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Updates and resolution on the common railway station in North-EDSA

The big news today is the agreement among the government and the big corporations involved in the issue of the common station at North Avenue-EDSA where three rail transit lines (Line 1, Line 3 and the future Line 7) will be converging. The key features of the agreement are reproduced here:


  1. The Common Station has three components: (a) Area A, where the platform and concourse for LRT-1 and MRT-3 are located; (b) Area B, which consists of two Common Concourses connecting Area A and Area C; and (c) Area C, where the platform and concourse for MRT-7 is located.
  2. Area A will be financed and built by DOTr. Area B will be financed and built by Ayala and its partners (NTDCC) (this is Ayala’s contribution to the Common Station project). And Area C will be financed and built by San Miguel.
  3. The portion of Area A for LRT-1 will be operated, maintained, and developed by LRMC. The portion of Area A for MRT-3 will be operated, maintained, and developed by DOTr. Area B will be operated, maintained, and developed by Ayala. And Area C will be operated, maintained, and developed by San Miguel.
  4. The MOU contains the design parameters for the Common Station, which will be the basis of the Detailed Engineering Designs to be developed after signing of the MOU. The Detailed Engineering Designs will be completed within 240 calendar days from signing date.
  5. The designs shall ensure that a defined level of service is maintained at all times by all components of the Common Station.
  6. The designs shall ensure that all components of the Common Station are interconnected, and that SM City North EDSA and Trinoma are interconnected to the Common Station.
  7. The Common Station is targeted to be completed by 2 April 2019, subject to extension as may be justified under the MRT-7 Agreement with respect to Area C.
  8. SM’s TRO will be lifted soon after the Detailed Engineering Designs are completed.
  9. DPWH will build an underpass along EDSA at the area where the Common Station will be constructed. This will be financed and built by DPWH.”

That was a direct copy and paste from the DOTr’s Facebook page.

There is another piece of information that’s gained a popular following and that is the design for the common station that was shared to the public:

Proposed design of the common station

I think the design is basically okay in terms of location. The layout would need to be refined in order to address concerns pertaining to optimum and efficient transfer of passengers between lines. I assume from the drawings that all three lines will be at the same level but with a plaza separating Lines 1 &3 from Line 7. There are also issues pertaining to proposed road grade separation in the area but that seems to have been addressed already by item #9 in the preceding list. We can only hope that the current government and private sector partnership can expedite this project.

EDSA MRT 3 chronicles

A friend referred an article to me today and I thought it would be a very good read to a lot of people interested in what has happened and what is happening to the EDSA MRT 3. I think that this article is so far the most comprehensive, not-necessary-legal treatment of events leading to what we now have as a mass transit system along arguably the country’s busiest thoroughfare:

On a clear day you can see the MRT

It’s a must read for a lot of people who want to know about the dealings related to MRT 3 and perhaps understand how complex this has become. I would also recommend people read the very good discussions in the comment section of the article. It’s good to see the healthy exchange of opinions rather than have trolls ruin them.

Unprepared and incomplete – realizations from the APEC transport experience

Before I forget about what transpired during the holding of APEC in Manila a week ago, here’s a couple of photos I found over the internet and shared via social media.

Trapec mb1Commuters along Roxas Boulevard walk past a column of the unfinished NAIA Expressway, one of the transport infrastructure projects that has not been finished. [Photo from The Manila Bulletin]

04_APEC_Traffic_CNNPHAPEC lanes and severe traffic congestion along EDSA – there’s an opportunity here for a prrof of concept test for BRT. [Photo from Facebook]

I saw many memes and read some articles mentioning BRT specifically as one solution to Metro Manila’s transport problems. The second photo above was modified to replace the car travelling along the APEC lanes with a bus.

It is easy to imagine what could have been if the government decided to use the event and the lanes they allocated for APEC vehicles to do a ‘proof of concept’ run of BRT services or at least express bus services (what some DOTC people call high quality bus services). Perhaps what could have been done for part of the 10 billion PHP expended for APEC was to buy a fleet of brand new buses and provided these for free public transport for people who would need to commute during APEC. Services along two corridors would have sufficed – these two would have been EDSA and Roxas Boulevard. [The other option would have been to talk to bus operators and cooperate with them to organize express bus services along EDSA and Roxas Blvd.] Aggressively promoting these free services ahead of APEC would also have meant commuters, including those who usually used their own vehicles, could have opted for these transport services and not affected by the ‘carmageddon’ that ensued over that period. There should have been services to the airport terminals, too, but I will write about this in another article.

