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Top urban problems in Metro Manila

I was looking for material to include in my introductory lecture for a graduate class. I came upon this slide from the study “Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and Its Surrounding Areas (Region III and Region IV-A)” that was conducted by JICA through a consulting firm and completed in 2014. The slide shows the top three urban problems identified in Metro Manila (or perhaps what we now refer to as Mega Manila or, as what was tagged as NCR plus during this pandemic).


Traffic congestion was identified as one of the top problems if not the top problem itself.  This is not independent of the other two (or other problems identified in the survey). All of them are intertwined somehow as illustrated in the simple Venn diagram in the slide. Affordable housing, for example, affects our transportation system and puts much pressure to transportation infrastructure development as well as to the provision of transport services. People continue to choose living in the periphery of Metro Manila or outside NCR because of the expensive residential choices particularly in the CBDs where most people have their workplaces and where many of the elite schools are also located. These people would have to commute long distances and experience longer travel times than what seems to be the reasonable. The result is loss in productivity and transport related costs that include fuel and maintenance costs.

What do you think about these urban problems? How can be address them in a comprehensive manner?

Metro Manila public transport – addition is good but we need subtraction, too

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 Metro Manila Urban Transportation Strategy and Planning Project (MMUTSTRAP, 1983)

I continue on my feature on past studies on transport in Metro Manila. The Metro Manila Urban Transportation Strategy and Planning Project (MMUTSTRAP) was conducted from November 1982 to April 1983, with support from the Australian Development Assistance Bureau – the precursor of AusAID. The study was conceptualized by a Metro Manila Transportation Policy Committee that consisted of the Ministers of the then Ministry of Transportation and Communications (now DOTC) and Ministry of Public Works and Highways (now DPWH), the Vice Governor of what was the Metro Manila Commission (now MMDA), and the Chief of the Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police (now PNP). The Philippine Government-funded study examined alternative futures on Metro Manila’s development and used these as the basis for formulating alternative futures for public transport modes. These futures did not mention UTSMMA and its the recommendations for an RTR but presented pessimistic, most likely and optimistic scenarios for PNR, LRT bus and jeepneys.

The study examined recommendations of past studies, most specifically the more recent MMETROPLAN and MMUTIP. MMUTSTRAP seem to contradict MMETROPLAN’s recommendations to encourage the entry of new bus and jeepney operators rather than restricting or controlling these as it (MMUTSTRAP) concluded that “deregulation is not a viable alternative for urban public transportation in Metro Manila.” It further explained that deregulation is justified on the assumption that the main objective in urban public transport is simply to make it a profitable business. To the contrary, the study pointed out that there are other objectives such as adequate service to the public and safety, which should be placed above profitability. This last statement reverberates over the decades to the present when it seems to many that the objective of urban public transport is more on the “profit side” rather than the “adequate and safe aspect” of something that it supposed to be a public service.

The study explored strategies for traffic management and various travel demand management (TDM) measures including area traffic restraint similar to what Singapore had already implemented at the time. A significant output of MMUTSTRAP was a prioritization plan for transport projects and policies for Metro Manila. This included the ranking of projects for implementation in Metro Manila such as:

  • Pending road projects
  • Potential road projects
  • Urgent traffic signals
  • Potential pedestrian projects
  • Potential transit projects
  • Terminal projects

Examples of the transport projects ranked by MMUTSTRAP are shown in Tables A and B for pending road projects, and potential transit projects. An index was developed based on perceived importance of the project and the associated costs.

Table A – Ranking of pending road projects identified in MMUTSTRAP (1983)

Brief description Rank Index
Visayas Avenue extension: Elliptical Road to C-6 1 66.4
Mindanao Avenue Extension: North Avenue to C-6 2 66.1
C-5 construction: MacArthur Highway to North Expressway 3 64.0
Makati-Mandaluyong Link Road 4 61.4
Loop Road: from Bicutan to Alabang 5 61.2
C-6 construction: North Expressway to M. Marcos Avenue 6 61.1
Widen R-10: C-1 to Dagat-dagatan Spine 7 60.7
C-3 construction: Rizal Avenue to G. Araneta Extension 8 60.5
C-3 improvement: G. Araneta to Aurora Boulevard 9 59.5
Widen South Superhighway 10 58.7
C-4 interchange with Boni Avenue 11 58.6
C-5 construction: R-4 to Pasig Boulevard to Aurora Boulevard 12 58.5
R-4 construction: EDSA to Pasig/Pateros 13 57.9
R-5 construction: Kapasigan to Taytay Diversion 14 57.7
C-5 construction: North Expressway to Aurora Boulevard 15 56.2
C-3 works: Ayala Avenue to Tripa de Gallina 16 55.9
C-3 construction: N. Domingo to Ayala Avenue 17 55.7
Widen Domestic Road: MIA Road to Airport Road 18 55.5
C-4 extension: Taft Avenue to Roxas Boulevard 19 55.3
C-4 interchange with Roosevelt Avenue 20 55.2
C-4 interchange with Ortigas Avenue 21 54.7
C-4 interchanges with Ayala Avenue and Pasay Road 22 54.1
C-4 interchange with Santolan Road 23 53.7
C-4 interchange with Kamias/East Avenue 24 53.2
C-4 interchange with Buendia Avenue 25 52.2
C-5 construction: R-4 to South Superhighway 26 52.1
Widen Parañaque to Sucat Road 27 51.8
Re-align western 1.6 km of Zapote-Alabang Road 28 49.3
R-10 Construction 29 49.1

