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Construction starts for the Line 2 Masinag Station

After several months of waiting, the Masinag Station of the Line 2 Extension project will finally start construction. The contractor has already mobilized and very soon the actual construction work will be starting. Following are photos I captured via my dash cam:

The contractor, DMCI, already installed temporary traffic signs from Masinag Junction.

The contractor, DMCI, also already installed concrete barriers to delineate their staging area for the project.

This is the likely location of the elevated Masinag Station; right across SM City Masinag and Cornell Hospital.

Masinag Station will probably be the highest station for any railways in the entire country judging from the height of the elevated tracks. I have yet to see the plans for this station but it should be a challenge in accessibility. How many steps would it take to go up or down the station and the platforms? How will, and will it be integrated with the surrounding developments like SM?

The Antipolo City Government’s official Facebook page already announced the official ceremony starting the construction to be held on May 30, 2017 (Tuesday). The advisory also cautioned travelers about the traffic congestion expected in the area affected by the construction. Masinag is a major junction where Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway intersect. Construction period will be 18 months or 1.5 years but given the efficiency by which the same contractor was able to complete the elevated tracks, I am optimistic that they may be able to complete Masinag Station in less time. I wonder though if the ceremony tomorrow also includes the start of construction for the Emerald Station across Robinsons Metro East in Pasig. Let’s just hope that the Line 2 Extension will be operational by end of 2018 and be able to help alleviate the traffic woes along its corridor. This will definitely help improve the transport to the east of Metro Manila and directly benefit those from Antipolo and Cainta in Rizal, and Marikina and Pasig in Metro Manila.

Line 2 to be transformed into a BRT? Definitely not a good idea!

There are news reports stating that the Department of Transportation (DoTr) is considering replacing the LRT Line 2 with a BRT instead. I think this is not something worth considering at this point since the construction of the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is already underway. Also, there is the fact that Line 2 is the only heavy rail system among the three LRT/MRT lines in Metro Manila. It has the potential to have the highest capacity among the three as well as the potential to have the highest ridership especially after the extension is complete and the two additional stations are operational.

With lots of people requiring public transport beyond Masinag, the question is not whether to convert Line 2 into a BRT but instead what services can be provided for a more efficient system for Rizal and Marikina. I took the following photos along my commute from Antipolo to Quezon City. Note the number of people waiting for public transport along Marcos Highway.

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These are people who would typically take jeepneys or UV Express for their commutes. It is obvious from my regular observations that jeepneys and UV Express cannot cover the demand for public transportation and my opinion is that it is high time to introduce a higher capacity and more efficient mode in order to encourage people to keep taking public transport and to encourage those taking private transport to shift to PT.

A BRT service can be connected to Line 2. Since the Line 2 extension to Masinag is scheduled to be completed next year and be operational by third quarter of 2017, a bus service can already be piloted between Santolan and several end points. Four for consideration would be Cogeo, Antipolo Simbahan, Marikina and Cainta.

  • Cogeo should be a no-brainer given that there is already demand there and this is growing rapidly with all the subdivisions being developed in this area.
  • For Antipolo Simbahan, perhaps the final stop need not be at the shrine but at Robinsons Antipolo.
  • For Marikina, there can be three lines – one branching from Ligaya where there is a major Ayala development, a second at Gil Fernando and another at Masinag. These may terminate at the city center, perhaps in the vicinity of the Rodriguez Sports Complex, which is near the Marikina City Hall and public market.
  • The last line could traverse Felix Avenue (Imelda Avenue) and may terminate at Cainta Junction where commuters can transfer to transport along Ortigas Avenue Extension.

Surely, pilot services can be provided where limited stops or express services can be experimented on to see what clicks in terms of ridership. It would be nice to get feedback about such services and hopefully there will be champions for these bus services. Note that such services terminating at Santolan means that there should be terminal facilities in that area. Former MMDA Chair and now Marikina Congressman Bayani Fernando has developed an area precisely for an eastern transport terminal and so bus services present a good opportunity for this terminal to be a busy one. Maybe BF can champion these bus services? And perhaps the Antipolo and Cainta (paging Mayors Ynares and Nieto!) can also push for these services as commuters from these would stand to benefit the most from a good transport system.

Straddling bus prototype?

What was peddled as a unique public transport mode concept in social media is now a reality. Check out the article and video here:

China’s Futuristic Straddling Bus Is Finally Here

This is a welcome development for public transportation. However, some issues need to be addressed, particularly regarding road safety. Motorists traveling under the straddling bus may have reactions to the vehicle as it passes above them and such may lead to road crashes. Of course, with the advent of driverless vehicles such incidents may be minimised if not altogether eliminated.

Transport in times of rains and insensitive statements

How important is a good public transport system? Part of the definition of a good public transport system is that it should be an all-weather system. This means that even if there is inclement weather, the system would still be functioning and able to ferry people between their homes, workplaces, schools and other destinations. Of course, the exception here would be the times when there are extreme weather conditions like typhoons passing through cities. The rains today and past other days reminds us how difficult it is to commute even when you have your own vehicle. Those who opt to use their own cars now encounter severe traffic congestion with increasing frequencies while those with only public transport as their choice usually have difficulty getting a ride home.