The dry run could have yielded essential data for assessing the feasibility of such bus services as an alternate to rail systems that would take much time to build. Incidentally, if the LRT Line 1 Extension to Cavite was built right after the current administration took over, that line could have already served tens of thousands of passengers from the south who regularly commuted to Metro Manila for work and school. The first photo above does not lie about just how many people could have benefited from that rail project. Meanwhile, MRT Line 3 remains dysfunctional and with its reduced capacity could not handle the demand for transport that it should have been able to carry if services had not deteriorated over the years.

Some thoughts on the EDSA MRT 3 problem

A lot of people reacted when the current Philippine President practically absolved the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) from any fault regarding the issues on the EDSA MRT Line 3 during his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA). The main message in some articles appearing on mainstream and social media is that the President should blame DOTC for the mess. I have the opinion that both DOTC and the private entities involved (MRT Corporation, MRT Holdings) are responsible for the problem and its being continuously unresolved.

A week ago, I got the following question in my email:

Who is it that we could blame for the current state of the rail system? What do you suggest that the government or the private partner do in order for them to improve the line?

Quite frankly, I thought the first question was too direct and blunt as to ask who we can blame for the MRT3 mess. It is also very awkward to answer the second question because it assumes that I am an expert on the legal issues on this matter. I am NOT a legal expert nor would I want to pretend to be one. Here was my reply:

That’s actually a very tricky question. We can’t really blame a specific person or persons but perhaps entire organizations that are supposed to be responsible for the mess that is MRT3. The main or root issue seems to be legal and not at all technical. The technical problems experienced are manifestations of a contract that is a textbook case for how NOT to do a PPP. I am not privy to the details of the discussions between the government and the people involved and behind MRTC so it is awkward to make comments specific to this matter of the contract and all its complexities. Perhaps the DOTC wants to follow “Daang Matuwid” by not budging to the terms laid out by MRTC? Perhaps MRTC is aware of the stakes (plight of the riding public) and is using this to force DOTC into a deal that is not favorable to government? We can only speculate on this without firsthand knowledge of their discussions.

However, from the perspective of transport as a service and as a public good, I would say that MRTC indeed is aware of the public’s clamor for improvement. This is all over the news and social media in the form of commentaries, images and even videos of the undesirable experiences of those taking the MRT3. In the end, DOTC must decide whether it is all worth it to maintain the stalemate with MRTC considering that the public interest is at stake here and things will just become worse with inaction. Perhaps the government should move towards the best compromise they can live with considering the urgency of addressing the problem at hand.

I would like to think that my reply was quite cautious. There have been many allegations and claims from both sides of the table regarding how to resolve the impasse and the conflicts that seem to be interwoven with the contract on the MRT3. Perhaps such cases test the limits of “Daang Matuwid”? Much was and is expected from DOTC considering its battery of lawyers including top officials of the department. Aren’t they supposed to have been involved in discussions and negotiations aside from strategic planning for our transportation in this country? I guess the general public especially those who take the MRT3 for their commutes already know who to blame for their plight…

Compromising on the common station(s) for the Metro Manila rail lines

It seems that the issue regarding the common station for Line 1, LineĀ 3 and the future Line 7 in the North EDSA area has not yet been resolved. The interested private sector parties, Ayala and SM, will not back down on their arguments support each’s proposal for the common station to be located at either of the giant malls that each corporation owns. Ayala’s claim is that the contract for the Line Extension to Cavite stipulates that the common station with Line 3 should be at Trinoma. Meanwhile, SM is claiming the validity of an agreement it made with DOTC on a grand central station to be located across their SM City North EDSA mall. The last one is consistent with an even earlier agreement with the proponents of the future Line 7 for an end station in front of SM.

