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On BRT being a game changer for Philippine cities

There’s a nice interview about transport on ANC’s early morning program. The topic is bus rapid transit (BRT) and the interviewee is a colleague of mine at the University of the Philippines. Dr. Cresencio M. Montalbo, Jr. is actually a faculty member of the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) and a Fellow at the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS). Here’s the link to the interview:

Will bus rapid transit (BRT) remove bias against public transport?

Is Antipolo ripe for high capacity and premium transit services?

About 5 years ago, I wrote about transport in Antipolo in another blog. The article was more about this old city being a major destination attracting people for pilgrimage (Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) and tourism (e.g.,  Hinulugang Taktak). I am quoting from that article from 5 years ago and adding a few comments here and there. Note that for most of the article, nothing much has changed except perhaps that the Line 2 extension from Santolan to Masinag is now underway.

“There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.”

I didn’t mention there that another backdoor was via Marcos Highway if one were coming directly from Tanay instead of through Teresa. This route is now popular and traffic has been steadily increasing due in part to some additional attractions in that part of Antipolo and Tanay.

“Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo Simbahan, referring to the shrine.”

There are also UV Express and shuttle vans (legitimate vans for hire or colorum operations) offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownership and operations do make them serious competitors to the jeepneys even during the merry month of May (fiesta period) and the Lenten Holy Week.

“There was an Antipolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto with the cassette tapes stacked along the bus dashboard). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.”

At present, there is another bus company operating along Ortigas Ave and the Manila East Road – RRCG. There is also a revival of the EMBC with buses providing transport services between Quiapo and Tanay. The only other bus is the inter-provincial Raymond Transit, which operates between Crossing, Mandaluyong and Infanta, Quezon via Antipolo, Teresa, Morong and Tanay.

“In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.”

This proposition for rationalizing public transport to/from Antipolo and other towns of Rizal plus Marikina is all the more important as the Line 2 extension from Santolan, Pasig to Masinag, Antipolo is currently underway. There is an opportunity here to upgrade public transport following the hierarchy of transport modes. I have noticed, for example, electric and conventional tricycles providing what are basically feeder services but along Marcos Highway between Cogeo and Masinag. And a lot of people have been stranded or have difficulty getting a jeepney or UV express ride along the Marcos Highway corridor. I am aware that the DOTC in the previous administration was mulling an express bus service through Marcos and Sumulong Highways terminating and turning around at Robinsons Place Antipolo. That, of course, never happened but is something that I think is worthwhile and would be beneficial to a lot of commuters.

Monorail in Manila? A proposal in 1969

I am involved in an inter-disciplinary research program with the Third World Studies Center and the Department of Geography of the University of the Philippines Diliman’s College of Social Science and Philosophy. I am very impressed with my co-researchers being able to find a lot of material including tons of stuff on the Manila tranvia from the National Archives of the Philippines. These are currently being scanned and electronic compilations relevant to the program will eventually be made available as part of the deliverables of the projects.

One of the materials they found was a report on a proposed monorail system in Manila. What we first thought was a single line from an old news report that researchers found turned out to be a network. Here is an excerpt of the report on the proposed monorail system in 1969.

Manila Monorail Network 1969

I am posting this snapshot of the monorail report partly for readers to be able to grasp what was going on in terms of public transport planning decades ago. This hopefully allows us to have a firmer grasp of issues behind why public transportation in Metro Manila is so bad. This is given the so many opportunities we had in the past to have something that could have laid the foundation for a more efficient system. While this may be interpreted as some as fault-finding, I would rather look at it as an exercise in learning from a past where a lot of fateful decisions were made regarding both road and rail transport, many of which we now know were unfavorable to public transport and its users, the greater majority of the commuting public. Hopefully, too, this post can generate healthy discussions to point the way forward in improving public transport not only for Metro Manila but other Philippine cities as well. While we can imagine what we could have had now if such systems were realized, we can still look forward to what we can actually have (and for the next generations to benefit from) if we do act towards a better transit system for our cities.

Straddling bus prototype?

What was peddled as a unique public transport mode concept in social media is now a reality. Check out the article and video here:

China’s Futuristic Straddling Bus Is Finally Here

This is a welcome development for public transportation. However, some issues need to be addressed, particularly regarding road safety. Motorists traveling under the straddling bus may have reactions to the vehicle as it passes above them and such may lead to road crashes. Of course, with the advent of driverless vehicles such incidents may be minimised if not altogether eliminated.

Evidence from Montreal: Building bike lanes to reduce car use

I just wanted to share this article showing evidence of car use reduction (and therefore, car traffic along roads) with the provision of bicycle lanes.

