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Airport taxi at NAIA?

I have been hearing and reading a lot about horrible experiences of various people including friends on airport taxis. All the stories seem to be about getting a taxi at NAIA where airport management has “accredited” one or a few companies to provide airport taxi services. This exclusiveness has clearly become disadvantageous to many passengers who have not previously arranged for someone to pick them up at the airport (e.g., a relative, a friend, his/her company vehicle, or maybe transport service from the hotel where they will be staying). The coupon taxi services, however, is usually the safer bet for those unfamiliar with Metro Manila as regular meter taxis often “prey” on travellers who are not knowledgeable about fares and traffic conditions. Often, one would have to negotiate for fares though there are honest cab drivers who would do their jobs without haggling or demanding for tips.

Allow me to cite a number of examples in international airport terminals abroad and in other Philippine cities where getting a taxi at the airport is relatively straightforward and stress-free:

1. In Singapore’s Changi Airport, you can easily get a cab at any of the terminals. You just get into the queue (if there is any) and get the next available taxi. The drivers do not discriminate among potential passengers and the only question asked is about the destination of the passenger. Sometimes, the driver will ask about a passenger’s preferred route as there are toll roads between Changi and the destination. There are bus and rail services connecting the airport to the rest of the city-state and many passengers also choose these options.

2. In Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, you can also get a taxi at the queue at the basement level. There are airport taxi counters at the lobby as passengers come out of the arrivals but these are the more “exclusive” companies and charge more per vehicle. However, if you are a group comprised of at least 4 people, then it would be cost effective to engage these companies as they can provide a larger vehicle (e.g., van) that can be more comfortable than a regular taxi. This is particularly recommended for people who have a lot of luggage like families. Otherwise, you can take a regular cab at the basement level queue. These are metered taxi but some may negotiate a fixed (and therefore higher) rate. Transfer to another if you don’t agree with the driver.

3. In Cebu’s Mactan Airport, the taxi bay is a just a few minutes walk from the arrival area. There is a queue and a security guard issues a ticket with information on the taxi (license plate number and company) that he gives to the passengers as reference should there be complaints on the driver as well as in cases where some belongings are left in the taxi.

4. In Iloilo, there are many taxis to choose from once you get out of the airport terminal. There are many taxi service counters just outside the arrival area and passengers can engage any of these companies for a ride to the city or other destinations. My Ilonggo friends will definitely recommend Light of Glory as their taxi company of choice. This company is highly regarded for their quality of service that includes honesty among its drivers. You can also contact them to make arrangements for transport between your hotel/accommodations and the airport.

5. In Davao, there is a regular taxis queue just outside the terminal building and the city has a transport enforcement unit that is stricter than most LGUs. This ensures that taxis will likely comply with traffic rules and regulations including the safe conveyance of passengers to/from the airport. These are metered taxis though there will always be taxi drivers who will attempt to negotiate fares or tips with the passengers. This will not be done at the airport as airport or city staff will be on watch at the terminal. Instead, the negotiations are done once the passenger is inside the taxi and leaving the airport.

Of course, in the international airports I mentioned, there is the option of taking the airport express train instead of taking a cab. Both Changi and Suvarnabhumi, for example, have excellent rail connections, and more experienced travelers would probably take these train services over taxis as they are less expensive and allow for shorter travel times (i.e., taxis can be caught in congested roads especially during peak periods).

NAIA desperately needs good options for public transport such as airport limousines or more dependable taxi services. Sadly, getting a taxi in Metro Manila is basically a “hit or miss” affair. There is a 50/50 chance that you will get a good taxi driver so there is an equal chance that you will get a bad one. At the airport, there might be a higher likelihood that one can get a bad taxi if we assume that taxi drivers might be  deliberately taking advantage of potential passengers who are not familiar with Metro Manila and its taxis. As mentioned earlier, more experienced travellers would likely have pre-arranged transport between the airport and their destinations. So the coupon taxis would have to do for now and until there are better options for transport including more reliable regular metered taxi services.

Full airport operations at NAIA 3?

Articles came out over the last two weeks about Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3 finally going on full airport operations with the transfer there of five international airlines from Terminal 1. These airlines are (in alphabetical order) Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, KLM and Singapore Airlines. I’m not really sure about the terminology or how DOTC and NAIA wanted to package their press release but wasn’t Terminal 3 already operational and does “full” really mean it being maximized or optimized?

This area will be full of people as five major international carriers transfer to Terminal 3

Prior to the transfer of the 5 airlines this August, T3 was already hosting international flights, mostly by local carrier Cebu Pacific, which is classified as a low cost carrier (budget airlines). The other major international carrier operating out of T3 was All Nippon Airways (ANA) but the latter had far fewer flights compared to CebPac.

