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On the arguments vs. free transit

Here is a quick share of an article discussing about the idea of free public transport (no fare or minimal fares):

Grabar, H. (June 1, 2021) “The Problem with Free Transit,” Slate, https://slate.com/business/2021/06/free-transit-is-not-a-great-idea.html [Last accessed: 6/16/2021]

Apparently, “better transit, not cheaper transit” should be the mantra for both providers (operators including government) and users (commuters). It is a very sensitive topic for regulatory bodies though since higher fares are generally unpopular to the commuting public. One transport official recently stated that fare setting is a political issue. I tend to agree with this but only because the riding public is currently still largely ignorant or unappreciative of the benefits of efficient public transportation. Perhaps this is also because we’ve really had no efficient public transportation such as the ones we see in other countries including Singapore and Hong Kong? In Singapore, for example, the road pricing policies have educated people about the true costs of transport and that convinces most to take public transportation over private cars.

Is there a supply problem with public transport in NCR plus?

I initially wanted to use “Philippines” or “Metro Manila” instead of “NCR Plus” for the title of this post. I dropped “Philippines” in order to be more specific and also because I am not so aware of the situation in other cities outside Mega Manila. I also decided vs. “Metro Manila” because transport for the metropolis is tightly woven with the surrounding areas where many people working or studying in MM actually reside. These include the towns of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite.

So, is there a supply problem with public transport in what is dubbed as NCR+? The photos in social media appear to describe a lack of public transport vehicles with many people lined up along major roads, queued at terminals or train stations. These photos do not lie where they were taken. Indeed there is a big problem about supply along certain corridors due to certain factors such as limited number of public utility vehicles (mainly jitneys and buses) allowed operation and health protocols that limit the passenger capacities of vehicles. The latter also applies to rail services where despite rolling stocks being back to pre-pandemic operations, are limited to the number of people they can carry. Crush loads are a no-no during these times.

Traffic congestion and its effects on PUV turnaround times, however, is another major factor for what may seem like a lack of supply. Most road-based public transport operate in mixed traffic. As such, their operations are susceptible to traffic conditions along their routes. So it is very likely that during the peak periods, PUVs get stuck along the peak direction and take much time to return despite the lighter traffic along the return trip. The problem for some routes though is that during peak periods both directions are congested. This further exacerbates the situation for public transport as vehicles would have to go through a two-way gauntlet of sorts, resulting in a lot of people taking longer to get their rides. And so for those who have access to private transport do go back to using private vehicles.

Definitely and obviously, there is a mode choice issue here because many people appear to have taken private transport as their mode of choice instead of public or active transport modes. This is mainly attributed to the perception that public transport is unsafe or less safe compared to your own vehicle in the context of the current pandemic. We qualify the current health situation here since that seems to be the main driver for people choosing to take their cars apart from that other perception of the poor quality of service provided by public transport in general. For active transport, the reality is not everyone or not a lot of people will choose to walk or cycle along roads that are generally regarded as unsafe despite efforts to put up bike lanes. Those who are having problems commuting are those dependent on public transport also because of their long commutes between the residential outside or in the outskirts of Metro Manila and the CBDs in the metropolis.

The dilemma here is determining which routes would actually require additional vehicles. While the general perception and temptation is to add vehicles everywhere, it’s the actual numbers that need to be estimated based on the information that needs to be collected (as against available data, which can be unreliable). The situation and the data for different routes varies much.

Case in point is the experience along the Antipolo-Cubao route that used to be served by jeepneys. Buses now serve that route after the government rationalized the service. Initially, there were fewer buses operating along the route that had a large catchment area for passengers. Additional buses were deployed in order to address supply issues (again many passengers were not able to get their rides for the same reasons we mentioned earlier). Now, there seems to be enough buses for the peak periods but a surplus during the off-peak. Passengers along other routes are not as lucky as those served by the Antipolo-Cubao buses.

Public transport operations will not survive such variations in demand if they continue to operate under the old “boundary” or rental scheme. So, there has to be a subsidy somewhere for them to operate under these conditions. And that’s where service contracting comes in. While I agree that this is essential for transport reform, we still have limited resources, and it will not be sustainable in the long run if we cannot make people take public transport over private vehicle options.