Building Bike Lanes Really Does Get More People Out of Their Cars

The article though cautions readers against generalising or assuming great improvements. Some figures mentioned in the article including the following (I took the liberty of copying and pasting):

  • “A 10% increase in bike accessibility resulted in only a 3.7% increase in ridership.”
  • “…cycling infrastructure also reduced greenhouse gas emissions from cars by 1.7%, a reduction equivalent to converting transit buses to hybrids and electrifying commuter trains.”

These numbers are for the case of Montreal, Canada. Not mentioned are the number of cyclists, vehicle traffic volumes and other pertinent data that are useful in analysis. The article correctly points out the importance of using science (e.g., sound analysis based on good data) in order to convince governments to put up bicycle infrastructure. I would even add that this approach should also be applicable to pedestrian facilities.

Roadworks along Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City

The roadworks along Sumulong Highway continues with drainage work along the sections across Palos Verdes and Cavalier’s Village.  They have cleared a lot of trees along the road’s edge on the Masinag-bound side and only one lane is usable for these sections. This has recently caused several road crashes involving all types of vehicles. While there are obvious shortcomings about the worksite on the contractor’s side, many hardheaded drivers and riders continue to operate their vehicles (read: drive or ride recklessly) as if there are no hazards along the road.

IMG_2238Concrete culverts line the Masinag-bound side of Sumulong Highway

IMG_2240Worksite occupies one lane of the 4-lane/2-way highway. Temporary barriers often encroach upon the single lane available to Masina-bound traffic. This leads to many vehicles encroaching on the opposing traffic lane, violating the double line that states “no overtaking.” Perhaps the contractor needs a refresher or a lesson in proper traffic management and signage for worksites?

IMG_2241Completed sections are not immediately cleared, apparently and likely to have proper curing for the concrete. Notice in the photo that the project includes sidewalk construction. Sidewalks will enhance safety for pedestrians and even joggers or hikers going up and down Antipolo.

IMG_2239Notices are nailed to many trees that will be cut down to give way to highway drainage and sidewalks along the Antipolo-bound side of Sumulong Highway.

On cable cars as a solution to Metro Manila transportation problems

I was asked about my take on the pronouncement about cable cars being a potential solution to Metro Manila’s traffic woes. I say pronouncement because careful qualification of the news articles on this clearly show that this is not yet a proposal. I leave it to the reader to Google these articles on cable cars for Metro Manila.

The first thing that came to my mind are capacity and demand. What would be the capacity for such a system and what could be the demand given that you would have to determine where stations would be. There’s also the fear factor as many people would not be comfortable riding a vehicle so high up in the air and then of course, there’s the wind that will obviously have to be factored in the operation of such cable cars. Suitability is very much an issue here. Perhaps cable cars like the one featured in the news articles are more appropriate for cities like Baguio, Antipolo and Tagaytay? There are very limited applications for Metro Manila even including perhaps possibilities for Ortigas and perhaps Loyola Heights.

I like what my friend, Rene Santiago, said about the cable being one possible answer but not The Answer to Metro Manila’s traffic problems. I am aware of and quite amused by the comments posted on social media about the so-called ‘cable car solution’ as it is definitely not going to make a big impact on Metro Manila transport. I like comments proposing instead improved river transport as well as protected bicycle lanes around the metropolis. These are well-grounded proposals that have been proven elsewhere to be very effective in reducing congestion while mass transit projects are under construction and to be operational in 2 to 3 years time. I think it would be wiser to put your money on bike lanes and even bike bridges than in cable cars.

I was also asked about what should be the first project the new Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade should take on. Metro Manila is still very much a “battleground” for transport and traffic, and there are already projects lined up for implementation like the much delayed MRT 7 and the extension of LRT1. The new administration should strongly support such efforts, whether its via Public Private Partnership (PPP) or public funded. That said, I think the incoming Department of Transportation Secretary should work on an urban mass transport project in one of our major cities. Either Cebu or Davao come to mind as these cities are already also congested and would need to have an urban transit system (rail?) very soon in order to avoid becoming another Metro Manila. There are low-hanging fruits in these cities, for example, with the Cebu BRT ready to be taken on by the new administration for full implementation and Davao already being the subject of public transport studies pointing to it being ripe for a rail transit system.

Finally, there are also the outcomes of research & development work by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). I am referring to the DOST-MIRDC’s road train, AGT and hybrid train projects. The road trains, for example, may be used for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines that are proposed for C5 and Quezon Avenue. I also think it is worth considering for EDSA. BRT is not technology-specific as far as buses go so why not use Philippine-made buses for this? While these are still subject to third party safety and technical certifications, the Transportation Department could lend a helpful hand towards this certification and this could perhaps ultimately lead to building an industry out of these buses and trains.