However, my interest in this “full operations” pitch is more on the other facilities of the airport and not really about the check-in and immigration operations that I am sure have enough capacities to deal with the additional airlines, flights and passengers that will be served by T3 (most booths were not utilized considering the airport served significantly fewer international flights and passengers than T1). I am also not concerned about the other features of the airport like its shops and restaurants (a regular user of T3 would make the observation that shops and restaurants have been increasing over the past years). My worry is that the airport will not have enough parking spaces for airport users.

There is already a parking problem at T3, no thanks to poor public transport services (taxi anyone?) and the absence of anything resembling an airport shuttle or express services (e.g., Airport Limousine buses). I have written in the past about the multilevel parking facility at T3 that has not been opened for public use since the terminal became operational years ago. Granted that there might have been issues with the structure itself, authorities should have also addressed the issues while they were at it fixing the myriad problems of the terminal over the past years. Much of T3’s open parking spaces have been occupied by exclusive airport taxis (coupon taxis) and there are people who have made the observation that many of the parked cars are actually those of people gambling in the casinos of a nearby resort hotel complex. The latter story might be a bit difficult to prove unless there is deliberate data collection of some sort but can be true for some vehicles given the cheaper parking rates at the airport.

Until NAIA becomes public transport-friendly and perhaps a airport shuttle services can be provided for the convenience of travelers, parking will remain as an issue for many especially during the peak periods or seasons. And with the NAIA Expressway currently under construction, I would expect the airport terminals to be more accessible to private vehicles in the future via the elevated system, thereby generating more demand for parking. Are there already proposals for the solution to this problem or are authorities again going to be dependent on the private sector for solutions?

 

NAIA Terminal 3 revisited

I was back at NAIA Terminal 3 to fetch someone who was flying in from Bacolod last Palm Sunday. Going around while waiting for the plane to arrive, I took some photos of the newer shops and restaurants in the terminal. Here they are with a few photos at the waiting area and outside the terminal.

2014-04-13 20.37.12The overnight parking spaces were not yet full. It was a Palm Sunday so I guess many people haven’t taken their vacations yet.  I remember fetching the wife one Maundy Thursday morning and the parking lot was just full of vehicles. I had to park at a slot that required some walking to get to the terminal building.

2014-04-13 20.37.55Taxi station at the arrival level of NAIA – only airport accredited taxis are allowed at this station and many, if not most, are not metered (i.e., do not have or use taxi meters). There is a dispatcher at the station and rates are basically higher than regular metered taxis.

2014-04-13 20.44.50There are more shops, restaurants and cafes at Terminal 3. The old ones are still there but noticeable are the newer shops and restaurants when you explore the 3rd level of the terminal.

2014-04-13 20.44.54The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf branch at Terminal 3.

2014-04-13 20.45.03Wendy’s fastfood restaurant.

2014-04-13 20.45.58Shoes on display at one of the older shops at the terminal that offers a lot of different merchandise like luggage and apparel and accessories.

2014-04-13 20.46.39Victoria’s Secret shop opening soon and likely before other international airlines move to Terminal 3 when renovations for Terminal 1 move to full gear.

2014-04-13 20.48.04This Seven Eleven store is relatively new. There’s a Mini Stop store near the escalator to the 3rd level of the terminal.

2014-04-13 20.50.25The Body Shop store.

2014-04-13 20.50.39Not so many people at the Cebu Pacific domestic check-in counters around 8 PM. At this time, most domestic airports in the country are already closed as they are not equipped for night time operations. Thus, there are few flights at this time likely from the handful of modern airports – Cebu, Davao, Iloilo and Bacolod.

2014-04-13 21.05.51Well-wishers meeting arriving passengers at the spacious arrival area concourse.

2014-04-13 21.28.32Signs provide directions to passengers and well-wishers.

2014-04-13 21.41.20Crowds form at the exits to check passengers filing out of the arrival area. International passengers come out from the left while domestic passengers from the right.

2014-04-13 22.02.27There are more foreign exchange counters now at Terminal 3 and this is likely due to the increased number of international flights served by the terminal.

2014-04-13 22.02.31People go out of the terminal at one of the many exits at ground level. However, there are only two entrances to the terminal at the arrival level where security checks are made.

Christmas season traffic jams

Traffic jams are a common occurrence in most cities. In some they are predictable, usually during peak hours in the morning and the afternoon or evening. These peak periods may range from less than an hour or stretch to a couple or even longer hours depending on the characteristics of the area. In many cases, congested are main corridors (Commonwealth, Ortigas, Marcos Highway, McArthur Highway, SLEX, etc.) leading to or from the city center or central business district (e.g., Makati, Ortigas, Cubao, etc.). In Metro Manila, it can be a corridor connecting CBDs like EDSA or C-5.

