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Is the concept of induced demand a hard sell?
Here’s a quick share of an article on ‘induced demand’ particularly why it appears to be a hard sell:
Blumgart, J. (February 28, 2022) “Why the concept of induced demand is a hard sell,” Governing, https://www.governing.com/now/why-the-concept-of-induced-demand-is-a-hard-sell [Last accessed: 3/8/2022]
To quote from the article:
“Transportation experts say that the way to defeat induced demand, and actually ease traffic, would be to price roadways through tolls and congestion fees. But such alternatives are not popular. It’s hard to imagine running a political campaign on such a promise, as opposed to pledging an answer that looks free and easy… “Highway expansion is an attractive project regardless of your political orientation or what the state of the economy is,” says Thigpen. “There’s always a good argument for why we should be expanding highways. We need more jobs, or we need to unlock economic opportunity. There’s always a good political argument in favor of that.”
That last statement there relating highway or road expansion to politics is relevant everywhere. In our case in the Philippines, politicians are perceived to be very conservative and the type to use road projects as accomplishments. They are not as progressive as politicians abroad who may have the backgrounds and/or advocacies relating to sustainable transport to pursue the more difficult programs and projects needed improve the transport system. Instead, most are content with projects that they can put their name on and claim as hard accomplishments. Many of their constituents appear to agree. And agencies like the DPWH are only too happy to support this never-ending road construction and widening projects with the length of roads and the number of lanes added being their metrics for success. Of course, these (e.g., understanding and how to address induced demand, performance metrics, etc.) need to change if we really want to transform our transportation system towards something more efficient for everyone’s benefit.
Placeholders and inheritors
[Notice to the reader: This post is not directly about transport or traffic.]
I like one post circulating in social media that is attributed to former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. about the Vice President. I particularly like this part: “Did NOT choose to be a placeholder when her husband finished his term as Mayor in Naga.” If you do a scan of elected officials around the country, you can probably see how many if not most are held by political families. Even Marvel Comics recognizes this when they featured Filipino superheroes in an Iron Man series where the original team perished and was replaced by their children!
Placeholders are usually wives of politicians who have reached the maximum of their term limits. A mayor, for example, can only run for reelection twice for a total of 9 years continuously in power. After the nine years, he/she must step down to give way to a new mayor. Instead of honing someone competent from the other leaders in the local government (e.g., the vice mayor, a councilor, etc.). As they say, elective posts in the Philippines are family business and are often passed on to the next generation of what are termed as dynasties.
My most recent encounter with a “placeholder” was with the then Mayor of Tacloban City, Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez. She was on the second year of her term after she took over from her husband who was mayor for 3 terms (9 years). I must say that she had very competent staff and we thought they did their jobs well and for the benefit of many in Tacloban. And this was during the years immediately after the tragedy brought by Typhoon Yolanda (Ketsana).
Previous to that, we’ve also encountered or engaged with other local government units dominated by certain families. One town in Cebu even had the matriarch as mayor, the son as vice mayor and the uncles as councilors! The municipal hall had a portrait of the patriarch as a multiple term mayor in the recent past. You wonder if there were no other competent people in such towns and cities.
The next presidential elections will feature the son of a former dictator with the daughter of a current president as running mate. They are supported by other dynasties such those of two previous presidents including one who was been convicted of plunder but pardoned by his successor. He was allowed to run for president again despite the conviction as the Comelec failed to make a firm interpretation and stand vs. it. Now comes someone who believes he is entitled to the presidency despite also being convicted of tax evasion. While arguably a lighter crime, it is still a conviction and should mean he cannot run for the highest position in government. He’s also a fraud because he claims to have completed his education at a well known UK school when in truth he failed there. Would you trust a tax evader, fraud and one who does not admit guilt nor expresses regret or remorse for his family’s crimes with the presidency of the country? I certainly won’t and don’t!
