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A brief history of transport strikes – Part 3: advocacy and bandwagon
You see a lot of posts on social media stating people supporting the current transport strike. There are cartoons and memes that dramatize if not romanticize the plight of drivers. One cartoon I saw has a girl asking her driver-father if he will join the strike. The father replies he is unsure as they won’t have any income to cover their needs. One panel shows the driver’s cash box with graduation photos of what appear to be his other children. Of course, this suggests that the jeepney driver was able to support his children in their education while also suggesting about the uncertainties for the other child (who is in the comic). The comic obviously appeals to the emotions of the reader. It is a fallacy but one that is very close to and appeals to the psyche of the Filipino.
Another cartoon appears to be comparing modernization with replacing office computers. It states that the government’s modernization program is like an office requiring its employees to replace their old notebooks with high end ones. Only, the office is not paying for the new units and will have these charged to the employees’ salaries. I thought that was an oversimplification. Jeepneys are public utility vehicles and not private. There are rules and regulations governing PUV acquisition, franchising and operations, unlike your typical office computer.
I think we should draw the line between advocacy and simply jumping onto the bandwagon that is supporting a transport strike without knowing and understanding the details about it. Otherwise, we end up giving unconditional support to what others will refer to as a backward public transportation system. There are always two sides to a coin and while there are good stories about the jeepney and how it has supported many families, there are also bad ones that have allowed them to remain practically unchanged over so many decades. The same applies to the opposition – those who call for a phase-out or outright modernization without understanding the terms given to drivers and operators and the overall context and situation regarding the modernization program. It is easy to take sides. The question is if you are aware and understand the details about the issues here.
Comments, replies and trash
I’ve noticed that I’ve been receiving a number of comments on old posts on railways and active transport that seem to lean on the conspiracy theory or fake news types. While I find these amusing, I generally don’t want to engage in the form of a reply that will publish the comment on my blog. These will end up in the trash bin along with the obvious spam. If you continue to read my blog and see that your comment was not published, think again and check if your comment was factual or based on strong evidence rather than hearsay or urban legends.
Opinions on the current transportation situation?
Some people were asking me about what I thought about certain issues and reports on transportation. To be honest, while I am involved in some projects including one on road safety, I have been busy (or swamped is probably a more suitable term) with administrative duties at the university. While I take a peek from time to time, as is my habit, to see what’s happening, I have much less time to really engage or get involved in discussions. Whereas before, I easily get myself into typing comments and engaging in some discussions about transport issues particularly in social media, I now quite easily turn away and let it be. There are, after all, a lot of people experts, pundits, advocates, even trolls who are “slugging it out” with their opinions on just about anything on transport.
While I am amused at many discussions or posts, I now find myself not at all wanting to get involved unlike before. I think perhaps I have done my part and continue to do so in ways and avenues where I am more effective and where my time and effort is not wasted and more appreciated. I have never been the loud person in a room and have always tried to have my work speak for myself.
The indifference is the product of many factors and circumstances including becoming tired of doing interviews with conventional media. Nowadays especially, when media seems engrossed on having content by the minute; never mind the substance. Basta may ma-report or ma-post (As long as their is something to report or post).
Well, here’s a few thoughts about what seem to be trending these days:
- There is still a lack of public transportation supply considering the increasing demand (more people are back to their workplaces and schools are already reopening!). Government agencies still seem to be clueless or perhaps just want to push the original rationalization and modernization programs despite the pandemic changing the game for commuting demand. Due to the lack of public transport, more people are taking to private vehicles but certain observers apparently see only cars (which they automatically equate to ‘private vehicles’). Motorcycles are also increasing in numbers and allowing motorcycle taxis will mean people will turn to these for commuting/transport needs.
- Cable cars won’t solve Metro Manila transport or traffic woes. Even if one will consider where they will fit or may be suitable, this is still a band aid solution considering all the solutions including the ones that are obvious or staring us in our faces (yes, allow the conventional jeepneys and buses back for now) that are available but government stubbornly rejects. As for the senator who broached the idea, I think he did so mainly for media mileage (and the mainstream media quickly snapped it up!) – para mapag-usapan. As they say – it’s so showbiz!
- I still believe that the experiences from the pandemic strongly provide us with the evidence to support a continuation and sustaining work-from-home or remote work set-ups. This actually ‘solved’ traffic during the heights of the pandemic and yet we choose to revert to the old normal set-up. People are languishing, suffering as they spend long travel times in their commutes. These are unproductive time that people could have spent more efficiently and productively (not to mention more meaningful) at home.
