to have nationwide rules on ride-sharing, according to both the Philippine transport department and Uber. Previously, only local and city governments have regulated the services…”
Premium Taxis are described as:
“…vehicles with a 7-year age limit under this new category will be equipped with GPS, online and smartphone booking capability, and cashless transactions through credit or debit card payments.
Like TNVS, premium taxis will be allowed to accept regular passengers heading to any point of destination in the country…”
And Airport Buses are:
“…should have fixed schedules and off-street stops, low-floor height and adequate luggage space, CCTV cameras, GPS device, free WiFi, and must run on Euro V or clean alternative fuel.”
Abaya pointed out that Green Frog has expressed interest in the airport bus service that would ply three areas including Makati City, Mall of Asia (MOA) as well as Bonifacio Global City (BGC) or Ortigas business centre…”
I won’t mention the BRT anymore. It deserves its own feature (as if the previous ones on it are not enough to describe the system), and is the only mass transit among the 4 categories “introduced” by the DOTC.
These new transport categories are obviously a step in the right direction. These are not new ideas and the institution of these categories by the DOTC is long overdue considering that the agency had to go through this process in order to address legal issues pertaining to such services. In the case of TNVS and Uber, for example, much has been mentioned about franchise issues and how Uber was illegal under the prevailing set-up. It is good to have another option to the regular taxis but then weren’t GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi were supposed to have enhanced services?
As for airport buses, such limousine services have been in operation in many other countries. Unfortunately, in Metro Manila’s case, these buses would have to contend with worsening traffic conditions along most major roads connecting the airport terminals to the various points of interest mentioned in the article (e.g., Makati CBD, BGC, Ortigas CBD, etc.). It is good though that Green Frog was mentioned in the article as the new category provides an opportunity for cleaner and more efficient technologies to be applied to transport services. Still, if these services will be operated by reckless drivers then they won’t be much better than what we already have at present.
I can’t seem to get over this pet peeve of mine that is the earlier move of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for all new vehicles to adopt the same license plate design. It was an illogical move even as the LTO claimed the new plates had security features that allowed easy verification of vehicle registration. Common sense tells us that the easiest verification of whether a vehicle is for private or public utility is by simple vision. You don’t need high tech equipment to tell you that a van sporting a private plate and picking up passengers for fares is operating illegally. You didn’t need to exert a lot of effort to read the very small lettering on the new license plate for where the vehicles is registered because the first letter of the old license plates already indicated the region (i.e., the first letter corresponds to a region – ‘B’ for Region 2, ‘F’ for Region 6, and so on).
Two UV Express vehicles bearing plates that are supposed to be for private vehicles. The one on the left didn’t even make the cut for the new plates, being issued the older green plates.
I really hope that this is corrected ASAP considering that the LTO has rescinded the earlier policy and is supposed to issue yellow plates again for public utility vehicles.