Notes: The codes C and R stand for Circumferential and Radial, respectively, and refer to the main road network of Metro Manila. These roads are more commonly known by other names such as, for example, EDSA (C-4), Aurora Boulevard (R-6) and España Boulevard (R-7).

Table B – Ranking of potential transit projects identified in MMUTSTRAP (1983)

Brief description Ranking based on assessment by project team Ranking based on evaluation from selected MOTC panel Index
Bus replacementa 1 1 55.6
PNR Commuter additional coaches and upgrade 2 2 50.8
LRT Line #2 – EDSA 3 3 44.4
Surface tramway – Radial road along Españab 4 43.9
LRT Line #3 – Radial along España 4 5 43.0

aAssumed that additional bus units will not be needed in the next 5 years with replacements likely after 1987.

bProject proposed by one of the members of the MOTC panel. This was treated as an alternative (on a mutually exclusive basis) to LRT Line #3, rather than an independent project for ranking.

[Reference: MMUTSTRAP, 1983 – NCTS Library]

Earlier studies recommended projects but did not show lists ranking projects in terms of an objective index or criteria. MMUTSTRAP did a good job in coming up with this idea or basis that was transparent and objective in evaluating projects. The criteria, however, is based mainly on perception of those involved in the study and, arguably, such perceptions may vary according to the knowledge and experiences of those involved in the evaluation. This is where the biases lie in as far as project prioritisation was concerned for this project. Perhaps a more participatory approach could have been conducted? Of course, it can be argued that at this time, both capacity and capability of local governments and national agencies were quite limited and so these have to be dependent on consultants (i.e., the study team) for their assessment and recommendations.

Metro Manila Urban Transport Improvement Project (MMUTIP, 1981)

[Important note: I have noticed that the material on this blog site has been used by certain people to further misinformation including revisionism to credit the Marcos dictatorship and put the blame on subsequent administrations (not that these also had failures of their own). This and other posts on past projects present the facts about the projects and contain minimal opinions, if any on the politics or political economy at the time and afterwards. Do your research and refrain from using the material on this page and others to promote misinformation. I suggest you go to the The Mass Transit System in Metro Manila site for more facts about railway development and history. I do not consent to the use of my articles for the purposes of misinformation and historical revisionism. 10/13/2019]

We continue with our historical features on transport with the Metro Manila Urban Transport Improvement Project (MMUTIP). MMUTIP was implemented from July 1980 to August 1981 with funding from the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) of Japan. MMUTIP recommended for a new franchising system to be adopted by the then Board of Transportation (BOT), with standards covering citizenship, route opening, operating performance and financial capability. It also called for the adoption of measures that will safeguard the integrity of franchise records and the speedy processing and better control of franchise applications. The BOT is the precursor of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).


Additional bus routes were identified by the study and recommended for 5,900 units for daily operations. The study estimated that as much as 1,870 additional units were required for Metro Manila. Meanwhile, the study found the operations of the Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC), the government owned bus company, unprofitable and stated that the government-run company has failed to define objectives and policies particularly in specifying the extent to which MMTC will render public service at the sacrifice of profit (note that MMTC was losing money in part because it was serving missionary routes so as to reduce direct competition with the private companies). I think looking back now, this was perhaps the beginning of the end for MMTC. Some people say that we could probably have used something like the MMTC today to keep public transport operators honest in their operations and also to continue providing services for missionary routes rather than letting these be served by tricycles and jeepneys that will eventually would have to be granted franchises. As it is, such situations often lead to poorly planned transport services including the (mis)determination of the number of PUV units required to serve an area or corridor.

MMUTIP recommended for the control of entry and operation of jeepneys along major bus routes while at the same time calling for a deregulation of entry and operations outside major thoroughfares, which were served or are more suitable for buses. Further, the study called for encouraging tricycle services where bus and jeepney routes are scarce while also stating that these should be limited to local or feeder services. Then as now, tricycles are restricted from national roads.

