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Contradictions in transport mode choices?

A friend posted a photo on social media and it immediately got my attention as it featured an ad by popular ridesourcing company Uber on a public bus in Singapore. There is a slogan there that reads: “Because weekends come once a week, make your move.” This statement is a promotion for Uber, which is already making inroads in the city state where taxi services are probably among the better ones in the world in terms of service quality and efficiency.

The ad itself is a contradiction in terms of who is promoting itself and where it is being promoted. Such promotion gimmicks are not beyond companies like Uber, which project themselves as mavericks in what are considered as traditional areas such as transport. Here is the photo of Uber advertising on a public bus in Singapore:

uber-on-bus-sg

Taxi ownership and operations (i.e., driving) in Singapore is restricted to Singaporeans. Uber faced some issues with their operations as there were a significant number of foreigners, it seems, who took to Uber as a means for employment. In a city-state like Singapore, which discourages private car ownership and use through schemes like congestion pricing and the provision of high quality public transport services, Uber could face a much stiffer challenge to its march towards dominating conventional taxis.

Habal-habal in Metro Manila

I posted about our ongoing research on motorcycle taxis. One of our subject areas are Pasig and Taguig in Metro Manila. These would likely represent the urban motorcycle taxi operations that we wanted to document and assess. One terminal I specifically asked our staff to visit as part of the recon/pre-survey activities is located at Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City near where the Pasig River connects with the Laguna de Bay. It is along Circumferential Road 6 and, based on my observation, has transferred locations several times since C-6 was being widened and paved.

14-nov-2016-11-35-00-amThis is the terminal at Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City along C-6 and near the Napindan Ferry Terminal.

14-nov-2016-11-35-12-amThe current terminal stands along what used to be the older C-6 lane. The newer paved section of the widened C-6 is shown in use. It used to be closer to the bridge that crossed the Pasig River and near the Napindan Ferry Terminal.

14-nov-2016-11-35-26-amThe habal-habal riders and operators have an organization and are generally tolerated by the local government. Unlike their provincial “relatives”, they usually only take one passenger seated at the back of the rider. Two passengers are not unusual or irregular especially if one is a child.

I will post about the characteristics of habal-habal operations soon. However, I don’t want to preempt the research we are doing so I would also prefer that we submit our report first and maybe even submit a paper or two for publication before I post them here. Among the things we have obtained so far are video recordings of what its like to ride these motorcycles. We used an action camera mounted on the rider’s helmet for this purpose. Our staff also did a quick interview of the service providers and will be doing a full survey soon to get substantial information for our research.

Metro Manila public transport – addition is good but we need subtraction, too

The company providing the P2P bus services is very enthusiastic (aggressive?) in promoting their services especially via social media. Satisfied commuters have also shared their experiences and a lot of photos about the buses and their commutes through social and mainstream media. I have read some articles carried by the likes of Rappler and Inquirer as well as blogs relating about the buses features, what people liked about the service and their suggestions on how to further improve and expand services. These have provided commuters with a taste of how good public transport could be in terms of quality of service.

The operations and the operator seems to have the blessings of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and not just the present administration but from the previous one when the P2P services started. The fact that they have expanded services further these past few months is a testament to their popularity and the demand for high quality public transport services in Metro Manila. I personally believe that the next step is to give these buses exclusive lanes along their routes. Such would allow for buses to travel faster and providing a significant decrease in the travel times of commuters. Current operations, despite having non-stop runs between origin and destination, run in mixed traffic so their impacts in terms of travel times are diminished. Also, with exclusive lanes, they can probably consider adding a few stops between the route ends and be able to simulate bus rapid transit (BRT) services of which there seems to be little appreciation so far in the Philippines.

While the new buses and routes are very welcome and provide attractive options for commuting, there is still a need to address what is perceived as an over-supply of buses, jeepneys and UV express vehicles in Metro Manila. The attractiveness and higher service quality of P2P buses can pave the way for reducing the numbers of buses, for example, along EDSA. A similar strategy of introducing high quality bus services along other corridors and then reducing bus, jeepney and UV express units there can be implemented but will require much in terms of political will. The latter is important when dealing with operators and drivers of displaced vehicles, who may oppose such transport reforms and probably throw in legal impediments including those pertaining to franchising. Whether such opposition can be addressed by emergency powers or not remains to be seen but hopefully, even without such powers, the government can engage the transport sector to effect reforms and improve public transport (and ultimately commuting in general) not just in Metro Manila but in other cities as well.

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.

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.

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.