- I support children going back to school but not for 100% of their times. We definitely know that a 100% study-at-home set-up is not for everyone and the last two years have affected our children including their need for face-to-face interaction with other children (classmates) and adults (teachers). Still, we can have a blended set-up where perhaps we can have children come to school 2 to 3 days in a week rather than the old normal of 5 to 6 (even 7 in some schools) days. Other tasks and learning activities can be done effectively at home. This also could help ease traffic and travel demand especially in urbanized areas.
More opinions in future posts!
On current health protocols applied to public transport
The current surge of infections attributed to the Delta variant of Covid-19 has been alarming. The recent quarantine issuances by national government have not been effective as there was basically lax enforcement or implementation. Granted, there were just a lot of loopholes designed to allow so-called “economic frontliners” to go to work and under conditions that made their commutes risky in the context of the pandemic. The same laxity and loopholes apply too, to people who have no business roaming around and yet travel with their motor vehicles (especially motorcycles) and bicycles across cities, towns and provinces in the guise of exercise or essential travel.
Meanwhile, the practice and enforcement of public health protocols in the country has been lax and misguided (e.g., do we really need to wear face shields?). In public utility vehicles, people are now crowding inside with usually only a sheet of plastic separating one from another. This is not exactly reassuring in as far as spreading the virus is concerned. And we shouldn’t pretend that we are not aware that there are asymptomatic people going around and infecting others whether knowingly or not. It’s no wonder, really, why people who have the private vehicle or active transport option use these instead of public transport.
Much has been said about government failing to address the Covid-19 pandemic from the start. And it continues to bumble through this health crisis (if you don’t want to call it one then either you don’t understand the gravity of the problem or just refuse to do so – the latter is worse). Tagging workers as ‘economic frontliners’ is probably at least as bad as calling BPO workers ‘Bagong bayani’, adding them to the Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) who had been branded as so in the past. This becomes a convenient excuse to ease health-related restrictions for people to travel/commute to work. It is a form of gaslighting the very same workers to believe they need to go out and work. Meanwhile, precious funds are being diverted elsewhere including the dolomite beach at Manila Bay and money spirited away in preparation for next year’s elections.
I got it from recent surveys that people give a higher priority to employment and earning income over Covid-19. Perhaps most have not had direct experiences with the frightening cases of Covid-19 (i.e., they’re asymptomatic or have encountered only asymptomatic cases with friends and families). I hate to say it but it seems like the same thinking pertaining to extra judicial killings (EJK). I can already imagine hearing the usual comments: “Malayo sa bituka.” “Wala akong pakialam diyan.” “Okay lang yan. Hindi naman kami apektado niyan.” These comments reflect an absence of empathy. Empathy I think is very much needed today in order for people to understand what’s going about. And that’s not just about us but businesses as well that definitely, likely lost a lot during this pandemic but still need to empathize if not call out those who are really responsible about the mess we are in. Do your employees really need to go to the office? Or can they continue working from home? The answer to these questions affect commuting in the time of Covid-19 and relates strongly to the protocols applied to public transport.
So what’s the role of academe in transport development again?
I was in a meeting that started off well enough but was accentuated and concluded on sour notes. It was where 2 governmentt officials basically berated and ridiculed us representing academe. Dinaan lang kunyari sa mapalamuting pananalita nila. Well, no matter how you twist your words, we could still decode their meaning. I guess that goes with years of experience listening to all kinds of talk from government officials, politicians, people in private sector, consultants, faculty members, researchers and yes, students. You know bullshit even if its hiding behind a bunch of flowers.
I think the idea of certain government officials about the role of academe in development is to essentially be rubber stamps of the administration. Those who offer criticisms or disagree with plans, policies or parts of these are often branded as “bad apples”. Bawal kumontra. I guess that comes from people who are basically insecure with their work or outputs? Or perhaps they are just worried about their standing and image considering the very political environment they are working in. I could not use the word ‘validate’ to describe the expectation from academe from the government officials in that meeting since the process of validation may end up either positive or negative (thereby invalidating something such as a plan or a policy).