What they are not saying about UTSMMA and Metro Manila’s first subway line
My social media feed is suddenly filled with shares of articles (the same PR text apparently) from the Department of Transportation, its Secretary and his fans and local rail aficionados about the progress of the Metro Manila Subway Project, which is dubbed as Metro Manila’s first subway line. While these posts start and appear as factual narratives, they are silent about certain facts that the writers conveniently did not include as part of their narrative. Perhaps it is because they are currently allied with the son of the dictator who decided vs. building what could have been the country’s first subway line and a game-changer for commuting in the metropolis.
UTSMMA or the Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area was completed in 1973 and was immediately followed by a Feasibility Study on the Manila Rapid Transit Rail Line No. 1 that was completed in 1976. Here’s a nice render of a subway station platform from that FS:
Two things that need to be said:
- Marcos decided against the subway line in favor of LRT Line 1 after being heavily influenced by a World Bank report and the succeeding MMETROPLAN (funded by the WB). It is also said that he wanted to have the bragging rights to the first mass transit line in Southeast Asia but Singapore’s first MRT line would finish ahead of Metro Manila’s if the Philippines pursued the subway. The latter was a late and fateful decision because commitment to the RTR Line 1 could have been made earlier and construction could have started ahead of Singapore’s (and likely finished ahead if there were no major delays).
- The corruption during the Marcos dictatorship led to succeeding administrations including the current being saddled by debt and unable to put up major transportation infrastructure such as a subway line for decades (this is already well documented so denial or refusal to understand is the burden of the denier – no logic or fact can can probably change such people’s views or beliefs) without piling up more debt.
That said, I would caution vs. delaying the subway project any further. It is already almost 40 years since a subway was due and though the alignment is totally different from what was planned in the 1970s, there’s potential here to revolutionize how people will commute in Metro Manila. It will only become more expensive to build in the future.
Article on people-oriented traffic management
Here’s a quick share on a topic that is also very relevant especially for local government units – traffic management. To quote from the article:
“Today, when the mobility of Filipinos is severely constrained by limited public transport capacity, …and when there is heightened pressure for private vehicle use, there is no better time to re-orient traffic management in the Philippines in order to prioritize inclusive, efficient and environmentally sustainable travel modes. The crucial ingredient is not infrastructure but political will.”
Siy, R.Y. (January 8, 2022) “People oriented traffic management,” Mobility Matters, The Manila Times, https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/01/08/business/top-business/people-oriented-traffic-management/1828593 [Last accessed: 1/8/2022]
The article makes perfect sense as traffic management in the country has always been car-oriented including the strategies, policies, schemes, measures and others that have focused on facilitating private car travel over active and public transport modes. The challenge here is how to bring this up front and an election issue at both national and local levels.
On leaders and decision-makers taking public transport or bikes to commute
There has been clamor for our leaders and decision-makers, especially those in the transport and highway agencies, to take public transportation. This is for them to experience how most commuters fare for their daily grinds. And no, having an entourage including bodyguards or reserving your own train car does not count. Dapat pumila o maghintay sa kalye. Makipagsisikan o makipag-habulan sa bus, jeepney o van para makasakay. Many if not most of these officials have their own vehicles or are even driven (may tsuper o driver) to and from work. One even had the gall to transfer his department to where he comfortably resides so he won’t commute but that’s another story.
You see articles and posts about Dutch politicians and even royalty riding the bicycle to work.
The Dutch Prime Minister bikes to work
Then there are politicians regularly taking public transport while in office. Here is an article about the newly inaugurated POTUS, Joe Biden, who took the train for his regular commutes:
Igoe, K.J. (May 4,2020) “Where Did “Amtrak Joe,” Joe Biden’s Nickname, Come From?”, Marie Claire, https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a32363173/joe-biden-amtrak-joe-meaning/ [Last accessed 2/14/2021]
Do we have someone close to such an example? Commuting by private plane between your home in the Southern Philippines and your office in Manila surely won’t let one have an appreciation of the commuting experiences of typical Filipinos.
What if Rizal today was the same province it was back in the day?