[Note: A copy of MMUTIP may be found at the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) Library located at their building along Apacible Street at the University of the Philippines Diliman. This is not a public library so access is limited to UP staff and students. Researchers and others from outside UP would have to write to the Director for permission to use the library and its holdings.]

Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN, 1977)

[Important note: I have noticed that the material on this blog site has been used by certain people to further misinformation including revisionism to credit the Marcos dictatorship and put the blame on subsequent administrations (not that these also had failures of their own). This and other posts on past projects present the facts about the projects and contain minimal opinions, if any on the politics or political economy at the time and afterwards. Do your research and refrain from using the material on this page and others to promote misinformation. I suggest you go to the The Mass Transit System in Metro Manila site for more facts about railway development and history. I do not consent to the use of my articles for the purposes of misinformation and historical revisionism. 10/13/2019]

In a previous article, I had written about the Urban Transport Study for the Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA), which was completed in 1973 and proposed, among others, a rapid rail transit network for Metro Manila. The government proceeded to undertake a feasibility study for the first line of that network almost immediately afterwards. However, something happened a few years later that effectively contradicted UTSMMA’s recommendations and, from what the documents available to us now suggest, effectively doomed the future of transport in Metro Manila.

The Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) was implemented from January 1976 to February 1977. It was apparently commissioned by the Philippine Government, and funded by the World Bank, which commissioned the precursor of Halcrow Fox to do the study with a steering group comprised of senior government official dealing with transport at the time.


The MMETROPLAN project team is shown in the photo below. Note the inclusion of some familiar names particularly from the DPWH and DOTC who were then with what was the Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications (DPWTC) and Department of Public Highways (DPH) before these were reorganised. Note, too, a familiar name under Planning, who is very much active today with his own advocacies.


The study is more expansive in terms of scope as it included components on land use and development planning for Metro Manila. It identified three main strategies to address issues on traffic congestion and public transport requirements, namely:

  • Cordon pricing,
  • Bus lanes, and
  • LRT

Short-term recommendations focused on bus and jeepney operations, recommending that:

  • Standard buses (non-airconditioned) be designed for more standing passengers and charge a fare affordable by the poor;
  • Premium buses (including Love Bus) be designed for seated passengers and charge a higher fare; this may be used to cross-subsidize Standard bus operations;
  • Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC) bus operations should not be further expanded:
    • MMTC buses should operate missionary routes, which are generally unprofitable routes.
    • There should be no arbitrary exemption on franchises like in the case of MMTC.
  • In reference to private bus companies, the project states that “properly regulated competition” provides best course of action for the foreseeable future;
  • Jeepneys are suited for low demand but high frequency service

MMETROPLAN also touched on the route structure for road public transport. However, its most far-reaching recommendations on road public transport concern the issuance of franchises for buses and jeepneys. The study recommended that franchises should be issued for a period of a few years instead of 25 years and to define a minimum LOS. The study cautioned against arbitrary restrictions on franchises for buses at the time while mentioning that there were already restrictions for jeepneys. MMETROPLAN further recommended the encouraging of small operators for both jeepneys and buses.

However, MMETROPLAN deviated from the recommendations of UTSMMA in that it struck down the proposal and plans for the Rapid Transit Rail (RTR) network for Metro Manila. The long-term recommendations and conclusions of the study show these and one particular recommendation that probably doomed heavy rail transport and the RTR network is quoted below:

“Heavy Rapid Transit (HRT) would provide public transport passengers with much faster journey, but by 1990 would attract only 2.5% of motorists and would have negligible impact on traffic congestion. Partly because of this and partly because of its very high capital cost, it would be hopelessly uneconomic: the annualized capital costs would be higher than the estimated benefits in 1990…passenger flows are not high enough to exploit its full capacity…and the large savings in time for public transport passengers are not given a high value in Manila, and are not high enough to persuade motorists to change mode.

These results are conclusive, and are unlikely to be changed by any circumstances or reasonable assumptions…it is clear that any other fully segregated public transport system, whether light rail or busway, would also be uneconomic. As such systems would require the appropriation of most, if not all, of the available funds for all transport (including highways) in Metro Manila for the foreseeable future, and as there is not other rationale for their implementation, they have been rejected from further consideration.” (MMETROPLAN, 1977)

The study also did not have good words for the PNR as it concluded that its “routes related poorly to the major demands for movement” and that it would be expensive to improve the PNR at the time. PNR costs were compared to buses and jeepneys with the further concluded that these road transport modes are preferred over an upgraded PNR.

