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Another look at the ‘avoid, shift and improve’ framework

The transport and traffic situation during this pandemic has revealed a lot about what can be done and what needs to be done about transportation. Discussions about what and how people visualize their ideal or acceptable transportation system reminded me of the backcasting concepts and the tools. The following diagram is sourced from the SLoCaT homepage: https://tcc-gsr.com/global-overview/global-transport-and-climate-change/

Examples (i.e., non-exhaustive list) of avoid, shift and improve measures

Note the overlaps among the three? Do you think its possible to have a measure that’s avoid, shift and improve at the same time?

Note, too, that if we contextualize this according to the Covid-19 pandemic, these measures even make more sense rather than appear like typical, ordinary measures we have about transportation. The pandemic revealed many weaknesses or vulnerabilities of our transportation system. We are presented with the opportunity to address these and implement certain measures that would have met with a lot of opposition before but can probably be rolled out now such as public transport priority schemes and protected bike lanes. “Work from home” is not really new since the concept has been proposed and implemented before but not as widely as was required by the pandemic situation. So perhaps we should take advantage of this forced reboot of sorts for our transportation system to be able to implement this A-S-I framework.

On car ownership and car use vs. public transport use

Here is another quick share of an article regarding car ownership and car use vs. public transport use. It is written in the first person as a the author relates her experience and what contradictory feelings she’s had with the decision to acquire and use a car.

Noor, D (June 21, 2021) “Buying a Car Improved My Life. It Shouldn’t Have.” Gizmodo, https://gizmodo.com/buying-a-car-improved-my-life-it-shouldnt-have-1847106068 [Last accessed: 7/10/2021]

I think many people in the Philippines (not just Metro Manila or other highly urbanized cities in the country) have similar experiences. They really don’t want to get a car or a motorcycle but their circumstances and the conveniences have outweighed their initial stand. Why do we need to have our own private vehicle anyway? Is it because its difficult to get a ride using public transport? Is it because of the quality of the ride? Is it due to health or safety-related reasons? In that last question, perhaps the fears of getting infected by Covid-19 present a overwhelming justification for car use and not just car ownership.

We also have to distinguish between vehicle ownership, car ownership and car use. ‘Vehicle ownership’ is a more general term that should include both motorized and non-motorized vehicles. Thus, if you have don’t have a car but instead have a bicycle, you are still a vehicle owner. Of course the term is more widely applied to motor vehicle owners but we need to expand this and distinguish between motor and non-motor vehicle ownership. Otherwise, let’s just be specific about the vehicle. ‘Car ownership’ is not equal to or does not correspond with car use. It is possible that one owns one or more cars or vehicles but does not use them at least for his/her regular commute. People in Singapore, for example, have cars. The same for people in Japan. However, most of these car owners choose to take public transportation most days. In their case, owning a car may not have improved their lives considering the excellent public transport services they have and requirements for people wanting to own cars in those places. Elsewhere, such as the Philippines, owning and using a car may provide better transport options depending not the circumstances of the person(s), even considering the costs of ownership and operations.

Article on the new mobilities

Here’s a quick share of an article on what is described as the new mobilities:

Litman, T. [June 30, 2021] “Planning for New Mobilities: Preparing for Innovative Transportation Technologies and Services,” Planetizen.com, https://bit.ly/2U99Hlw [Last accessed: 7/3/2021]

What exactly are these new mobilities? To quote from the article:

“New Mobilities

  1. Active Travel and Micromobilities. Walking, bicycling, and variations, including small, lower-speed motorized vehicles such as electric scooters, bikes, and cargo bikes.
  2. Vehicle Sharing. Convenient and affordable bicycle, scooter, and automobile rental services.
  3. Ridehailing and Microtransit. Mobility services that transport individuals and small groups.
  4. Electric Vehicles. Battery-powered scooters, bikes, cars, trucks, and buses.
  5. Autonomous Vehicles. Vehicles that can operate without a human driver.
  6. Public Transport Innovations. Innovations that improve transit travel convenience, comfort, safety, and speed.
  7. Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Navigation and transport payment apps that integrate multiple modes.
  8. Telework. Telecommunications that substitutes for physical travel.
  9. Tunnel Roads and Pneumatic Tube Transport. New high-speed transport networks.
  10. Aviation Innovation. Air taxis, drones, and supersonic jets.
  11. Mobility Prioritization. Pricing systems and incentives that favor higher-value trips and more efficient modes.
  12. Logistics Management. Integrated freight delivery services.”
Cyclist along Circumferential Road 6 carrying a washing machine

What if MUCEP was wrong?

I am not a stranger to the perils of bad data and the analysis, conclusions and recommendations based on it. Last week and the next couple, our students will be presenting and defending their research proposals (one group) and research outcomes (another group), respectively. Many of these students conducted secondary data collection and/or depended on online surveys for their primary data needs including interviews for their respective topics. Much of the secondary data are from past studies including the MMUTIS Update and Capacity Enhancement Project (MUCEP), which was the most recent comprehensive transport planning study for what we basically refer to now as NCR Plus (MUCEP covers Mega Manila, which includes parts of Bataan, Pampanga, Batangas and Quezon provinces aside from Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal).

I share the following quote from one who is in the know or has inside information about what went about during the data collection for a major project that sought to update the Metro Manila Urban Transportation Integration Study (MMUTIS):

“The MUCEP data can not be trusted. A major part of the survey was done by DoTr (via a contracted group) – not by JICA-supervised surveys. Its results revealed a large portion of walking per day, because the surveyor filled up the forms and/or disregarded sampling design as most car-owning HH were not available (working or declined to participate) during the survey.
However, citing it is for convenience (aura of credibility). Its (mis)use is another matter.”

The stories are not at all new and I have heard this from various sources including surveyors and survey supervisors themselves whom we also engage for our own data collection (it’s a small world after all – transportation practice in the Philippines). Whether these are factual or not, should be obvious from the data and whether it is consistent with past studies or presents an abrupt change in matters such as mode share and vehicle ownership.

Of course both the DOTr and JICA will deny there was any error in data collection at the time and the weights of their statements will definitely make these But infallibility claims aside, what if the assertion in the quote was correct? What are the implications to activities such as forecasting, policymaking or master planning? Are we not surprised or dumbfounded that despite what is being reported as lower vehicle ownership for Mega Manila, it seems that people do have the motor vehicles and are opting to use them as public transport reliability and safety perceptions are still at low points. Mode choice after all is not as simple as some people want to make it appear to be. And if the assumptions including vehicle ownership are off then any modeling or analysis will end up with erroneous results.

Updated fares for LRT Line 2

After so many years, the Line 2 extension to Masinag Junction is finally complete and operations covering the additional 2 stations. The 2 stations will be fully operational on June 23, 2021 (Wednesday) though there will be a ‘soft opening’ on June 22, 2021, following ceremonies for the extension. Here’s the new fare matrix showing how much passengers would have to pay traveling between certain stations including the two new stations of the extension – Marikina Station (formerly Emerald Station) and Antipolo Station (formerly Masinag Station):

Updated fares for Line 2 that now includes Marikina Station and Antipolo Station

What’s next for Line 2? Will there be another extension? Will there be a branch line? Also, it would be nice to see in the next few months if people will indeed be taking Line 2 instead of their current or usual road transport mode. Of particular interest would be if people will be shifting from private vehicle use. This is important because one main objective of the line is to reduce car dependence. That is expected to lead to a reduction in road traffic condition along the corridor (Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard). This could also provide lessons for Line 7, which is still under construction.

Is there a supply problem with public transport in NCR plus?

I initially wanted to use “Philippines” or “Metro Manila” instead of “NCR Plus” for the title of this post. I dropped “Philippines” in order to be more specific and also because I am not so aware of the situation in other cities outside Mega Manila. I also decided vs. “Metro Manila” because transport for the metropolis is tightly woven with the surrounding areas where many people working or studying in MM actually reside. These include the towns of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite.