I write this as a super typhoon is bearing down on us this 1st of November. I found this map on the internet without attribution to the original source. It shows a still-born Metro Manila with only four local government units: Manila, Quezon City, Pasay City and San Juan.
What if instead of the Metro Manila we have now, Rizal retained the towns (that eventually became cities) that were transferred to what became the National Capital Region (NCR)? These are Navotas, Malabon, Caloocan, Marikina, Pasig, Pateros, Mandaluyong, Makati, Taguig, Paranaque, Las Pinas and Muntinlupa. Valenzuela was taken from Bulacan Province. Pasig was the capital of the province (Yes, that’s why there is Capitolyo and the Rizal Provincial Capitol used to be in Pasig where you now have Capitol Commons. Surely, the political landscape could have been different though one could argue that certain families would have still held sway in cities/towns where they have their routes. Imagine, the governorship of the province would have been a coveted post but not by the the current holders but likely by personalities from the more progressive and densely populated cities. Governance would have been different, too, as Rizal would have both highly urbanized and rural areas. Perhaps certain undesirable politicians could not have emerged due to the dynamics of a province with highly urbanized cities? What’s your take on this “what if”?
Politics: Questions on Succession
Here is another political post so click on another if this is not your thing. In a previous post, I wrote about politics in general and cited the example of Rizal politics. I write more about this topic based on my observations and assessment.
A big problem with patronage and clan politics is succession. Ipinamamana na lang ba ang posisyon sa gobyerno? (Are positions in government supposed to be like things that are handed down like inheritance?] Many cities and municipalities are like that and there are many so-called prominent families who hold top positions with some occupying Mayor, Vice Mayor and several Councilor positions. The more powerful ones also hold Governor, Representative and even Senator (which is a national post).
Rizal has very much similar circumstances with the congressional districts of the province and the capital city of Antipolo practically being dominated by certain families. The first district of Rizal has not had anyone except a Duavit while the second was for a while been held by a Rodriguez until a defeat in the last election by what seemed to be an upstart. He is actually from a political family from the southern Philippines whose been a good staff of the Ynares clan. Antipolo’s two districts are controlled by the Punos and the Acops. With both already juggling the post among their immediate families, there seems to be no one to end their dynasties. Even well-performing politicians like Cainta’s Nieto will be hard-pressed to run for Governor or Congressman.
It would take much more like perhaps a crisis or something disastrous for these well-entrenched politicians to be defeated. Nieto did it just when his predecessor was attempting to build a dynasty on the heels of subsequent disastrous floods in Cainta. But perhaps the case of Vico Sotto’s campaign and resulting upset of another dynasty in Pasig offers as a more interesting study of engaging and transformative politics? Let’s wait some more and see how things develop. Will they remain and sustain their momentum without losing (part of) their souls? Or will they end up being succumbing to the temptations of the ‘system’?
Politics: Fresh Faces at the Local Level?
A major factor in shaping our cities and municipalities is the leadership in the form of local politicians, most especially the Mayors, who are the decision-makers for many aspects of their constituencies. Mayors have a hand in most if not all policies pertaining to land use (e.g., zoning, planning, etc.) and transportation (e.g., schemes, policies, franchises, etc.).
The likes of Vico Sotto, Isko Moreno and Francis Zamora are currently being praised for what seems to be their fresh and aggressive approach to addressing problems and issues in their respective constituencies. The three’s ascendance to mayor of their respective cities have also exposed the alleged graft and corruption of their predecessors. The dominance of the latter in the form of dynasties have all but assured that whatever anomalies passed on from one term to another are internalised and made unknown to their constituencies who are to remain blind to these abnormalities. Instead, the people are made to believe that progress is achieved with some worthwhile projects here and there to show that taxpayers’ money are spent well.