There will always be newer tools and newer models. I remember the times when JICA STRADA was supposed to be the state-of-the-art travel demand forecasting software. It was easily overtaken by the like of CUBE and Vissum. Even its simulator was not at par with VISSIM, Dynasim and a host of other micro-simulation software packages that were more user friendly. Better tools allow for better models, but also only if you do your part in collecting the data required for calibration and validation and formulate sound assumptions. As they say, garbage in, garbage out. No matter how sophisticated your computer models seem to be, they are nothing if your assumptions and data are rubbish. As Howard Stark states in his recorded message to Tony, “I am limited by the technology of my time. But one day, you’ll figure this out.” And not only will there be newer tools and models, there will also be newer methods including those that allow for more sophisticated data collection.
Plan formulation and acceptance are not as simple as 1+1 as one official used as an example. It’s actually more complicated than that. Plans don’t and should not be described in absolutes but should be dynamic or evolving since the future is also uncertain and there are so many factors in play that cannot be all represented or modeled. And no, we’re not going to toe the line nor will we tell other academics to do so. In fact we will continue to be outspoken because that is part of how it is to be objective, and to be encouraging of critical thinking. It is the latter that needs to be instilled in many government agencies where people tend to forget about it likely for convenience as well as to conform with the political atmosphere.
The presence of respected Japanese professors in the meeting and their likely role in convincing JICA to convene an experts’ panel meeting. The meeting was with certain academics representing schools that were not initially engaged by government. JICA’s nod is recognition enough of the accomplishments and reputation of those of us who were invited to the meeting. Unfortunately, their expertise are not appreciated by their own government but that seems to be the consistent policy for the current administration that rewards those who toe the line while shunning those who are more objective and critical.
Culturally though, I am not surprised of the proceedings because we don’t have the same reverence for academe as they have in Japan or other countries where academics are regularly called upon to provide insights to address problems such as those pertaining to transportation. That is why they have strong advisory councils in those countries. And in the case of the US, for example, their National Academies have contributed much to transport development. I have experienced something similar from a top government official before regarding traffic management and policies in Metro Manila. Whether that set-up in the US and Japan can be realized here remains to be seen.
Is there really a transport or traffic crisis in Metro Manila?
I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.
“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.
And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:
- Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
- It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
- People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
- People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
- Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.
To be continued…
[Caution: This is an opinion post. Skip it if you don’t like my views on politics.]
I am often asked about my political affiliations. People who ask this are usually those who don’t know me (hindi kami ‘close’) and base this likely from my recent posts on social media or perhaps interviews I have granted to print and mass media. I cannot really say I am for any one particular party or group but definitely detest certain persons and politicians who have been proven to be corrupt or associate themselves with the former. But that doesn’t mean I won’t work with them. After all, whoever is in power and wields it should be engaged at least for some good to come out of the engagement. We can cast our votes in elections but we have no control of who will win (by hook or by crook?) and who gets appointed by the winners to decision- and policy-making posts in government agencies.
No, this is not a case of selling out. I am very much aware of the saying the “everyone has his/her price.” I know I have mine and so avoid situations where I have to deal with someone or some entity that will probably lead to my corruption. Principles-wise, I would like to believe that I have so far been successful in getting out of potentially sticky situations including getting appointed to so-called sensitive posts. And so I do what I can to try to contribute to alleviating transport and traffic problems including providing what I regard as constructive criticism of agencies as well as people who are supposed to be working for improving transportation in this country. Problem is, some people cannot take criticism in whatever form and misinterpret this as what they term as “opposing progress” or being “resistant to change”.
Let it be clear that I am not ‘dilawan’, ‘pulahan‘ or whatever color it is that’s supposed to represent politicians, political groups or parties. My colours are those of the Philippine flag and what it represents, which is the interest of the Filipinos. I am not ‘bayaran‘ nor would I want to be one. I am indebted to the Filipino people for my education and for my primary income (I am employed by the government.), and not to any particular persons or political groups.
On lack of funding for government institutions
The recent brouhaha over a popular (some may say infamous) media personality’s criticism of the Philippine General Hospital’s (PGH) Emergency Room (ER) and its protocols bring to mind the state of that hospital’s resources especially as it is expected to cater to the needs of so many (too many perhaps?) people. The PGH is arguably the premier government hospital and is also a teaching one with the University of the Philippines Manila’s students in their Colleges of Medicine and Allied Medical Professions providing a significant part of the manpower for the hospital. The PGH like many other institutions like it lacks the funding it needs to provide the services expected of it. The millions it received as part of the UP budget is not just for patients but also covers salaries and operating costs for the hospital. And yet it is able to deliver much more than what it is given in terms of resources.