Metro EastCommuters on the carriageway trying to get a ride home – many brave the strong rains to get ahead of others

It is not just unfortunate but rather depressing that Metro Manila and other major Philippine cities have no efficient public transport systems. The current modes of transport are road-based and dominated by paratransit including jeepneys, multicabs and tricycles. The state of disrepair of the PNR and MRT3, the much-delayed extensions of LRT1 and LRT2, and the much-delayed construction of MRT7 and BRT lines all contribute to the hellish commutes people experience everyday. Combine these with what experts regard as deficient station plaza designs that have led to inefficient transfers between the trains and road-based transport. It is no wonder that a person onĀ  bicycle can beat a commuter on a trip between Trinoma in Quezon City and a university in Manila considering the state of MRT3 and the poor transfer conditions between MRT3 and LRT1. This won’t likely be the case in Singapore or Tokyo where the proper hierarchies of transport are well established and with the necessary facilities to support their people-friendly systems.

What’s more depressing, frustrating and disappointing (if its possible to feel all three simultaneously) is how transport officials, including and especially the top official of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), apparently see our transport woes as “not fatal”. Is it really “not fatal”? Increases in the incidence of respiratory diseases due to the increased emissions are attributable to mobile sources (vehicles) and the long hours of road traffic congestion. The increase in the number of fatal road crashes as reported by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is also attributable to a significant increase in traffic volumes. One comment on social media was right on the dot on emergency cases ending up dying due to the ambulances being unable to make it to the hospitals in time for their passengers’ treatments.

And so, there were renewed calls for transport officials to get out of their chauffeured cars and take regular public transport between their homes and offices. The dares include riding the MRT3 during the peak periods and actually experiencing the queues and the crowded platforms and trains. It is no wonder that the image of the Dutch ambassador riding his bicycle to his office has been a popular share in social media because a lot of people feel that leaders should be examples themselves on how each one of us can pitch in to solve transport and traffic problems. Attempts by some government officials (including the top official of the transport department) to ride the MRT3, for example, are met with much criticism because they are given special treatment – they skip the lines and have bodyguards escorting them and clearing the way and space for them to ride comfortably. Clearly, this is not what the common commuter experiences everyday when he or she would have to use something short of MMA skills to get a ride.

Are we helpless against such insensitivity of our officials, many of whom are politicians and professionals associated with oligarchs? Not totally. And next year’s elections offer the commuting public a chance to express what they think about transport in this country and in their cities and municipalities by making transport and traffic urgent issues that need to be addressed and prioritized. Will you vote for candidates who had a hand in the continuing deterioration of transport in the Philippines and who consistently dismiss transport and traffic issues as secondary and just a by-product of non-inclusive economic growth? I surely won’t and will be very critical of candidates’ platforms and proposed programs should they win and become the leaders of this land. A big part of those programs should be how to address transport and traffic issues especially the deficiencies in infrastructure. Addressing these pressing issues on transport and traffic will go a long way in improving the quality of life of Filipinos and ensure a sustainable and inclusive growth for the country.

The LRT Line 2 Extension gets underway

A lot of people have been waiting to see the construction of the LRT Line 2 extension from Santolan in Pasig City to Masinag in Antipolo City. Right after the groundbreaking ceremony last June, there seemed to be no activity along the alingment that was the center of Marcos Highway. Actually, there were already activities as the contractor already deployed personnel to do some surveys including marking the locations of the columns that will support the elevated tracks.

The past week saw the contractor setting up a work zone in the middle of Marcos Highway and stretching from across Robinsons Metro East and McDonalds. The work area included what was the opening for the Felix Avenue-Marcos Highway intersection. This is probably one of the busiest if not the busiest stretches of Marcos Highway so the reduction by one lane for either direction of the highway immediately had a negative impact on traffic. Added to the highway capacity reduction in terms of the remaining available lanes is the further reduction due to the ‘usyoso’ behavor of motorists ‘inspecting’ the work zone as they pass by.

IMG12030-20150804-1805Work zone across from Robinsons Metro East – direction of traffic to Masinag (eastbound)

IMG12031-20150804-1805Work zone at the junction of Imelda Ave. (formerly Felix Avenue formerly Imelda Ave.), Gil Fernando Ave. (formerly A. Tuazon Ave.) and Marcos Highway

IMG12032-20150804-1806Work zone near McDonald’s (on the other side -westbound – of Marcos Highway) and also near a major U-turn slot used by vehicles coming from Imelda Ave that are westbound

Traffic will definitely be heavy along this section and the rest of Marcos Highway once construction is at full swing. I am tempted to say that it might be worse than the NAIA expressway construction site of which the contractor is the same. I just hope the appropriate traffic management measures are implemented and that road users will be cooperative. This will likely be a couple of years’ sacrifice for anyone living along this corridor and the major roads connecting to it. Will there be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel? There should be as LRT Line 2 will finally be able to serve an area wanting of efficient and reliable public transport.