On maximizing seating capacities of public transport

The restrictions for physical distancing for public transport seems to be easing. The reason for this statement is the observation that passengers of public utility vehicles are no longer one seat apart (less than the ideal 2m distance between people but deemed sufficient with physical barriers installed in the vehicles). If allowed to be seated next to each other (of course with some sort of physical barrier between them), the set-up will increase the allowed passenger capacities of PUVs to at least their seating capacities. Conventional jeepneys will be able to seat the 16 to 20 passengers their benches are designed for and buses, depending on their sizes and seating configurations may seat perhaps 40 to 60 passengers. That doubles or even triples the number of passengers that can be carried by each vehicle from the time these were allowed to resume operations after the lockdowns.

Plastic barriers separate passengers seated beside each other

Not all physical barriers are designed and installed to provide whatever protection passengers can get from them. The photos above for a G-Liner bus seems to be the more desirable design as the barriers are practically like curtains. I have seen token plastic barriers installed in jeepneys. I wonder if these even went through some approval process of the DOTr, LTFRB or local government unit. Such inferior designs do not help the cause of promoting public transport use over private vehicles.

On the continued lack of public utility vehicle services – some observations

Traveling along Marikina roads en route to my office, I spotted not a few of the minibuses that are being promoted as modernized or modern jeepneys. These are definitely not jeepneys or jitneys but small (or mini) buses. They are airconditioned with seating capacities about the same as the typical conventional jeepneys but with space for standing passengers once these are allowed given the pandemic. There’s a lot near the end of the Gil Fernando Avenue Extension that serves as a depot or parking lot for vehicles that have not been deployed (or sold?). And here are a couple of photos showing these.

New mini-buses being touted as “modern or modernized jeepneys” parked along the Gil Fernando Avenue Extension connector road.

These mini-buses used to ply the SM Masinag – SM Fairview (via Marikina and Batasan) and Cogeo – SM Aura (via Marcos Highway and C-5) routes.

There is a perceived continued lack of public transport supply in Metropolitan Manila and its adjacent cities and municipalities. This is evidenced from the long lines at terminals and stations and the many people waiting for a ride along streets. With the DOTr and LTFRB slowly but surely adding buses, “modern jeepneys” and conventional jeepneys along many old routes and new ones, it may seem that there are enough vehicles. The situation may be summarized as follows:

  • The DOTr and LTFRB are taking advantage of the situation to try to rationalize public transport routes under their rationalization program. Certain routes, for example, that were served by conventional jeepneys are now assigned to buses and ‘modern jeepneys’. You can’t exactly blame them for this as the lockdown presented the opportunity to sort of start from scratch in as far as rationalization is concerned. They won’t get another chance at this without stiff resistance from various stakeholder groups.
  • PUVs are still limited in terms of allowed/permitted passenger loads due to physical distancing requirements. These are already being eased for both buses and jeepneys but standees are not yet allowed for buses.
  • The observed lack of supply is not as widespread as perceived. Commuters along some routes are better off than others. Traffic congestion due to the preference and use of private vehicles by many who used to travel by public transport exacerbates the situation as PUVs are unable to make quick turnarounds thereby making it appear that there is not enough of them operating. Approving and deploying more public transport without exerting efforts to improve confidence in using them will only lead to more congestion and inefficiencies to their operations.

LTFRB Memorandum Circular No. 2020-019 – Guidelines for the Operations of PUBs During the Period of GCQ in Metro Manila

The following images show the full 19 pages of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board Memorandum Circular No. 2020-019: Guidelines for the Operations of PUBs During the Period of GCQ in Metro Manila. Again, no comments for now as I post this for reference. I have not seen it posted on the LTFRB’s Facebook page yet but it is a public document and something that needs to be circulated for the benefit of the riding public.


On public transport services during the pandemic

I’ve read a lot of discussions and recommendations pertaining to public transportation services (mainly its lack thereof) during the Enhanced Community Quarantine aka lockdown in most parts of the Philippines. Problem is, a lot of people had their mobility curtailed as most people did not have their own private vehicles (cars or motorcycles) to do essential trips (i.e., for groceries, market, drugstores, hospitals, etc.). These include so-called frontline workers, most especially those working in hospitals or clinics. Even the use of tricycles on a limited basis while adhering to physical distancing guideline was not allowed in many cities and municipalities. What do we really need to do now and in transition to address the lack of public transport services?

Here is a concise yet very informative article on transit:

Walker, J. (2020) “Cutting Transit Service During the Pandemic: Why? How? And What’s Next?”, Human Transit, https://humantransit.org/2020/04/cutting-transit-service-during-the-pandemic-why-how-and-whats-next.html [Last accessed: 4/23/2020]

Most of the points discussed and recommendations presented are applicable to our case in the Philippines. We should also accept the fact that we cannot go back to the situation prior to the ECQ, and that the new normal calls for a reduction in car use. Meanwhile, we still have to address the pressing issues and come up with a plan or maybe strategies for public transport that involved not just buses and trains but other modes as well like the jeepneys, vans and tricycles.

