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On the financial viability requirement for public transport operators

I came upon the news that the P2P Bus service between SM City North EDSA and SM Megamall suspended operations The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) released a statement to clarify the circumstances surrounding the suspension, which apparently was the initiative of the operator rather than the agency. Apparently, too, some people were quick to attribute (blame seems to be the more appropriate adjective to describe how some netizens reacted) the suspension to LTFRB. Here is the statement posted on their social media page:

Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board – LTFRB
February 23 at 7:52 PM ·

LTFRB PRESS STATEMENT ON P2P OPERATIONS OF FROEHLICH TOURS, INC.
23 February 2020

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) would like to clarify that it did not order the cessation of the P2P operations of Froehlich Tours, Inc. (FTI) which plied the SM North EDSA-SM Megamall and Trinoma-Park Square routes.

FTI was one of the first to be awarded with P2P routes in 2016. In November 2019, MAN Automotive Concessionaires Corporation (MAN) submitted a letter requesting the Board to look into the financial capability of FTI to maintain its operations, fund expenses that may arise from accidents, and continue to provide public service.

According to MAN, an exclusive truck and bus importer, assembler, and distributor, FTI initially acquired 17 bus units amounting to a total of P185.7 million from them. FTI was only able to pay P39.2 million which resulted in MAN having to repossess 12 bus units. To this day, P19.75 million is still left unpaid by FTI.

While these allegations are still under investigation by the Board, an inspection of the FTI bus units revealed that the company’s Provisional Authority, which allowed them to run and function as a public service provider, has already expired and no renewal was filed.

As of now, an order has been sent out to Froehlich Tours Inc. to submit its 2019 Financial Statement within a period of five (5) days from receipt of a copy. The hearing is reset, upon the agreement of both parties, on 3 March 2020 at the LTFRB Central Office.

Pending the outcome of the hearing, the Board shall adopt measure in the coming weeks to ensure that the riding public will be provided with the needed transport service on the routes affected.

There are two major points in the statement. One is on the financial viability of the operator and another is on the provisional authority granted by the LTFRB, which is a regulatory agency. The latter pertains to something more temporary and authoritative than a franchise, which is basically a license to provide transport services. These provisional authorities are often granted by the agency for so-called “missionary routes” as well as for supplementing the supply of vehicles during peak seasons like Christmas, Holy Week and Undas.

Financial viability is a requirement for all public transport operators. It is part of the formula for determining the viable number of units (i.e., vehicles) considering the fare that is to be charged to passengers taking into consideration the operating costs of operators. If this requirement was implemented strictly, a lot of operators would not be operating PUVs in the first place. The LTFRB, however, as well as its mother agency, the DOTr, have been lax about this requirement for so long a time that it is difficult to recall the last case where this was cited as a reason for suspending operations.

Mixed messages for commuters?

I had spotted buses (or perhaps its just the same bus?) for a P2P service between Antipolo and Ortigas Center bearing what appears to be a statement for improving the quality of life of commuters. Many have been suffering and continue to suffer on their daily commutes starting from difficulties getting a ride to very long travel times. The term “dignity of travel” comes to mind, which a colleague coined many years ago to describe

P2P buses at the public transport terminal at Robinsons Place Antipolo

Whoever thought of this probably meant well; thinking about improving quality of life. The choice of words though may convey a different message as “driving” is in all caps and usually associated with a different, less appealing activity to sustainable transport advocates. I think they should have chosen “improving” instead of “driving” here.

 

This is somewhat similar to a much earlier post of mine showing SMRT buses in Singapore with ads promoting Uber and how it was supposed to complement public transport. That, of course, was a bit of a stretch in the city-state, which already has excellent public transport compared to elsewhere, and already complemented by very good taxi services.

Yesterday, there was a nationwide transport strike and depending on which side you are on, the reality is that we are still far from having more efficient public transport. But that’s another story and hopefully, I get to write about it in the next few days.

On payment schemes for public transport services

Here is a nice article about paying for your fares:

Weinstein, Z. (2018) “Why do so many public transit agencies make it so difficult to… pay for public transit,” http://www.medium.com, https://medium.com/@z_75510/why-do-so-many-public-transit-agencies-make-it-so-difficult-to-pay-for-public-transit-c5ae98ae2571 [Last accessed: 11/28/2018].

This is interesting for us as we are just starting to come up with more efficient and innovative ways for paying for public transport services. This is in the form of the Beep card that is now being used for rail transit services as well as for some buses and jeepneys (electric?). Still, we have a lot of catching up to do in the Philippines compared to, for example, Japan and Singapore where it’s possible to go cashless in paying for public transport. We don’t even have a pass (e.g., there’s a monthly, quarterly and even annual pass that Japanese railway companies sell to students and employees that gives them a substantial discount for travels between their home station and work or school station) for regular transit users. Hopefully, the use of Beep will expand and perhaps other modes of payment may be introduced for the convenience of public transport users.