I suddenly recall the many occasions when the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) was called upon by national agencies and both legislative houses to comment on national and local transportation issues. In many cases, the Center was asked if it can develop models and other tools to aid agencies and congress in decision-making. The Center’s response has always been positive but with the condition for it to be given the resources it needs to do the tasks expected of it. It is not possible to come up with detailed, realistic transport simulation models for cities, for example, without the sophisticated, industry-grade software and the data required to calibrate it. The agencies and congress can only promise to provide the necessary resources and so far we these have yet to translate into something tangible.
So I find it sad for people to be bashing the hospital and others like it for what they think is poor performance for such institutions. Private hospitals like St. Luke’s and Medical City, mind you, deliver similar services but for many times the cost. You expect hotel-grade rooms and atmosphere, then you should expect to pay for those. You expect a world class research centre, you need to provide for its resources including funding for research. Lip service or “laway” doesn’t give you much in terms of the desired outcomes. Mabuti pa yung micro-satellite malaki ang pondo! And with all due respect to my friends who are involved in that program, they have shown what full funding support can do in terms of accomplishments.
The need for speed (limits)?
My social media newsfeed regularly contains updates being posted by various entities about transport and traffic in Metro Manila and across the Philippines. Among those I regularly see are posts on road safety and interesting to me are the frequent posts on legislating speed limits at the local level. These are in the form of city or municipal ordinances that are supposed to strengthen, supplement and/or clarify speed limits that are actually already stated in the road design guidelines of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). These limits apply not only to national roads but to local ones as well. However, their effectiveness may be limited or reduced by the absence or lack of signs, markings and, most importantly, traffic law enforcers who are supposed to monitor traffic and apprehend those violating rules and regulations.
While there is a need for defining and clarifying speed limits perhaps in the form of local legislation, I believe the more urgent matter is the implementation and enforcement of laws. It has often been mentioned that we already have so many laws, rules, regulations and the truth is we do, and may not need more. One really has to go back to the basics in terms of enforcing these laws and that means enforcers need the knowledge and tools to be effective in their work. There is an opinion that many enforcers are not knowledgeable about many rules and regulations and therefore are prone to just focus on a few including violations of the number coding scheme, truck bans and the much maligned “swerving”. You do not often seen apprehensions for beating the red light, beating the green light (yes, there is such a violation), speeding, or “counter-flowing” (or using the opposing lane to get ahead of traffic in the correct lanes). There are also turning violations as well as those involving vehicle (busted tail lights, busted headlights, busted signal lights, obscured license plates, etc.). More recently, there are anti-drunk-driving laws that also urgently need proper implementation.
I think the current work that includes sidewalk clearing operations and anti-illegal on street parking of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is one good example of going back to the basics. These address the necessity of clearing space for both pedestrians and vehicles; space that have been constrained by obstacles that should not be there in the first place but so often have gotten the blind eye treatment. Going to the “next level” though requires tools such as speed guns, high speed cameras at intersections, and instruments for measuring blood alcohol levels in the field (breath analyzers). And these require resources for acquisitions as well as capability building in the form of training personnel to handle equipment. No, I don’t think we need more laws, rules and regulations. What we urgently if not direly need is their proper implementation to effect behavior change that will improve both safety and the flow of traffic.
A new transport planning process?
December’s already “Chrismassy” in our part of the world and so in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, here is another article I am sharing:
Polzin, S. (2017) “All I Want for Christmas is a New Transport Planning Process,” Planetizen.com, https://www.planetizen.com/node/96036?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-12042017&mc_cid=e64f0c0c60&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 (Last accessed: 12/6/2017)
In school, we’ve been taught and are still teaching many of the old concepts of transportation planning. I believe these are still important and relevant especially since the fundamentals, or the basics if I may say, are still needed in many situations around the country (i.e., the Philippines). The article above is relevant to our case because it helps build awareness of what is now being discussed and what the future will bring to us. That future for transport is not necessarily immediate although there are already pressures coming from various sectors and technology has been key to the disruptions and the leapfrogging we are experiencing. I like what a friend opines overtime he gets the chance. That is, that the technology-push is not the solution to a lot of our problems because we cannot ignore the basic deficiencies in our transportation system that technology alone cannot overcome.