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Free public transportation services?
We start August with an article share. Much has been said and written about public transportation being a basic right for people. And the experiences during this Covid-19 pandemic have shown us just how efficient and adequate public transportation can help make our lives better in terms of addressing our commuting or travel needs. Here is a very informative article that should make sense from the perspective of the general commuting public:
Konbie, N. (July 29, 2022) “The Case for Making Public Transit Free Everywhere,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/free-public-transit/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_content=WIR_Daily_072922&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_072922&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=P7 [Last accessed: 8/1/2022]
“Free fares might not get everyone out of cars, but will convert some journeys, which benefits everyone in terms of carbon reduction and improving local air quality—and even helps drivers by calming traffic. Free fares won’t pull low-income people out of poverty, but will keep money in their pockets and ensure everyone can travel when they need to. Ditching fares comes at a cost, but there are savings to be had by not investing in expensive ticketing systems and wider logistical and societal benefits…
Public transport should be considered a human right, alongside access to health and education.”
Of course, service quality is a major concern here in the Philippines but isn’t it everywhere else? The question of sustainability should be a rather complex one considering we haven’t truly understood and translated the benefits that can be obtained from providing high quality public transport services vs. being car-oriented. Congestion pricing, for example, could very well provide the funds to improve, upgrade and maintain desirable public transport services (i.e., desirable from the perspective of most commuters and not just the lower and middle income people who more regularly or likely to take public transport than other modes of transport).
What do you think?
What are closed and what are open – NAIA Terminal 3 arrival
I previously wrote about what shops and restaurants were open or closed at NAIA Terminal 3. This time, I am sharing photos of the arrival level of T3.
Exiting the baggage claim area, we come upon what looks like the same scenes at the arrival level before the pandemic – lots of people walking around, shops and banks/money changers open for business.
The crowd density was not really the same as pre-pandemic levels but perhaps this was also because we arrived during a relatively off-peak period in airport operations. There were no international flights that arrived at about the same time we landed. Otherwise, there will be a lot of well-wishers or people fetching (“sundo”) arriving passengers.
The exchange rate when we arrived hovered just above 56 pesos : 1 USD.
Most people are wearing masks, which is a good thing considering we are not yet over with the Covid-19 pandemic. I can only imagine how it was when the airports were just reopening and people were also required to wear face shields. And only those who were really traveling were allowed in the terminal.
Most shops and restaurants at the arrival level were open and many people who were mostly waiting for arriving passengers were there to have a meal or snacks.
Walking towards the covered parking areas of Terminal 3, we see familiar fast-food Jollibee and Chowking with their typical patrons/customers.
Still closed is the large Duty Free Philippines shop at the arrival level of T3.
Inflight snacks in the time of Covid-19
Inflight, there wasn’t really much difference pre-Covid-19 and now (not yet post-Covid-19) except perhaps that the flight attendants were wearing PPEs and masks. We were on full flights both outbound and inbound of Manila and the airport terminals were also already crowded. We flew on Philippine Airlines so there was no food and drinks for sale on the flight. But they did distribute some snacks and drinks to passengers.
|Butter cookies and water were our inflight snacks for the MNL-TAG flight. For drinks you actually can opt for coffee or tea.|
|The cookies were by Figaro and not from some obscure manufacturer.|
|We had green peas and water on the TAG-MNL flight.|
|Nutrition information at the back of the pack.|
I assume that longer flights on board full service airlines like Singapore Airlines or Japan Airlines would have modified their inflight meals service in light of Covid-19. We are hopeful that we can soon travel overseas to again enjoy the attractions in other countries.
On the increase of road crash fatalities during the pandemic
The general observation has been that roads have become less safe as drivers and riders have tended to speed up their vehicles during this pandemic. Speeding up apparently is just part of a bigger picture and even bigger concern considering what is perhaps also an issue related to mental health. We’ve read, heard or watched something about people’s transformation once they are behind the wheel or riding their motorcycles. I remember a Disney cartoon showing how Goofy transforms from being mild-mannered to somewhat demonic once behind the wheel of the car. The article below reinforces that and relates this behavior with the pandemic.
To quote from the article:
Art Markman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said that such emotions partly reflected “two years of having to stop ourselves from doing things that we’d like to do.”
“We’re all a bit at the end of our rope on things,” Dr. Markman said. “When you get angry in the car, it generates energy — and how do you dissipate that energy? Well, one way is to put your foot down a little bit more on the accelerator.”
Back to the old normal?
As traffic continues to worsen after, The MMDA has reinstated the number coding scheme albeit from 5:00 to 8:00 PM on weekdays for now. This is in recognition of the worsening traffic congestion brought about by people returning to their workplaces and the easing of travel restrictions across the entire population. People are now moving about as can be seen in transport terminals and commercial areas (e.g., shopping malls, markets, etc.). With the return of severe traffic congestion, it begs the question whether we are back to the ‘old normal’.