2013-12-10 19.40.11Traffic congestion along the northbound side of Circumferential Road 5 seems much worse this December though it is always bad from the late afternoon to late night on weekdays. Congestion is usually worst along the stretch between Bonifacio Global City and Pasig River though it is also usually bad along the stretch from Ortigas Ave. to Eastwood in Quezon City. Traffic along the southbound side is usually bad in the mornings especially in the Pasig area.

IMG07554-20131221-1124Traffic congestion along Tramo on the way to the airport – traffic can really be bad in the vicinity of airports during this season but then the way the terminals of NAIA are situated and the conditions along airport roads also contribute to the congestion. For example, along Tramo in Pasay City you will find a lot of bus terminals and informal settlements. There are tricycles and pedicabs operating in the area, and parked vehicles along the road that reduce capacity. I always wonder what local authorities are doing to address these issues considering NAIA is our prime gateway to the world.

Unfortunately, the Christmas season in the Philippines is perhaps the longest in the world so Christmas traffic starts to build up in September (the first of the ‘ber’ months). Worst are days in December when everyone seems to be at their busiest. Aside from the work being done due to deadlines at the end of the year, there are shopping mall sales and Christmas parties.

So how do we know if December is indeed the busiest month of the year in terms of traffic? What evidence can we show as proof to this long-standing perception that is accepted as fact by many? I was asked these questions in a recent interview but unfortunately, I didn’t have the figures to show that December indeed is the busiest month in terms of traffic. Unfortunately, too, our government agencies do not conduct data collection to determine traffic volumes throughout the year so what you can get from the DPWH is Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT). Perhaps the evidence is with our toll operators, which conduct daily counts through their detectors and their toll booths. The cumulative volume of vehicles per month can be derived from data on tolls collected to validate the notion that December is highest in terms of traffic volumes.

Meanwhile, there might also be video evidence from the cameras installed by the MMDA and other local governments monitoring traffic. Footage taken from January to December can be compared to show which months are the busiest. Taking this to another level, image processing software for traffic are now available or can be developed to determine vehicle volumes from video.

It is reasonable to argue that indeed December is the busiest and we experience more traffic congestion during this month as there are more activities, especially those related to shopping, during this month. Ask anyone on the street and surely they will say that traffic and commuting is worst this time of year but many will also say they aren’t really complaining given the situation of other people (e.g., those affected by the earthquakes in Bohol and Cebu, and those affected by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in the Visayas). For many, this is still a season for joy and we generally don’t let traffic get in the way of happiness.

Merry Christmas to all!

New parking rates at NAIA

Here’s something for those who are parking at any of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s parking facilities. Here are a few photos showing the new parking rates at NAIA, effective December 1, 2013. Gone are the flat rates of old for those picking-up relatives or friends so it actually discourages people from camping out at the parking lots. Gone, too, are the low overnight parking fees of PhP 50 per night that a lot of people enjoyed for short trips on business or as tourists in local destinations or abroad.

IMG07555-20131221-1202Information on new parking rates at NAIA effective December 1, 2013 found along the left side of the approach to the parking lot entrance.

IMG07556-20131221-1203Announcement on the new NAIA parking rates just before the entrance booths of the lot

IMG07557-20131221-1250Information on the new parking rates at the exit of the lot and just before the payment booths.

It goes without saying that with the increased parking fees at the NAIA, people would expect more in terms of the quality of these facilities particularly pertaining to security and cleanliness. One cannot expect to pay for PhP 300 per night for an open parking space where one’s vehicle is exposed to the environment as well as to possible criminal elements lurking about. Of course, there is practically no competition for these parking facilities so there is a sizable captive market for NAIA parking. In my experience, and in fairness to airport management, I have not had any untoward incidents when I did leave our vehicle at the parking lots of Terminals 2 and 3. And I have done so many times before on trips to the Visayas and Mindanao, and a couple of times on trips abroad. I hope others, too, won’t have any problems with parking at the airport.

Airport congestion and options to decongest NAIA

Airport congestion refers to two things – congestion at the passenger terminal and congestion at the runway(s). The first may be found in several areas of an airport terminal. Among these areas are at the check-in counters, the immigration counters, customs and the baggage claim counters. Congestion may also refer to the areas allotted to well-wishers although depending on the terminal layout or design, these can be integrated with the check-in or arrival areas. The second concerns aircraft take-offs and landings, and queuing is present both on the ground and in the air. Congestion on the ground can be observed at the end of a runway from where aircraft may be queued according to air traffic control. Congestion in the air is observed in the form of aircraft circling the vicinity of the airport at various designated distances (radius) and altitudes.

