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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.

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.

Are roads really designed just for cars?

The answer is no. Roads were and are built as basic infrastructure for transport no matter what the mode. However, the standards for dimensions (i.e., number of lanes, widths, etc.) are based on the motor vehicle capacity, and structural standards (i.e., thickness, strength, reinforcement, etc.) are based on the weights they are supposed to carry over their economic lives. The pavement load as it is referred to is usually based on the cumulative heavy vehicle traffic converted in terms of the equivalent standard or single axles or ESA. An ESA is 18,000 pounds or 18 kips in the English system of measurements or 8.2 metric tons in the Metric system.

A typical local road – is it really just for cars or is it also for walking and cycling? Or perhaps animal drawn transport? 

A colleague says many of the posts in social media pitting bicycles with cars are already quite OA (overacting). I tend to agree as I read how people generalize roads being car-centric. Roads have been built basically to serve a avenues for transportation. They were improved over time in order to have more efficient ways to travel by land. It didn’t hurt that vehicle technology also developed over time and bicycles somehow became less popular than the cars and motorcycles. The motorcycle itself evolved from bicycles so in a way, it is the evolved and mechanized form of the two-wheeler.

In a perfect world, people would be sharing the road space and it would be equitable among different users. In a perfect world perhaps, it won’t be car-centric as there would probably be better public transport options and transit will be efficient, reliable, comfortable and convenient to use.

The reality, however, is that we do not live in a perfect world and transformations like the ones being pitched on social media are nice but are also not as inclusive and equitable as their advocates claim them to be. I’ve always said and written that you cannot simply change transportation without also implementing changes in land use and housing in particular.

Why do we need wide roads connecting suburbs and urban areas? Why is there sprawl? Why do people live in the periphery of CBDs or the metropolis? It is not just about transport though it seems easier to focus on this. Even transportation in Japan, with Metropolitan Tokyo and its equivalent of NCR plus as a subject, needs to be properly contextualized for land use and transport interaction and development. It seems that even with a comprehensive and efficient railway network, there are still shortcomings here and there. We don’t have such a railway network (yet) so we need to find ways for easing the currently long and painful commutes many people experience on a daily basis. That means continued dependence on road-based transport and trying to implement programs and schemes to improve operations.

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.

If you build the bike lanes, will people use them?

The obvious answer to this question is yes. It is not so clear, however, how many will really be using these bike lanes over time. That needs data. That requires counting. And such data will be useful in order to understand, among other things, why people choose to bike or why they don’t. The latter is important to determine what factors are being considered by people who can switch to cycling particularly for commuting. Of course, there are many references for this from other cities and countries but these still need to be contextualized from our (Philippine) perspective. Case in point is Marikina, which has the most comprehensive network of bike lanes in the country. What are the numbers and what are the constraints and misconceptions? Did the city do its part to promote and sustain cycling?

Here is an article discussing the experience in the US:

Penney, V. (April 1, 2021) “If You Build It, They Will Bike: Pop-Up Lanes Increased Cycling During Pandemic,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/climate/bikes-climate-change.html?smid=url-share [Last accessed: 4/9/2021]

Bike lane along Katipunan Avenue (C5) in Quezon City

Here is the link to the paper mentioned in the article:

https://www.pnas.org/content/118/15/e2024399118

Micromobility policy atlas from the Shared-Use Mobility Center

Here’s a quick post sharing a policy atlas on micromobility from the Shared-Use Mobility Center. It looks like this will be something like a work in progress since there surely would be more policies and infrastructure in more cities and countries as micro mobility catches on with people. Already having many users prior to the pandemic, micro mobility, especially cycling, has gained even more during the lockdowns and afterwards when people opted for this mode over public transport (usually because of a lack of it), private cars (expensive), motorcycles (not their thing), and walking (too slow for their taste?).

Here is the link to the atlas: https://learn.sharedusemobilitycenter.org/atlas/?

Dominant trips during the day

I read this post on social media stating:

“The work commute is statistically the longest and least frequent type of journey we make in a day. Yet it dominates transport planning.Now more than ever, cities must build cycle networks to support recurring local trips: to the corner store, café, community center, or school.”

I am not sure about the context of the word “dominate” as it is used in the statement but this originates from the Dutch so perhaps there is a difference, even slight, between their case and ours. I would like to add though that aside from “going home” trips, the most dominant in the Philippine context are “to work” and “to school”. And dominant here covers frequency and distance traveled. Consequential are travel times as these are affected by the quantity and quality of facilities and services available to commuters.

I think there should also be restructuring of how surveys are conducted to capture these more frequent trips. Typical surveys like JICA’s usually ask only about the main trips during the day so those will have responses of “to work”, “to school” or “to home”. For the metro level, maybe that’s okay but at the local levels, LGUs would have to make their own surveys in order for data to support initiatives for local transport, most especially active transport. A possible starting point would be the trip chains collected that appear to be a single trips with “original origins” and “final destinations”. These can be separated or disaggregated into individual trips made by different modes rather than be defined or associated with a single (main) mode of transport. That surely would expand the data set and redefine the mode shares usually reported.

On people’s reactions to the pandemic – more cars?

There is this article that argues that one result of the pandemic and the scare that it caused to a many is that people have resorted to car use during and after the lockdowns:

Vanderbilt, T. (2020) “People Are Buying Cars Because of the Pandemic. Cities May Change as a Result, Medium, https://gen.medium.com/people-are-buying-cars-because-of-the-pandemic-cities-may-change-as-a-result-e0657584f45e [Last accessed: 6/20/2020]

It was amusing for me to read the reference to cars as a sort of PPE but it comes as no surprise. It is psychologically like a suit of armor to some people and I guess this affects them the same way as some people’s personalities change when behind the wheel.

Whether this is true for the Philippines’ case we are now seeing somewhat but I say ‘somewhat’ because of the deficiencies in public transportation especially in Metro Manila. Government agencies in-charge of transportation seem to have found the perfect situation to roll out and push for both route rationalization and modernization. Major public transport routes have resumed operations but with buses instead of jeepneys. And slowly but somehow surely the “modern jeepneys” are being allowed but following the terms and conditions of the DOTr and the LTFRB.

On pandemic travel patterns and the future

Here is a recent article on travel patterns as influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bliss, L., Lin, J.C.F., and Patino, M. (2020) “Pandemic Travel Patterns Hint at Our Urban Future,” Bloomberg CityLab, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-coronavirus-transportation-data-cities-traffic-mobility/?sref=ViNyghXi [Last accessed 6/19/2020].

 

Are these travel patterns similar to those of our cities and municipalities in the Philippines? Or were there a different reactions or outcomes considering local factors including perhaps cultural aspects?