I thought the photo above pretty much describes how it was before Covid-19. The problem is that this photo was taken earlier today and we are still technically in a pandemic. Does the photo show the people’s renewed confidence in using public transportation? Or is it a matter of necessity (i.e., commuters having no choice but to risk it in order to get to their workplaces or home)? If they had motorcycles, these people would likely use them instead of taking the jeepney. I will also dare ask why don’t they bike instead? They seem able bodied enough to try cycling instead. Is it because their commuting distances are long? Or are there other reasons that evade us? If these are the same reasons and Covid-19 is not a major factor for their choice, then perhaps we are back to the ‘old normal’ and have not progressed significantly despite claims by various groups that we are experiencing a paradigm shift in favor of active transport. All the more that we need to urgently revisit and reassess how transport should be in order for us to transition to a more sustainable future.
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.
On airline travel in the time of Covid-19
I haven’t been on a plane since February 2020. That is almost one year next month. I have friends though who have traveled by air recently. They had to follow certain protocols before departing and upon arrival at their destination. These include testing for the virus and observing quarantine especially upon their return to Metro Manila and prior to returning to their respective homes. Fortunately, all have been testing negative for Covid-19 and were able to come home safely.
Here is an interesting article on air travel, particularly how airlines and airports are handling passengers during this time when processes need to consider the prospects of getting infected by Covid-19:
Marshall, A. (January 21, 2021) “The Art and Science of Boarding an Airplane in a Pandemic,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/art-science-boarding-airplane-pandemic/ [Last accessed: 1/26/2021]
I am anxious about being required to travel for a project we are currently doing for a major city in Mindanao. While our clients have been very understanding about our health concerns, it might be inevitable for some of us in the project team to travel by March 2021 to present the findings and recommendations of our study. I will continue to update myself about travel guidelines in preparation for that likely travel.
This seems like a non-transport post but it is, actually. Since the start of the pandemic, one of the biggest concerns have been the so-called super-spreaders. These are people who are usually asymptomatic of the COVID-19 virus and as such have been going around seemingly oblivious to their impacts on other people who may not be as resistant (somehow) as they are. These people might not be aware of their being carriers of COVID-19 and yet exercise little or no restraint or care in their movements.
Cox, C. [November 10, 2020] “The Vulnerable Can Wait. Vaccinate the Super-Spreaders First,” Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/covid-19-vaccine-super-spreaders/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_SPECIAL_EDITION_COVER_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_111020_Special_Cover&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=WIR_Daily_EXCLUDE_PaywallSubs
One wonders how many super-spreaders are there among us in the Philippines considering many people have practically disregarded other people’s safety vs. COVID-19 by moving about without necessity and application of best practices like distancing and the use of masks and shields.
The return of the conventional jeepneys during GCQ and MGCQ
I spotted more jeepneys along my commuting route yesterday and took photos while we were stopped in traffic (yes, roads are again congested as they were before the lockdowns). Here are the photos showing the barriers required for the vehicles to be allowed to operate. Most jeepneys also have signs at the doorway vs. passengers not wearing face masks and shields. These are required for public transport users, and drivers have to reject people not wearing masks and shields.
Plastic sheets dividing the seating spaces and serving as physical barriers between passengers
Plastic sheets attached to wood frames on this jeepney
Another example of plastic sheets defining the passenger spaces.
Some jeepney seat barrier configurations seem more sturdy or offer more physical separation or protection from others. I have seen versions with metal (wire) and wood frames. And then there are the customized “trapal” types similar to the window covers that are folded for air to flow in the jeepneys and unfolded when it is raining. Instead of passengers being one seat apart though, they are practically beside each other with only sheets of plastic dividing them. For precautions sake, this does not seem to be the recommendation of the medical community. While the open windows allow for better ventilation and air flow compared to the closed, aircon vehicles, the physical distancing is not practiced as it should be, with or without the face masks and shields required when riding public transport. This may pose a problem considering we are not over the hump, so to speak, in as far as COVID-19 infections are concerned.
On bike shares and the pandemic
We begin August 2020 with another article I want to share. Here is another article on cycling, this time on bike share:
Kanik, A. (2020) “The decisions cities made about coronavirus had a big impact on bikeshare ridership,” citymetric.com, https://www.citymetric.com/transport/decisions-cities-made-about-coronavirus-had-big-impact-bike-share-ridership-5218[Last accessed: 7/29/2020]
Our university’s bike share program currently dedicated their bikes for the use of frontliners. Outside UP Diliman, only the City of Pasig has a bike share program. Is it somewhat surprising that these are the only bike shares we know in the country? It should be, considering the potential of bike shares and cycling as a mode of transport for mobility. In fact, two cities, Marikina and Iloilo, which pride themselves having formal bikeways (Marikina even has an extensive bikeway network that began 20 years ago.) have no bike share programs. Is the concept or perhaps the lack of facilities to encourage people to bike safely that is absent and therefore need to be provided? With the surge of bike users post-lockdown, there should be evidence that bike shares can work but only if cities work on it, too.
File photo of Iloilo City’s bikeway along the Benigno Aquino Jr. Ave. (formerly Diversion Road) taken in 2015.