Congestion of the first kind is a given at most major airports in the Philippines especially for international flights where security is tighter and there are immigration and customs processes that passengers need to go through. In most cases including domestic flights, airports are usually congested due to the well-wishers taking passengers to the airport or welcoming the same as they arrive. It is not uncommon to see jeepney-loads or tricycle-loads of well-wishers at Philippine airports as it is customary to take relatives or friends (hatid) to the airport or fetch (sundo) people at the terminal

The second type of congestion hogged the headlines earlier this year and during the summer months of April and May when take-off and arrival delays plagued aircraft at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Some flights were even cancelled, causing much headaches for passengers and particularly those with connecting flights both for domestic and international destinations. The culprit, technically, seems to be the limited capacities of NAIA’s intersecting runways. Some critics, however, have pointed out that the airlines should share part of the blame for having schedules packed during the day times and offering so many promos. While they have a poin there in as far as scheduling is concerned, one can’t blame airlines from offering such as day flights are more attractive to passengers.

Aircraft queued along the taxiway leading to NAIA’s main runway

A newly arrived plane cuts into the  queued along the taxiway towards the eastern end of NAIA’s main runway

There are currently several options to decongest the airport in Manila. Many of these are actually proposals that are impractical if not too expensive. One option is to transfer international operations to Clark, which is about 220 kilometers from NAIA or 200 kilometers from Quezon City via the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). It seems to be the most viable solution and has been compared with the location of other international airports like Narita and Suvarnabhumi, which are outside the metropolitan areas. The thing here is that there needs to be a good link between the airport and the metropolis, which presumably generates much of the demand for the airport. So far, there is already the NLEX for road transport and it should not take so long for someone to travel from, say, Quezon City to Clark. Meanwhile, a rail link has taken so much time in the planning (or procrastinating?) stage that it seems more and more that the Northrail will never become a reality in the foreseeable future.

Two other options have been put forward recently, one by a major corporation that has now expanded its portfolio to include infrastructure, particularly on transportation, and another by a consortium that has developed reclaimed areas along Manila Bay. The head executive of the San Miguel Corporation, which now controls Philippine Airlines, announced plans to build their own airport, initially likely to be somewhere in the province of Bulacan, which is just north of Metro Manila and a shorter distance away compared to Pampanga, which hosts Clark. No details were given making a lot of interested parties including airport aficionados think about which areas in Bulacan are viable and spacious enough to host an airport of international standards. More recent is the idea for the development of the Sangley Point airport that will require reclamation and still another airport link towards the reclaimed areas that include PAGCOR City and the SM MOA. This last proposal seems to be morphing into something that San Miguel is said to be considering based on at least one report that came out today. I think the bottomline here, which ever option is taken, is that we need to have a modern airport that will be able to handle current and projected passengers and freight given our aspirations for commerce and tourism plus the fact that more and more Filipinos are traveling given the OFWs abroad. Decisions will have to be made and government should have a say here considering it is a major piece of infrastructure being considered. One opinion is that we simply cannot rely on the private sector to decide on this and such decisions need to be guided based on the public interest and good.

Overnight parking at NAIA

The main terminals of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) each have overnight parking facilities. These are all open lots located near the terminals and have roving personnel on motorcycles for security. The overnight parking spaces for Terminals 1 and 2 are located a bit of a walk away from the terminal buildings but are generally spacious and do not reach their full capacities.

Terminal 1’s overnight parking is located on the lot to the right as travelers drive through the security check for vehicles. Terminal 2’s overnight facility is near the old Nayong Pilipino gate and appears to be the combined parking lots of the now-closed theme park and the also closed Philippine Village Hotel. Terminal 3’s overnight parking spaces are generally spread out with most along the service road or driveway that leads to its still closed multi-level parking facility. Other spaces made available for overnight parking are those near the entrance to Terminal 3.

I haven’t tried overnight parking at T1 and T2 but I recently availed of overnight parking at T3. Following are a couple of photos to describe overnight parking at T3, followed by a few tips on how to get a slot in what is always a full area.

Overnight parking spaces are along the service road on the right that ultimately leads to a ramp access to the still closed multi-level parking facility at Terminal 3. There is a sign that states overnight parking is full. Ask for assistance from the security staff to find a slot.

The service road leads to a ramp (visible at the center of the photo) to the closed multi-level parking (also visible on the right of the photo) of Terminal 3.

A tip for those wanting to park their cars for a night or more at Terminal 3: ask nicely for assistance from the security guard at the entrance to the parking lot. They will help you find an open space somewhere (trust me, it’s quite a challenge) in what is always a full overnight parking area. Show your gratitude by tipping. It’s definitely worth it and they’ll probably even check your car to return the favor. And yes… overnight parking fees are quite cheap at 50 pesos (about 1.15 USD) per night.