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Comments on current transport issues – Part 2: On motorcycle taxis

I continue with my comments on current and persistent transport issues. This time, I focus on one of two hot topics – motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”.

1) On motorcycle taxis:

I am not a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that’s supposed to be evaluating the trial operations. I know one or two of the key members of the TWG and am surprised that they have not referred to the academe for studies that may have already been done about this mode of transport. I know there have been studies about it in UP and DLSU. Perhaps there are more from other universities in the country. Motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”, after all, are practically everywhere and would be hard to ignore. Surely, researchers and particularly students would be at least curious about their operations? Such is the case elsewhere and many studies on motorcycle taxis have been made in the region particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, where these modes also proliferate.

The terms “trial”, “experimental” or “pilot” are actually misleading because motorcycle taxis have been operating across the country for so many years now. They are supposed to be illegal and yet they serve a purpose in the areas where they are popular. What is often referred to as an informal transport mode is ‘formal’ to many people who are not being served by so-called formal modes including the tricycle. Of course, one can argue that these terms (i.e., trial, experimental and pilot) refer to the app that are supposed to enhance the existing habal-habal operations.

I would strongly endorse motorcycle taxis but companies need to be held accountable should there be fatal crashes involving their riders. They are supposed to have trained and accredited them. The companies should also have insurance coverage for riders and passengers. LGUs tolerant of these should be watchful and do their part in enforcing traffic rules and regulations pertaining to motorcycle operations in favor of safe riding. This is to reduce if not minimize the incidence of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis.

I think one of the problems with motorcycle taxis is not really their being a mode of choice but the behavior of their drivers. While companies like Angkas and Joyride conduct training sessions with their riders, many revert to reckless on-road behavior including executing risky maneuvers in order to overtake other vehicles on the road. This is actually a given with many ‘informal’ motorcycle taxis (i.e., those not affiliated with the recognized app companies). But then this is also an enforcement issue because we do have traffic rules and regulations that are poorly enforced by authorities. Thus, there is practically no deterrent to reckless riding except perhaps the prospect of being involved in a crash.

I will refrain to include the politics involved in the issue of motorcycle taxis. I will just write about this in another article.

 

Coming up soon: hot topic #2 – Obstacles to the PNR operations

The problem with public transport in the Philippines…

There is a collage of two photos, one taken in 1975 and another in 2019, showing buses that managed to squeeze themselves into a jam. The 1975 photo was taken at the ramp of the overpass near Liwasang Bonifacio (Quiapo, Manila). There is a commentary describing the photo that attributes ‘monstrous daily traffic jams’ to the behavior of Filipino drivers. Special mention was made of public transport drivers and the photo showed proof of this. This was 1975 and motorization had not reached the levels we are at now so the

The problems pertaining to driver behavior persist today and probably even worsened along with the general conditions of traffic in Philippine roads. I say so since the volume of vehicular traffic has increased significantly from 1975 to the present and there are much more interactions among vehicles and people that have led to a deterioration of road safety as well. Traffic congestion and road crashes are asymptomatic of the root causes of most of our transport problems. And so far, it seems we have had little headway into the solutions. The photos speak for themselves in terms of how many people can easily put the blame on poor public transport services despite the fact that cars are hogging much of the road space. And what have authorities done in order to address the behavioral issues that lead to these incidents?

Someone joked that the guy in the 1975 photo who appeared to be posing in disbelief of what happened is a time traveler. The 2019 photo shows a similar guy with a similar pose though with more people around. Maybe he can tell us a thing or so about what’s wrong with transportation in the Philippines and provide insights to the solutions to the mess we have.

Zamboanga City Integrated Bus Terminal

I open the year by sharing photos of the Zamboanga City Bus Terminal. It is a ‘central’ terminal as most most buses terminate here and cannot proceed to the city center. At the terminal, passengers may transfer between buses, jeepneys and vans.

View of the terminal from the national highway. There are driveways leading to and from the terminal from the highway and one can appreciate the expanse between the facility and the main access road.

There are covered walks connecting the terminal to the national road.

Provincial buses and long-distance vans at the terminal

Provincial bus arriving at the terminal

Jeepneys at the terminal

Motorcycles parked along a shaded area. The lamp’s vintage design seems to be a good accent to the terminal.

