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Article on housing affordability and sprawl

There is a new article from Todd Litman that discusses the state of housing in the context of affordability and sprawl. While this is mainly based on the experiences in the US and Canada, there are many other cities from other countries involved. I noticed an interesting comment on his Facebook post about the elephant in the room being culture. I would tend to agree with this view and in the case of the Philippines is perhaps also heavily influenced by our being under a repressive Spanish regime that was succeeded by an American-style. I say repressive because although there was a semblance of planning during the Spanish period, the urban form revolved around the plaza where church, government, market and schools were located. Social class defined residential ‘development’ also followed this with the wealthier families having homes closer to the center while those in the lower income classes where farther and perhaps even beyond the reach of the sound of church bells. The Americans changed much of that and introduced a larger middle class and the incentive of becoming home and land owners, which during the Spanish period was practically non-existent except perhaps to the buena familias and ilustrados. Fast forward to the present, being a land owner is still very much a status symbol along with being a car owner. Homes in the urban centers (e.g., Makati CBD, Ortigas CBD, BGC, etc.) are very expensive and people would rather reside in the periphery (thus the sprawl) and do their long commutes.

Here is a  link to the article:

Unaffordability is a Problem but Sprawl is a Terrible Solution

[Litman, T. (2017) Unaffordability is a problem but sprawl is a terrible solution, Planetizen, Retrieved from http://www.planetizen.com, February 17.]

What do you think?

Emergency powers to solve PH transport problems? – A long list of projects

I am sharing the long list of projects submitted by the Department of Transportation (DoTr) to the Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Sen. Grace Poe. This is a public document and I think should be circulated for transparency and so people will know what projects are proposed to be covered

List of sectoral projects that the Department of Transportation intends to implement and draft bill for emergency powers: dotr-list-of-projects-and-draft-bill

I leave it up to my readers to determine which among the projects listed really require emergency powers. Many I think do not require emergency powers especially since the period requested for such powers is 2 years and not the duration of the current administration’s term. Perhaps those requiring emergency powers would be programs and projects aiming to overhaul our public transport system, which is currently much dependent on road-based modes. Public transportation services do not follow the suitable hierarchy as seen along major corridors served by low capacity modes. An overhaul (i.e., rationalisation) will touch the very sensitive nerves of bus, jeepney, UV express and tricycle operators and drivers and could trigger an avalanche of TROs to prevent or discourage government from doing what should have been done decades ago to bring order to our chaotic transport. I believe emergency powers coupled with the current admin’s political capital (and the “action man” image of Pres. Duterte) can help bring about genuine reform (and change!) to transport in our cities.

Emergence of motorcycle taxis in Metro Manila and other cities

Motorcycle taxis operate in many Asian cities. In Southeast Asia, in particular, there are formal and legal motorcycle taxi services in cities like Bangkok and Jakarta. These motorcycle taxis are called “habal-habal” in many parts of the Philippines and are accepted modes of public transport particularly in rural areas where roads are not the same quality as those in urban areas. Motorcycles and motor tricycles are the most preferred modes of transport and their characteristics are usually most suitable for such roads.

In Metro Manila, there are motorcycle taxis operating in many locations including Bonifacio Global City, Eastwood City and White Plains. These are basically discrete operations and providers are low key so as not to attract the attention of authorities. Services though are worst kept secrets considering they have a steady clientele. In Pasig City, and I assume other Metro Manila cities as well, there are ‘formal’ habal-habal terminals. I took a photo of one in a low income residential area that was designated as a relocation site for many informal settlers around the metropolis.

IMG_0668Habal-habal terminal in Pasig City near the Napindan Channel where the Pasig River meets Laguna de Bay

A friend at the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (CCTO or CITOM) told us that there is a growing number of motorcycle riders offering transport services in their city. These are illegal but are being tolerated in many cases due to the growing demand for their services particularly during unholy hours late at night or in the early morning. I also saw many of these operating in Tacloban and even crossing the San Juanico Bridge to Samar Island from Leyte.

There are also many habal-habal in tourism areas including in island resorts where there is a lack of formal public transport services. This mode is a necessity and so far, there are only rare reports of these vehicles and their riders being involved in road crashes. This is the case despite their being perceived as unsafe modes of transport. I guess they will continue to be popular in rural areas and will quickly become popular should they be mainstreamed in urban areas just like their counterparts in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, the demand is already there and just waiting to be tapped given the horrendous traffic jams that will drive people towards modes they think can allow them to escape traffic congestion.

Manila’s jeepney experiment

A few months ago, and almost right after the local elections, the City of Manila embarked on a campaign to reduce the number of colorum or illegal buses plying along the streets of the city. The result was confusion and mayhem as commuters and authorities were unprepared to deal with the sudden decrease in the number of buses (some companies even restrained all of their buses from entering Manila to protest the city’ move) and the jeepneys and UV express couldn’t handle the demand. Much of that seems to have been resolved and buses are now back in Manila; although whether all these buses are legal ones is still unclear. The city, it seems to some quarters, was only after buses with no formal terminals in the city and appeared to have made the drive to show bus companies who’s in-charge there.