MMETROPLAN assessed the LRT vs. the Monorail in the context of cordon pricing and bus lane strategies. While the monorail was dismissed for reasons that included few monorail systems operating at the time, the study recommended for an LRT along Rizal Avenue, which was considered feasible. These conclusions and recommendations by MMETROPLAN would eventually have far-reaching impacts on Metro Manila’s transport system and the study would be among the most cited in discussions and future planning where land use and transport are discussed in the same light.

For land use planning, the report also provides us with a history of land use planning for Metro Manila, which we can now compare with what actually happened. That is, if the plans made back in the 1970’s were actually implemented and to what extent were they realised. Many of these plans remain controversial to this day and are often invoked whenever there is talk about the perennial flooding and the spectre of earthquakes threatening much of Metro Manila and its surrounding areas in addition to other issues like the transport and traffic problems experienced around what has become a megalopolis.

[Reference: MMETROPLAN, 1977 – NCTS Library]

But what could have  influenced the MMETROPLAN study team and government officials to debunk UTSMMA? Why the “about-face” for something that seems to be the JICA Dream Plan circa 1970’s? UTSMMA and the rail rapid transit network, after all, was the product of a vision for future Metropolitan Manila transport by  a visionary professor from the University of Tokyo – one Dr. Takashi Inouye of that university’s Department of Urban Engineering. I think the next article will provide us with the answers to these questions regarding the turnaround. Abangan!

Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA, 1973)

[Important note: I have noticed that the material on this blog site has been used by certain people to further misinformation including revisionism to credit the Marcos dictatorship and put the blame on subsequent administrations (not that these also had failures of their own). This and other posts on past projects present the facts about the projects and contain minimal opinions, if any on the politics or political economy at the time and afterwards. Do your research and refrain from using the material on this page and others to promote misinformation. I suggest you go to the The Mass Transit System in Metro Manila site for more facts about railway development and history. I do not consent to the use of my articles for the purposes of misinformation and historical revisionism. 10/13/2019]

With the recent approval of JICA’s Dream Plan for Mega Manila, I thought it was timely to look back at similar plans developed for Metro Manila and its surrounding areas. At the time these plans were made, I guess they were all regarded as “dream plans” in their own ways. Let us start with what is probably the original dream plan, the Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA, 1973). The project was implemented from March 1971 to September 1973 with the assistance of the Government of Japan’s Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency (OTCA), the precursor of today’s Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Being the first comprehensive study for a metropolitan area that was yet to be formally consolidated and called Metro Manila, UTSMMA set the stage for future transport studies for the metropolis. Among the study’s main recommendations is one proposing for a mass transit system restricted to railways. A Rapid Transit Railway (RTR) network was recommended in the form of subways in the inner area bound by EDSA, and elevated in the suburban areas. Brief descriptions of the proposed lines are as follows:

  • Line 1 (27.1 km) – from Construction Hill to Talon via central Quezon Boulevard, Manila downtown and the International Airport
  • Line 2 (36.0 km) – from Novaliches to Cainta via Manila downtown and Pasig
  • Line 3 (24.3 km) – Along Highway 54 (C-4): half a circle route about 12 km from Manila downtown
  • Line 4 (30.1 km) – From Marikina to Zapote via Cubao, Manila downtown and the Manila Bay area
  • Line 5 (17.6 km) – From Meycauayan to Manila downtown running between Line No. 2 and PNR
  • PNR improvement (56.4 km) – From Bocaue to Muntinglupa via Tutuban Station

The following that was posted here before in another article shows a map illustrating the recommended RTR network for the Manila Metropolitan area. (Note that the map was enhanced from the original black and white to clearly show the proposed lines back then.) MM RTR map2 UTSMMA also recognized the important roles of buses and jeepneys in the future, and recommended that these be used for feeder services once the rail systems have been constructed and operational. As a result of the study, a Feasibility Study for the Manila Rapid Transit Railway Line No. 1 was conducted and completed in June 1976. The study, which was supported by JICA, noted that “the implementation should be initiated immediately” in light of the estimated heavy traffic demand along the corridor. This project could have been the first major transport project for Metro Manila if it had been implemented. Unfortunately, despite a favorable assessment in this study, the proposed RTR Line 1 was not implemented after a contrary assessment by a subsequent study, MMETROPLAN, which is discussed in the succeeding section of this report. The estimated costs of construction of recommended transport infrastructure were provided in the Final Report of the study including indicative costs and benefits of proposed urban expressways and urban rapid transit railways. [Reference: UTSMMA, 1973 – NCTS Library] Whenever I go back to UTSMMA and the network of proposed railway lines, I can’t help but wonder what could have been one of the more efficient transport systems in Asia or even in the world. What happened? Why was this plan not realised? The answer may be found in the next big study conducted for Metro Manila that also included in much detail its land use and development plans. Next: MMETROPLAN, 1977 –