Close-up showing the spacious parking area shared by cars, jeepneys, motorcycles and even tricycles

Another look at the covered walkways leading to the national highway. Not all public transport go to the terminal because of the fees and the distance for the diversion from the highway. 

Jeepneys waiting to be filled with passengers prior to departure

A look at the front of the terminal shows a wide driveway and the connection of the covered walkway to the main entrance

Another look at the integrated terminal from the highway

We will be evaluating the terminal soon as part of a study we are doing for the city. More photos and some assessments about its features soon!

Bus stops in Bangkok

My former professor – my second adviser – posted a few photos of bus stops in Bangkok. I am re-sharing these here to show one aspect of how buses operate in Bangkok including the route numbering and the schedules.

Bus route numbers and lists of designated stops for each [Photo credits: Fumihiko Nakamura]

Route map on the other side of the panel [Photo credits: Fumihiko Nakamura]

There are no schedules here like the ones on bus stops in Japan or Singapore but the basic information is quite helpful for commuters and tourists who opt to take regular public transport instead of taxis or ride share. Are such devices being considered by the MMDA or other cities for their public transportation? If not, then maybe they can consider and include this in their New Year’s resolutions.

Transit station connections in Singapore

The connections between transit stations in Singapore show us examples of how to encourage people to walk long distances. The links, mostly underground, are interconnected with branches to common exits to hotels, office and residential buildings. These are basically transit malls lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. There are even gyms (e.g., UFC) and play venues along some connections.

Underground transit mall between a City Hall Station (red line) and Esplanade Station (orange line)

The connection is lined with restaurants, cafes and shops

Singapore’s underground connections reminded me of similar structures in Tokyo and Yokohama. You can just walk underground and come up near your destination. This is especially advantageous and comfortable during the summers when the hot weather becomes a detriment to walking outdoors. Underground transit malls or connections are usually air-conditioned or air is pumped into them for ventilation. As such, temperatures are significantly lower compared to the surface/ground. Will we have similar facilities/developments here in the Philippines and particularly in Metro Manila once the MM Subway is developed?

Some advantages of transit access – the case of a stadium and an arena

One of the advantages of having mass transit access to a major venue is that mass transit can carry more people than any other modes of transport to and from the venue. In the recent U2 concert held at the National Stadium in Singapore, we experienced first hand how a mass transit system is able to serve the surge in the demand to and from the Stadium Station of the SMRT’s Orange Line.

People filing towards the station – most people calmly I say most because there were some who apparently were not so familiar with the ways in Singapore and tried to muscle their way into the crowd. Maybe its like that in their own countries?

It was just like rush hour conditions at the station. Only, people weren’t going to work but home from the concert

Previous to this, I had similar experiences when I was residing in Japan. One time it was a surge in demand due to the popular fireworks display at Yamashita Park in Yokohama covered by three of JR Stations and the end station of the old Tokyu Toyoko Line. There was no Minato Mirai Line at the time that terminated at the park so people had only the JR Sakuragicho, JR Kannai and JR Ishikawacho Stations and the Tokyu Sakuragicho Station.

This is the weakness of the Philippine Arena, which can only be accessed via the NLEX and by road transport. The result for the larger capacity stadium’s hosting of a U2 concert resulted in horrendous traffic jams and hellish travel times for attendees. Friends stated that whatever high that they got from the concert was steadily depleted by their commutes to their homes. This will not improve even with Manila-Clark railway line because the line will be along the other side of the tollway.  It won’t make sense for a branch to be constructed for the arena given the intermittent demand for the events it typically hosts in a year. But there can be a road transport connection to the nearest rail stations to at least alleviate the car traffic generated by the venue.

Commuting in Singapore

Another thing we miss about Singapore is the public transportation. It was easy to go around Singapore especially with its comprehensive, extensive rail transport network. This is complemented by even more extensive bus transit services. All these are offer convenient, comfortable and reliable public transportation. As such, there is practically no need to use your own private vehicle for transportation unless there really is a need arising for their use (e.g., emergencies).

Passengers wait for the train to arrive at an SMRT platform

Passengers line up before the platform gates at an underground station

The transport system in Singapore actually reminded me of how efficient and reliable it was to commute in Japan where I’ve lived in three area – Tokyo, Yokohama and Saitama – for various lengths of time. These transport systems are what Metro Manila and other rapidly urbanizing cities in the Philippines need in order to sustain growth while providing for the transport needs of its citizens.