So, is there a supply problem with public transport in what is dubbed as NCR+? The photos in social media appear to describe a lack of public transport vehicles with many people lined up along major roads, queued at terminals or train stations. These photos do not lie where they were taken. Indeed there is a big problem about supply along certain corridors due to certain factors such as limited number of public utility vehicles (mainly jitneys and buses) allowed operation and health protocols that limit the passenger capacities of vehicles. The latter also applies to rail services where despite rolling stocks being back to pre-pandemic operations, are limited to the number of people they can carry. Crush loads are a no-no during these times.

Traffic congestion and its effects on PUV turnaround times, however, is another major factor for what may seem like a lack of supply. Most road-based public transport operate in mixed traffic. As such, their operations are susceptible to traffic conditions along their routes. So it is very likely that during the peak periods, PUVs get stuck along the peak direction and take much time to return despite the lighter traffic along the return trip. The problem for some routes though is that during peak periods both directions are congested. This further exacerbates the situation for public transport as vehicles would have to go through a two-way gauntlet of sorts, resulting in a lot of people taking longer to get their rides. And so for those who have access to private transport do go back to using private vehicles.

Definitely and obviously, there is a mode choice issue here because many people appear to have taken private transport as their mode of choice instead of public or active transport modes. This is mainly attributed to the perception that public transport is unsafe or less safe compared to your own vehicle in the context of the current pandemic. We qualify the current health situation here since that seems to be the main driver for people choosing to take their cars apart from that other perception of the poor quality of service provided by public transport in general. For active transport, the reality is not everyone or not a lot of people will choose to walk or cycle along roads that are generally regarded as unsafe despite efforts to put up bike lanes. Those who are having problems commuting are those dependent on public transport also because of their long commutes between the residential outside or in the outskirts of Metro Manila and the CBDs in the metropolis.

The dilemma here is determining which routes would actually require additional vehicles. While the general perception and temptation is to add vehicles everywhere, it’s the actual numbers that need to be estimated based on the information that needs to be collected (as against available data, which can be unreliable). The situation and the data for different routes varies much.

Case in point is the experience along the Antipolo-Cubao route that used to be served by jeepneys. Buses now serve that route after the government rationalized the service. Initially, there were fewer buses operating along the route that had a large catchment area for passengers. Additional buses were deployed in order to address supply issues (again many passengers were not able to get their rides for the same reasons we mentioned earlier). Now, there seems to be enough buses for the peak periods but a surplus during the off-peak. Passengers along other routes are not as lucky as those served by the Antipolo-Cubao buses.

Public transport operations will not survive such variations in demand if they continue to operate under the old “boundary” or rental scheme. So, there has to be a subsidy somewhere for them to operate under these conditions. And that’s where service contracting comes in. While I agree that this is essential for transport reform, we still have limited resources, and it will not be sustainable in the long run if we cannot make people take public transport over private vehicle options.

On using a car for transport in the time of COVID-19

We start the month of February with a very informative articles from the New York Times about car use and the spread of Covid-19. There have been a lot of discussions or discourse, even arguments, about private car use or shared vehicles (e.g., Grab) as people have apparently chosen these over public transport in many parts of the Philippines. For one, there is still a limited supply of public transport as government tries to take advantage of the situation to implement their rationalization and modernization programs.

The following article is from the US but the principles presented particularly about air flow and the potential spread of the virus inside a car are factual and apply in a general manner to other situations including ours. It is important to have an appreciation of the science behind air circulation and how it relates to the potential infections.