More high capacity transit for Antipolo!

Two years ago, I wrote about Antipolo being ripe for high capacity public transportation. So far, work is progressing along the Line 2 Extension to Masinag but there’s no word about it being extended further (Cogeo? Marikina?). I have always maintained that the demand in Cogeo, Antipolo is already established and a mass transit line terminating there will certainly be a game changer in terms of commuting. In fact, it may contribute to rapidly developing that area and hasten the development of Antipolo’s government centre, which is a few kilometres further along Marcos Highway.

Schedule and fares for the P2P bus service between Robinsons Place Antipolo and Robinsons Galleria in Ortigas Center.

There is now a P2P bus service between Robinsons Place Antipolo and Robinsons Galleria via Ortigas Avenue. And then there is the newest P2P service between SM Masinag and the Makati CBD. The first has very limited capacity at present and have few patrons (regular passengers) based on what I’ve observed and the rough survey my students did for a class project. I still have to see the second one from SM Masinag but I assume it has a higher demand considering a lot of people already commute from that area to Makati. I say so because there’s a nearby UV Express terminal that’s always crowded with people every time I pass by in the morning. This should also translate into demand for the afternoon/evening period. However, I am not so optimistic about the off-peak periods (I hope I’m wrong!) as most P2P services my students have surveyed so far indicate really low occupancies during the off-peak periods.

Is P2P the way to go for Antipolo (and its neighbouring towns like Cainta, Taytay and Marikina)? I think this is still basically a stop-gap measure and a mass transit line as well as complementing conventional buses would still be the most suitable for these rapidly and steadily growing areas. Ortigas Avenue is ripe for a high capacity system that should perhaps be grade separated. The demand was there more than two decades ago. I seriously believe that the Province of Rizal, the City of Antipolo and the high-earning Municipalities of Cainta and Taytay should exert more effort and lobby for a mass transit line serving the Ortigas corridor.

On learning from the experiences of others about transit ridership

I again share an article; this time on transit ridership (or on the passengers using public transportation).

Buchanan, M. (2018) Lessons on Ridership, from the National Literature, transitcenter.org,  http://transitcenter.org/2018/01/29/lessons-on-ridership-from-the-national-literature/ [Last accessed 2/21/2018]

Perhaps we can learn from the experiences of other cities in as far as public transport use is concerned? For example, what impacts emerging technologies and the sharing economy (e.g., ridesharing) have on public transport ridership and how to meet these challenges to retain a majority of public transport users over low capacity modes.

On the PUV modernisation program – Part 1

Much has been written about the government’s PUV (or jeepney?) modernization program so I wouldn’t really be reposting about these. Instead, I will be featuring some opinions, insights and observations about its implementation.

Following are photos of one e-jeepney model that the government appears to be promoting. This is the e-jeepney produced by Star8 that they claim to be have solar panels for charging while they are on the road. Of course, we know they are not wholly dependent on solar power and have to be charged the conventional way through an adaptor that’s plugged into a regular outlet. These e-jeepneys were supposed to supplement the reduced supply of public transport to mainly UP students, staff and faculty members when the i-ACT (Inter-Agency Committee on Traffic) conducted their “Tanggal Bulok, Tanggal Usok” campaign in the UP Diliman area. First-hand reports revealed otherwise as the e-jeepneys spent more time on stand-by and just charging at one of the buildings on campus.

These are the same e-jeepneys that have been deployed and currently roaming around Tacloban City (promoting themselves?). The intent was for these to be the vehicles plying the new routes approved by the LTFRB/DOTr, which they claim was in response to the request made by Tacloban. The new routes though overlapped with many existing jeepney routes, clearly in violation of the general rule regarding overlapping routes, but allowed nonetheless by the regulating authority.

There are many allegations going around about e-jeepneys being forced upon operators and drivers given what has been regarded by progressive groups as unrealistic (read: unaffordable) financing schemes for the new vehicles. These are certainly not cheap, and double to triple the price of a ‘newer’ conventional jeepney. There are also suspicions about the strong motivation for the phaseout in favour of what are peddled as the successor (or replacement) to the jeepney. That includes a possible collusion among officials and the companies behind these vehicles and allegations (again) of some people likely gaining financially from the set-up. The DOTr and LTFRB PR machine, however, deny this and will gang up on anyone posting about this in their social media page.

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.