On Davao’s Executive Order No. 23 allowing tricycles as a transport mode during the ECQ

The other day, I posted about the Pasig City Ordinance promoting cycling or the use of bicycles for transport during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown period. Here is the Executive Order issued by the Davao City mayor where tricycles are allowed by the city (i.e., one driver and one passenger only) as a form of transport. The justification by the City Mayor in subsequent statements and interviews is so simple and common sense that you wonder why such cannot be allowed in other cities like Pasig, which at first allowed tricycles (also with the one driver, one passenger set-up) but was rebuked by national government for their alleged violation of rules set out by the task force in-charge of the nationwide ECQ. While the Davao Executive Order is in itself a formal document and statement, it is interesting to note that after issuing the EO, the Davao City Mayor, who happens to be the daughter of the Philippines’ President, also issued a statement that basically says she will answer all queries and criticisms of this EO; short of threatening those who will oppose it. Surprisingly or not surprisingly, depending on which side of the fence one is, national government was mum about the EO and let Davao be. Thus, it now presents a precedent for other LGUs to follow or invoke. Otherwise, there will be a double standard and it will seem as if Davao will always be a special case.

Transport route maps for Greater Metro Manila/ NCR during the quarantine period

I am sharing the following maps produced by the Department of Transportation (visit the DOTr Facebook page) and the Office of the Vice President. The details of operations are in their respective social media accounts that are being shared/circulated.

Here are the maps for 16 routes from the DOTr:

Here is a map from the OVP as well as a detailed itinerary for one of the routes they operate:

Modified sidecars for tricycles

I googled the modified tricycles that I remembered was featured on TV before. Here’s what I’ve found from a news program of ABS CBN.

Credits to Bandila for this image of tricycles in La Union province.

Here’s from another internet source showing a rather sporty sidecar and a motorcycle that comfortably seats 2 people.

There are many tricycle sidecar makers around the country. Many of these are home industries or small shops that make and sell few sidecars. At times, the products are on-demand. As the first photo showed, it is possible to come up with sleek designs from our local shops.

During this quarantine period and sfter we get through this COVID-19 challenge, perhaps we should rethink how transportation system should be to ensure not just road safety but also safety from other health hazards as well. Of course, that is something we should take on together with other issues (e.g., employment, city planning, housing, health care systems, etc.) that are now so obvious we have no excuse of not taking notice of them.

Use and modification of the tricycle for the quarantine situation

With the whole country practically in quarantine to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, transportation has become very difficult to many people requiring services as the commute mainly between their homes and places of employment or work. First and priority are the frontline workers – medical personnel like doctors, nurses, technologists and other health and allied workers battling to detect, test and treat people with COVID-19. Our uniformed personnel in the armed forces and police as well as barangay officials and tanods are also doing their part in containing this virus. And then there are many who need to go to their workplaces to earn a living – not all have the luxury of working from home despite its necessity in these times. While there are vehicles to shuttle frontline workers, there are fewer for those who don’t have their own (private) vehicles. Mayors have taken the reins, it seems, for managing the situations in their respective areas and many have stepped up in trying to bridge the gaps including those for transportation.

The subject of this post is the contention by national government officials that tricycles cannot be permitted for public transport because the desired social distance cannot be attained for the trike. Many, including me, have opined that it can, given some modifications (or add-ons), and subject to the driver and passenger (one passenger only!) exercising caution and wearing the required protective gear. I picked up the following drawing showing a modified tricycle:

[Credits to Jini Maraya for her idea and illustration]

The set-up could also be applied to pedicabs or padyak – the non-motorized version of these tricycles. Operationally, too, I would suggest that only a limited number of tricycles be allowed to transport people per day. The purpose of the quarantine will be defeated if we had hundreds or even thousand of tricycles roaming our streets with their drivers looking for fares. Perhaps a system can be devised to determine the optimum number per day. Perhaps LGUs can even take control of the trikes and pay their drivers so as to make their services free to those needing it (e.g., people going to the market or grocery for food, people going to drugstores to purchase medicines, etc.). And so the idea of Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto can work. It is not so difficult after all to refine his idea so it will comply with the requirements of the situation. As they say: “Kung gusto gagawa ng paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan.” [Very roughly – there are so many excuses for stuff certain people don’t want to try out.] This also shows we need to use more brain cells during these challenging times. Promise, it won’t hurt! 🙂

Take care and keep safe everyone!