Now comes a drive against jeepney drivers, particularly those undisciplined ones that are often found violating traffic rules and regulations, and endangering their passengers with their brand of driving. The result was a one-day strike (tigil pasada) of jeepneys belonging to the Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Associations in the Philippines (FEJODAP), one of several organized jeepney groups in the country. Others like operators and drivers from Pasang Masda, PISTON and ACTO, opted not to join the transport strike. The result was a transport protest that had little impact on most people’s commutes though the group did manage to attract media attention and gave interviews to whoever cared to listen.

Not to judge Manila as I believe it has made huge strides by confronting the many urgent issues in transport in the city. Not many cities take these problems head on as Manila has done this year. However, the jury is still out there if their efforts have been effective and if these will be sustainable and not the ningas cogon kind that we have seen so much of in the past. For definitely, there are a lot of other transport issues that Manila needs to contend with including how to make the city more walkable and bicycle-friendly (not an easy task!) and how to address the excessive number of pedicabs (non-motorized 3-wheelers) and kuligligs (motorized 3-wheelers using generator sets or pumpboat motors for power) in the city. Hopefully, again, the city will be up to the task of addressing these problems along with the persistent congestion along its roads.

Tricycles in the Philippines – Part 1

We start the “ber” months strong with an initial feature on an ubiquitous mode of transport in the Philippines. While the jeepney seems to have had most of the attention when the subject of public transport in the Philippines is discussed, the truth is that there is arguably another, more dominant mode of public transport in the country. These are the tricycles, a motorized three-wheeler consisting of a motorcycle and a sidecar. You see these everywhere around the country in most cities and municipalities where they thrive particularly in residential areas. They are usually the only mode of public transport for most people in rural areas where local roads are typically narrow. In many cases the only roads connecting communities may be national roads. And so, there is really no other choice for tricycles but to travel along national roads and against existing laws prohibiting tricycles from these roads.

IMG06146-20130606-1556Tricycle along the motorcycle lane of Circumferential Road 5

IMG02491-20120511-0949Tricycles racing along the Olongapo-Castillejos Road in Zambales

IMG_5783Tricycle along Romulo Highway, Tarlac

catolico-gaisanoTricycles along Catolico Avenue in Gen. Santos City

Unlike buses and jeepneys, tricycles are not regulated under the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Instead, they are under the local government units that through one office or another issue the equivalent of franchises for tricycles to operate legally. Fares are quite variable but are usually according to distance though there are special rates for when passengers want to have the vehicle for themselves much like a taxi.

Unfortunately, few LGUs have the capacity to determine the optimum number of tricycles for service areas under their jurisdictions. As tricycle operations are often the source of livelihood for many, the granting of franchises is often seen as a way for mayors to have influence over people who would have “utang na loob” (debt of gratitude) for being granted franchises. The tendency, therefore, is to have too many tricycles as mayors try to accommodate more applicants who seem to have no other options to earn income or to invest in. This poses a challenge to many who want to reform the system and modernize or upgrade public transport in cities around the country.

Manila’s bus experiment

Manila recently banned provincial and city buses from entering the city stating this is because many of them do not have franchises and/or terminals in the city. Those without franchises are the ones labeled as “colorum” or illegally operating public transport vehicles, which really don’t have a right to convey people in the first place. It’s become difficult to catch them because many carry well-made falsified documents. But it’s not really an issue if the LTFRB, LTO and LGUs would just cooperate to apprehend these colorum drivers. The LTFRB and LTO are under the DOTC, and so the agency is also responsible for policies and guidelines to be followed by the two under it. LGUs (and the MMDA in the case of MM) are tasked with traffic enforcement and so they can apprehend vehicles and act on traffic violations including operating without a franchise.

Those without terminals are both city and provincial buses. For city buses, this can be because they  “turnaround” in Manila and operators do not feel the need to have a formal terminal. For example, G-Liner buses plying the Cainta-Quiapo route will stop at Quiapo only to unload Quiapo-bound passengers, and then switch signboards and proceed to load Cainta-bound passengers as they head back to Rizal. There is very little time spent as the bus makes the turnaround. It’s a different case for provincial buses, whose drivers should have the benefit of rest (same as their vehicles, which also need regularly maintenance checks) after driving long hours. Thus, if only for this reason they need to have formal, off-street terminals in the city. Following are photos I took near the Welcome Rotunda en route to a forum last Friday.

IMG06490-20130726-0752Commuters walking to cross the street at the Welcome Rotunda to transfer to jeepneys waiting for passengers to ferry to Manila.

IMG06491-20130726-0752Commuters and cyclists moving along the carriageway as there are no pedestrian or cycling facilities in front of a construction site at the corner of Espana and Mayon Ave.

IMG06492-20130726-0752Advisory for buses coming from Quezon City

IMG06493-20130726-0752 Commuters waiting for a jeepney ride along Espana just after the Welcome Rotunda

IMG06494-20130726-0755Some pedestrians opt to walk on instead of waiting for a ride. Manila used to be a walkable city but it is not one at present. Many streets have narrow sidewalks and many pedestrian facilities are obstructed by vendors and other obstacles.