Anthes, E. (January 16, 2021) “How to (Literally) Drive the Coronavirus Away,” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/16/health/coronavirus-transmission-cars.html [Last accessed: 2/2/2021]

The common misconception appears to be that using private vehicles automatically helps spread the coronavirus. The science tells us it is not as simple as that (i.e., using your own vehicle will lead to your and your family being infected). While private vehicles are not the proverbial suit of armor vs. Covid-19, their proper use might give better chances compared to crowded and/or poorly ventilated public utility vehicles. Walking and bicycles, of course, are most preferred but that’s a topic for another article.¬†

On housing and transport

I am always amused about discussions and posts about transport and traffic where people appear to isolate the traffic as what needs to be solved, and where people criticize the latter and state that it is a transport and not a traffic problem. Both do not have the complete picture if that is what we want to start with. Land use, land development and the choices people make based on various other factors (including preferences) are among the other ingredients of the proverbial soup or dish that need to be included in the discussion. Remember land use and transport interaction? That’s very essential in understanding the big picture (macro) before even going into the details at the micro level. Why are there many car users or those who prefer to use private modes over public transport modes? Why do people prefer motorized over non-motorized modes? Maybe because people live far from their workplaces and schools? Why is that? Maybe because of housing affordability and other factors influencing choices or preferences?

Here’s a nice recent article on housing and transportation to enrich the discourse on this topic:

Litman, T. [January 7, 2021] “Housing First; Cars Last”, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/111790?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-01112021&mc_cid=2985a82f48&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [last accessed: 1/13/2021]

Non-motorized logistics

The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns led to people rediscovering what is now termed as active transport modes – walking and cycling. Not that these modes were not being used for travel as usually they, especially walking, represent the last mile/kilometer mode for most people. With the absence or lack of public transportation or service vehicles (e.g., free shuttles for frontliners, office service vehicles, etc.), many people turned to cycling. Perhaps one area outside of commuting where bicycles have plenty of potential (and I use the word ‘potential’ here because it is not yet as widespread as motorcycle use) is for delivery services. It is the general perception that there has been a surge in deliveries for various items especially food from restaurants. Why not employ bicycles either to supplement or augment the usual motorcycles used for such purposes? I took the following photos showing an example of deliveries using bicycles.

Jollibee delivery rider on a fat bike

The bicycle rider compared to a motorcycle rider – the bike is just about the same size as the motorcycle, only higher/taller due to the large wheels on the bicycle. The carrier or box is also larger than the typical carrier as it is for transporting food that can be of a large quantity or even multiple orders if these are in close proximity to one another.

Fast-food delivery via bicycle along Felix Avenue in Cainta, Rizal

On people’s apprehension to use public transport

Public transport supply issues aside, there is also an apprehension to use public transport in the Philippines because of the perception that using public transportation will expose you to COVID-19 and lead to an infection. So far, this is far from the truth, which is that if proper precautions or countermeasures are applied (including physical distancing), public transportation can be safer than taking a car to move about.

Here is an article from the US co-written by Janette Sadik-Khan, who presided over the complete streets transformation in New York City. Aside from explaining how public transport can be safe, COVID-19-wise, the authors state that one must be most worried about conditions in places they go to including their workplaces, markets and yes, homes.

Sadik-Khan, J. and Solomonow, S. (2020) “Fear of Public Transit Got Ahead of the Evidence,” The Atlantic,¬†https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/fear-transit-bad-cities/612979/ [Last accessed: 6/25/2020].

Several groups have already called for jeepneys to resume services. Unfortunately, DOTr and LTFRB have other plans to implement; opting for a hard-push of the modernization and rationalization programs of the government. As such, despite the demand for public transport, the latter’s unavailability meant that many commuters had to take private vehicles to go to their workplaces. That meant those who usually could leave their cars home or at least opt for public transport most days reverted to their vehicles (note: the number coding scheme is still suspended for Metro Manila). Tricycles could only carry one passenger each; effectively making them 3-wheeler taxis. While train and bus operations have resumed, both have limited passenger capacities due to the physical distancing requirements.

Again, there are precautions and countermeasures that can be applied in order to ensure the reduction or minimization of infection risks. Public transport providers need to follow these guideline to prevent infections that can be attributed to public transport use, and help people trust in using these modes over cars.