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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.
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]
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
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.
I posted about the work we have been doing to assess the infection risk (i.e., spread of COVID-19) for various modes of transport considering the transition of many areas including the National Capital Region (NCR) to the General Community Quarantine (GCQ). The work was undertaken through the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines (TSSP), which is under the umbrella of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS). Here is the outcome in the form of an “Infection Risk Classification of Transport Modes or Vehicle Types” developed by a core group of public transportation and road safety specialists among its members:
Note again that this is the product of a rapid assessment using the mentioned criteria and factors. It is a qualitative assessment and a quantitative one, given the data, would obviously been preferred. Moreover, this is an assessment for risk of infection rather than for road safety. In the “old normal”, for example, cycling and motorcycle use may have a higher risk in traffic given traffic mix, human behavior and lack of facilities to make these modes safe.
2) On the obstacles to the PNR operations
We have done studies before when studies on the PNR were not considered fashionable. People who did research on rail transport were more interested in Lines 1, 2 and 3, and dismissed the PNR as a lost cause. There were many transportation experts who ridiculed it and even taunted PNR about their poor service. And yet we did our studies because we had an appreciation of the importance of this line and how it could play a major role in commuting if given the resources to improve their facilities. It was shown that the line could be more advantageous for commuters particularly those traveling between the southern parts of Metro Manila and Makati and Manila. These would be both workers and students who will benefit from the shorter travel times and less expensive fares. The downside then (and still at the present time) was the long headways between trains. That is, you can only catch a train every 30 minutes.
This photo taken more than a decade ago show the typical conditions along many sections of the PNR. It is pretty much the same today and the agencies involved (DOTr and PNR) have done little to reduce the informal settlers along the line. No, they didn’t just appear now, and are throwing garbage, rocks and other debris on the trains. This was already happening years ago.
Fast forward to the present and they seem to be getting a lot more resources than the last 30+ years. A Philippine Railway Institute (PRI) has been created. New train sets have just been delivered and went into operation. Unfortunately, the new trains were met with rocks and other debris as they traveled along sections occupied by informal settlers. The incident damaging the new trains puts further emphasis on the need to the need to address the squatter problem along the PNR line. Should fences be built to protect the trains and passengers? Should people be relocated? I think both need to be done in order to secure the line and in preparation for service upgrades including more frequent train services (i.e., shorter intervals between trains). And we hope to see the DOTr and PNR working on this as they attempt to attract more passengers to use their trains.
Here are two interesting (to me at least) articles about the negative aspects of ride hailing or ride sharing. The first is quite a curious one for me as I teach at UP Diliman, which has a sprawling campus in Quezon City. Students can have one class at a building on one end of the campus and have the next class at another end of the campus. I now wonder if there’s a significant number of Grab or Angkas trips within campus.
Kidambi, M. (2019) “Popularity of brief Uber, Lyft rides on campus raises environmental concerns,” Daily Bruin, http://dailybruin.com/2019/01/29/popularity-of-brief-uber-lyft-rides-on-campus-raises-environmental-concerns/ [Last accessed: 2/8/2019]
The second article relates on the a more general context of what’s bad about ride hailing/ride sharing. The author presents not just a list but evidence of each item mentioned.
Schmitt, A. (2019) “All the Bad Things About Uber and Lyft In One Simple List,” Streetsblog USA, https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/02/04/all-the-bad-things-about-uber-and-lyft-in-one-simple-list/ [Last accessed: 2/8/2019]
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles here, there are still a lot we need to learn about ridehailing in this country and especially in our cities. I guess Angkas’ case can be different because motorcycle taxis were already operating in many areas even before the app-based service. But of course, we also need to understand about his enhanced ‘habal-habal’.
We start 2018 with another article that I found this interesting. The article is on the other uses of ridesharing, particularly for medical emergencies:
Seipel, T. (2017) “Uber reduces ambulance usage across the country, study says”. mercurynews.com. https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/12/13/uber-reduces-ambulance-useage-in-major-u-s-cities-study-says/ (Last accessed: 12/22/2017).
This article was particularly interesting to me because we are currently doing research on ridesharing. This should be a good topic for students who are looking for something current and relevant, and should fit well in the bigger scheme of things in as far as our research agenda is concerned. There is a link to the study report in the article for those wanting to get the details on the outcomes.
A friend posted a photo on social media and it immediately got my attention as it featured an ad by popular ridesourcing company Uber on a public bus in Singapore. There is a slogan there that reads: “Because weekends come once a week, make your move.” This statement is a promotion for Uber, which is already making inroads in the city state where taxi services are probably among the better ones in the world in terms of service quality and efficiency.
The ad itself is a contradiction in terms of who is promoting itself and where it is being promoted. Such promotion gimmicks are not beyond companies like Uber, which project themselves as mavericks in what are considered as traditional areas such as transport. Here is the photo of Uber advertising on a public bus in Singapore:
Taxi ownership and operations (i.e., driving) in Singapore is restricted to Singaporeans. Uber faced some issues with their operations as there were a significant number of foreigners, it seems, who took to Uber as a means for employment. In a city-state like Singapore, which discourages private car ownership and use through schemes like congestion pricing and the provision of high quality public transport services, Uber could face a much stiffer challenge to its march towards dominating conventional taxis.