So, is it really a move towards better transport systems and services in Manila or is it just a publicity stunt? If it is to send a message to public transport (not just bus) operators and drivers that they should clean up their acts and improve the services including practicing safe driving, then I’m all for it and I believe Manila should be supported and lauded for its efforts. Unfortunately, it is unclear if this is really the objective behind the resolution. Also, whether it is a resolution or an ordinance, it is a fact that the move violates the franchises granted to the buses. These franchises define their routes and specify the streets to be plied by buses. Many LGUs in the past have executed their traffic schemes and other measures intended to address traffic congestion, without engaging the LTFRB or at least ask for the agency’s guidance in re-routing public transport. Of course, the LTFRB is also partly to blame as they have not been pro-active in reviewing and optimizing PT routes.

One opinion made by a former government transport official is that this is just a ploy by the city to force bus companies to establish formal terminals in the city. This will require operators to secure permits, purchase or lease land and build terminals. And so that means revenues for the city and perhaps more traffic problems in the vicinity of the terminals just like what’s happening in Quezon City (Cubao) and Pasay City (Tramo).

Transport planning is a big part of the DOTC’s mandate and both the LTO (in charge of vehicle registration and driver’s licenses) and LTFRB (in charge of franchising of buses, jeepneys and taxis) look to the agency for guidelines and policy statements they are to implement. Meanwhile, LGUs have jurisdiction over paratransit like tricycles and pedicabs. In the case of Manila, these paratransit also include the “kuligligs,”  3-wheeler pedicabs that were fitted with engines and have been allowed (franchised?) by the city to provide transport services in many streets. Unfortunately, most LGUs do not have capacity nor capability for transport planning and so are limited or handicapped in the way they deal with transport (and traffic) issues in their jurisdictions. We have always maintained and promoted the stand that the DOTC should extend assistance and expertise to LGUs and the LGUs should also actively seek DOTC’s guidance in matters pertaining to transport. There needs to be constant communication between the national and local entities with cooperation leading to better, more suitable policies being formulated and implemented at the local level.

Enforceable?

Whenever laws and regulations are crafted, one basic question that needs to be considered pertains to whether there is capacity to enforce such laws or regulations. This is quite logical and appeals to common sense since laws and regulations are practically prints on paper that will not have any impacts if not enforced properly and fairly. I mention “fairly” here because laws and regulation may also be the subject of abusive enforcement. That is, there have been cases where motorists are flagged down and charged with violations that are taken out of the context given the traffic conditions, and where the number of apprehensions are related to quotas set by authorities.

Take the case of the unwarranted or illegal use of sirens (wangwang) in the past. There were laws and regulations for its use  but for a long time these laws and regulations were not enforced properly, leading to the wangwang’s abuse by many unscrupulous people. Almost everyone have practically given up on this abuse of the siren when a newly elected President expressed his dismay and ordered the eradication of illegal sirens. Almost overnight, “wangwangs” were confiscated by authorities inspired by the Commander-in-Chief’s orders or removed by owners themselves for fear of the law bearing down on them. This was enforcement at its best. Unfortunately, it was not replicated for other traffic laws and regulations, wasting valuable momentum and the opportunity to make things right along our streets and highways.

Quezon City’s Green Building Ordinance is quite good and well-meaning. It is very timely and relevant, and even includes provisions for upgrading transport in that city. Among others, it requires that tricycles be transformed into cleaner vehicles by stipulating the replacement of 2-stroke and even 4-stroke motorcycles with LPG or electric models. To date, nothing significant has been achieved to address issues pertaining to the tens of thousands of tricycles in Quezon City. The construction of green buildings in Quezon City cannot be mainly attributed to the ordinance but rather to owners and designers who are now much more aware of climate change and its impacts, and are progressive enough to design buildings that are environment-friendly. Of course, there are those who take to the “green” bandwagon but do nothing towards this end. Are these subject to evaluations and inspections that are the equivalent of enforcement?

Now comes a bicycle ordinance from Pasig City that is formally the “Bicycle Transportation Promotion Ordinance of 2011.” It is also good and well-meaning but the jury will definitely be out there if this initiative will be a successful and sustainable one. I am quite hopeful that it would be and not just end up as an example of coming up with laws because anything about the environment is in these days. The provision in the ordinance designating bicycle lanes and requiring establishments to provide bicycle racks for parking are all good but we have seen this before in an even bigger scale in the City of Marikina. There they constructed bikeways practically connecting all parts of the city and they were quite aggressive even after foreign support had ended. Politics and shortcomings (I wouldn’t say failure.) in encouraging people to cycle have made much of the on-street bicycle lanes practically taken over by motorized transport. Bicycle racks there are also being used by motorcycles and scooters. Pasig should learn from these experiences and it is hoped that the city succeed and become another example of EST to be replicated in other Philippine cities.