A compromise solution to the impasse should be in the works and is the responsibility of the DOTC. What if instead of one common station, two stations are made into common ones? There will be no grand central station in the sense that all three lines will terminate as presented in SM’s version nor will there be a common station for Lines 1 and 3 at Trinoma that incorporates a very long walkway to a Line 7 station near Mindanao Avenue. Instead there can be two common stations – one at SM North for Line 1 and Line 7, and another at Trinoma for Line 1 and Line 3. Line 1 will still terminate at Trinoma but can have another stop at SM North where there can be a smooth transfer between Line 1 and Line 7, which terminates at this station. Perhaps there should still be a walkway connecting the two common stations in the interest of pedestrians although seamless fare collection systems and platform design can easily allow Line 7 or Line 3 passengers to ride Line 1 trains between stations to transfer to Line 3 or Line 7.

The common station or stations (depending on what will finally come out of this) should be designed thinking of the best interests of the public who will be using the transit systems and stations. Lost in the discussions are the plight of commuters. Parties claim that their designs are in the best interest of commuters (actually SM has the better set-up of all three lines terminating at one central station) and yet the bottomline for their arguments are very much revenue oriented – not for the transit lines but for their own commercial developments. Its basically one mall vs. another, leaving out the public as incidentals in the discussions. This is why government must intervene and this is where DOTC should show it has a spine after all and is promoting the public good and not favoring one private company over another. And so we’ll wait and see what will eventually come out of this although a lot of people continue to suffer with their inefficient commutes and are definitely becoming more impatient about mass transit systems that should have been constructed a long time ago.

Cubao Aurora

Cubao is one of the busiest areas in Metro Manila where a lot of public transport routes converge. It is a major transfer point for road and rail transport particularly near the junction of three major roads – EDSA, Aurora Boulevard, and E. Rodriguez Avenue, which is only a few meters from EDSA. I took a few photos when I was in the area one time and here they are:

2013-12-22 16.26.56EDSA and Aurora Boulevard intersect at ground level. There is, however, an underpass along EDSA bypassing the at-grade intersection. Shown in the photo are the two rail transit lines passing through the area – EDSA MRT 3 at the 2nd level and LRT Line 2 at the 3rd level.

2013-12-22 16.29.00After crossing EDSA, eastbound jeepneys approach the LRT 2 Cubao Station, which is beside the Gateway Mall of the Araneta Center. Traffic along this section of Aurora Blvd. is typically slow as jeepneys bound for different destinations in the east congregate here. Meanwhile, on the other side of EDSA, the same situation is experienced as jeepneys line up along informal terminals on the street. This usually leads to congestion and low throughput along Aurora at the intersection.

2013-12-22 16.31.19Jeepneys tend to linger under the LRT 2 station and occupy practically all the lanes with most jeepneys deliberately moving at snail’s pace as they try to get passengers. This is the case along both directions of Aurora Boulevard, which makes one wonder why many people don’t take the LRT instead. Of course, for eastbound passengers, the answer is simply that the LRT ends at Santolan Station in Pasig (along Marcos Highway and just after the Marikina River). Most passengers would rather take a single, direct jeepney ride from Cubao to their destinations rather than make the difficult transfer at Katipunan (for Marikina-bound passengers) or Santolan (for Rizal and Pasig-bound commuters).

I wanted to take some photos during the night time one time we were passing under LRT 2 along Aurora Boulevard near the Gateway Mall. The area wasn’t well lighted though so all the photos didn’t come out right. This blight is similar to the situation along the LRT Line 1 corridor stretching from Caloocan to Pasay, and affecting areas along Taft Avenue and Rizal Avenue. The areas including the rail superstructure are so dirty mainly because of the emissions from road vehicles, particularly jeepneys, buses and trucks with surplus and generally poorly maintained engines. Hopefully, the local governments and MMDA can address problems of bright with a campaign to install pocket and hanging gardens like the ones already along EDSA. The plants, if cared for properly, will surely help improve both air quality and aesthetics in these areas darkened by design and soot.