Prior to these personalities, there were others who sort of broke the dynasties in their respective towns. I can name at least two cases that I am very familiar with; both with the Municipality of Cainta – Mon Ilagan and Kit Nieto. Both ended long reigns with Ilagan making Cainta history by finally upending the Felix dynasty there. Previous to him, the only one who almost upset the then reigning dynasty was a woman – Eunice Fermindoza. Ironically, Ilagan’s attempt at a dynasty by making his wife run after his 3 terms was up was nipped by Nieto, an erstwhile ally who has come to represent not just the emergence but the establishment of people who have settled in suburban town in the various subdivisions developed over the course of the last 50 years. These are the middle class comprised of professional and office workers and their families who decided to reside in Cainta because of the town’s proximity to Metro Manila and homes their being relatively affordable.
Even before Sotto, Moreno and Zamora have embarked on their own programs, Nieto has shown that the efficient use of resources coupled with transparency and a genuine feel for the requirements of his constituents will get one re-elected and gain attention. Cainta has transformed and blossomed under this current mayor. For one, he has been able to complete many infrastructure projects and strengthened social and medical programs in the municipality. It is a wonder how Cainta is not yet a city considering its income and continued growth. One only wishes this growth is not sustained by poorly planned land use development where the town basically relies on developers (i.e., Megaworld and Filinvest) for the plans instead of being involved in order to avoid exacerbating the enduring traffic and flooding issues that are still the bane of this town. Unfortunately, Nieto is on his last term and it is unclear for now who might be competent and progressive enough to replace him. Among the current councilors in the current administration is a Felix and an Ilagan, scions of the two previous families that lorded it over Cainta. Will one of them rise again to reclaim what they probably regard as their right place? Hopefully not…Kawawa naman ang Cainta.
[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.
Questionable choice for DPWH Secretary?
I had only recently written about appointments to top government posts when I learned about the offer of the DPWH top position to a politician who is also the son of power couple of former and present senators. Their core business is real estate development so there is definitely going to be conflicts of interest whenever certain infrastructure are built that will favour the development of their lands. This is basically the issue for the controversy regarding the Circumferential Road 5 Extension more than 6 years ago, which alleged that former Sen. Manny Villar (then running for President) influenced the DPWH to construct the highway that mainly benefited lands his company developed.
Having a politician at the helm of the DPWH is not a good idea. While apologists for the President-elect want us to give the guy a chance and explain that the soon-to-be-President probably saw something in the congressman that makes him qualified for the job, I must disagree with them given what I’ve seen up close with the DPWH. Here are a few arguments against a politician being DPWH Secretary:
- A politician as head of the DPWH will be more likely to give in to politicians (e.g., congressmen) requesting the appointments of ‘more favourable’ District Engineers (i.e., those who will do their bidding). This is basically going back to the ‘padrino’ system that is undesirable for such posts as they become prone to abuse and anomalies particularly in contracting.
- The DPWH Secretary chairs the Road Board, which is in-charge of funds collected from Motor Vehicle Users Charge (MVUC). This means the Secretary will have a say on how funds will be allocated and disbursed under the difference special funds (e.g., Special Road Safety Fund and Special Vehicle Pollution Control Fund). A politician will have no qualms approving requests for projects proposed by his allies or party-mates regardless of the merits or justification (weak?) of a program or project. This position requires objectivity and insulation against political pressure that may lead to questionable decisions.
- Governance-wise, the DPWH Secretary is expected to have a clear vision for the agency and must be an imposing figure to an organization where everyone under him including Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries will be organic staff. This is unlike other agencies where the Secretary gets to bring in his/her own people to appoint as senior officials (e.g., DOTC). And DPWH will only perform as good as its head. Outgoing Sec. Singson has shown how good and efficient DPWH can be under an excellent Secretary. Past heads have already shown how bad DPWH can be.
A couple of friends also mentioned that the DPWH Secretary sits on the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) is basically under the DPWH. There is conflict of interest here because the Villars own a water concessionaire in Primewater. The DPWH Secretary will also sit on the Infrastructure Committee (Infracom) that screens and approves major infrastructure projects around the country.
Since the next President has already decided on his choice for DPWH Secretary and the nominee has already accepted this, then we can only cross our fingers and hope that his appointee will be doing a good job and will uphold the current mantra of the DPWH: right projects, right cost, right quality, right on time and right people.