Identifying opportunities with the MRT 7 and the LRT 1 extension

As we welcome 2014, we also look forward to major projects that will help alleviate transport and traffic problems in our cities and elsewhere in the Philippines. With the approval of the MRT 7 and LRT 1 south extension projects late last year, there should be less impedance to these much-delayed projects starting construction within the current term. These lines should have been built way back, – “ideally” in the 1980s, “practically” in the 1990s, and “urgently” in the last decade. At this time, I think the need for these lines are beyond urgent. I think perhaps we have reached the state of “desperation” is so far as mass transportation is concerned for Metro Manila and its surrounding cities and municipalities.

MRT7MRT 7 map from a public presentation made by the line’s proponents about 5 years ago.

Opportunities that can be related to the MRT 7 and LRT 1 lines include land development that fall under the category of transit oriented development (TOD). I think the government should not be too dependent on the private sector for developments around and near the future stations of the rail lines. The prevailing assumption that the private sector will do what’s best is only applicable to themselves and not the public good. Note the difference between perspectives here where it is only to be expected that private companies will be concerned with their own bottom-lines, i.e., revenues generated towards the maximization of profits. Economic benefits are and should be treated or regarded differently from such a perspective. The latter is the responsibility of the government as it concerns the public good and interest, and with a more macroscopic and strategic scale, with a long-term vision for development.

One such opportunity concerns informal settlers and their resettlements to areas outside the CBDs. Why do these people keep on returning to the cities when they are already supposed to have been provided housing elsewhere (e.g., Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal)? The answer seems almost automatic: they don’t have the means for livelihood where they have been relocated and access to basic services and jobs/workplaces is limited (i.e., very difficult). The government must be involved and very deliberate in developing lands for housing around or near rail stations such as those for the future MRT 7 development. It cannot rely on the private sector to push for public housing when, frankly, those companies are driven by their desires to maximize their profits rather than push for the public good. That’s a bit of reality that we must accept and we must factor in decision making. The government already lost a huge opportunity when the National Housing Authority (NHA) effectively gave away prime lands in Quezon City for an upscale development. I leave it up to the reader to check the mandate of the NHA. It could have pushed instead for a development much like the HDBs in Singapore, which are not located in the boondocks but in prime locations in the city state. It need not be purely residential but a healthy mix of commercial development should be pursued along the lines of equitable transit oriented development (TOD).

Note that it should be clear here that when I say public housing this does not necessary mean the mass housing or low cost housing we tend to associate with failed projects in the peripheral provinces to Metro Manila. These are more like multi-level, medium to high rise developments you now find in major cities in Japan, China, Thailand and Singapore, which can be the model development for replication in other cities around the country. These can be reasonably priced units that can be affordable in terms of payments over a reasonable period of time. The concept is not new as there have already been BLISS projects before and Quezon City continues to collaborate with private sector for projects like Smile, Sunny Villas and the current Bistekville. These should be extended not just to your middle class and upper class (yes, they do make investments and have their units rented out to derive income) but formulated for the lower income classes (e.g., informal settlers), which now occupy much lands with their shanties. “Formalizing” these settlements should be a priority and the best locations for such developments, I think, should be around stations. Of course, there should be clear rules regarding the neighborhood and these rules should be strictly enforced for the buildings and area to keep their integrity (e.g., no extensions to the balconies or windows).

The concept and application of land-banking is not new and has been used by the private sector especially major developers like Ayala Land, Filinvest, Sta. Lucia, SM and Robinsons. Properties are acquired based on criteria regarding their potential for development. These lands are usually of low value and in many cases the land use need to be changed in order for these to be developed (e.g., agricultural lands being converted into residential, commercial or industrial uses). The national government and local government units should also do land-banking perhaps to address issues, for example, on informal settlers. And land banking should be along transit lines that are being planned (e.g., in Bulacan for MRT 7, in Cavite for the LRT 1 Extension, in Rizal for the LRT 2 Extension, and in Laguna for the PNR Commuter Line) so that issues pertaining to access to jobs, education and other services can be addressed by such transport infrastructure.

We look forward to the government realizing such opportunities that have for so long been available yet it has not taken into serious consideration. These require both strategic and practical thinking to be able to undertake master planning for such developments and their implementation over the immediate to long terms. No easy task but if our leaders are focused and determined to see these through, there’s no reason why these cannot be implemented and operational soon. Hopeful we are for these things this 2014.

Happy New Year!