Caught (up) in traffic

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Some concerns about future rail ridership

Traveling along Commonwealth Avenue and Marcos Highway the past week, I both hopeful and worried about what happens after the Line 7 and Line 2 Extension finally becomes operational. Much has been said or reported about the potential of these two lines to change the way people commute; at least from the areas served by these two mass transit lines. However, how big an impact these would have in terms of actual reduction of private car use  remains to be seen.

Will there be significant decreases in the volume of motor vehicles along Commonwealth Avenue, Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard? Or will there be just the same traffic along these roads? The worry is based on the likelihood that those who would be taking Lines 2 and 7 would be people who are already taking public transportation and not those who have chosen to leave their cars (or motorcycles) at home.

Our students have been studying ridesharing and P2P bus operations the past few years and the conclusion has so far been a shift from one mode of public transport to what’s perceived as a better one. It’s somewhat a difficult thing to accept for advocates of public transport especially those behind TNVS, P2P buses and railways but it is what it is, and its important to accept such findings in order for us to understand what’s going on and come up with better ways to promote public transport and convince car users to use PT.

Traffic flows at the Masinag junction with the Line 2 Masinag Station and elevated tracks in the background

What is more intriguing is the proposed subway line for Metro Manila. The alignment is different from the ones identified in previous studies for the metropolis and from what I’ve gathered should have stations that serve a North-South corridor that should make for a more straightforward commute (i.e., less transfers) for those taking the subway.

Probable MM Subway alignment (from the internet)

It is another line that has a big potential as a game-changer for commuters but we won’t be able to know for sure until perhaps 5 or 6 years from now. What we know really is that there was a lost opportunity back in the 1970s when government should have pushed for its first subway line instead of opting for the LRT Line 1.

Lessons to be learned from experiences on public transport abroad

There’s this “old” article that came out last year that is very much relevant as it is timeless for its topic. The title is intriguing as the many if not most US cities are known to be car-dependent. Few have good public transportation in terms of the efficiencies or qualities we see in Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul or Tokyo (just to mention Asian examples). Clearly, quality of service is the main reason why people are apprehensive about using public transportation. In fact, the attraction of ride shares, for example, are precisely because people want to have what they perceive as safe, comfortable and convenient modes of transport for their regular commutes. Only, for many people, their choice is also limited by the affordability of such modes of transport. Perhaps the same is applicable if you extend the discussion to include active transport. Cities and municipalities would need to provide the right infrastructure and environment for people to opt out of cars, take public transport, walk or cycle.

English, J. (2018) Why did America give up on mass transit? , http://www.medium.com/citylab, https://medium.com/citylab/why-did-america-give-up-on-mass-transit-dont-blame-cars-d637536e9a95 [Last accessed: 08 March 2019]

What happens now to the DOST’s AGTs?

The Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) vehicles that were used in the research and proof of concept at the previous test site in UP Diliman are scheduled to be transported back to DOST’s MIRDC soon. The vehicles are still in UP Diliman and are usable for R&D if someone decides to come up with a viable proposal for these. Unlike the hybrid electric train that is the AGT’s contemporary in terms of them being parallel projects, the future is unclear for both AGT models (i.e., there is another, higher capacity AGT already at MIRDC and tested using the test tracks there).

The two AGT vehicles are wrapped to protect them from the elements. These are functional and should still have value in case someone proposed to continue in their testing and refinement. It doesn’t need to be an elevated guideway for development to continue.

Here’s a closer look a colleague managed to take before we turned at the intersection.

What’s next for the AGT? Is there a future for these vehicles? Will the DOST initiate something with the DOTr or maybe with an LGU (Taguig?) to come up with a project that will employ these vehicles in what can be a full system instead of one on test tracks? Let’s hope these assets can still be utilised and not be wasted.

On the P2P bus service between Antipolo and Ortigas Center

I decided to take the P2P bus from Robinsons Antipolo to Robinsons Galleria earlier this week. For one, the opportunity presented itself as I had meetings in the Ortigas Center area that day. Second, I didn’t want to drive in heavy traffic along Ortigas Avenue and the area. And third, I didn’t want to worry about parking (my meetings were not necessarily in buildings located near each other). I could easily walk or take a taxi (or Grab car) between meetings without having to worry about a parked car.

Ticket/receipt issued upon payment of the 60-peso fare

The bus was empty but for a few passengers when I boarded. I initially took as seat near the door but then saw the sign by the window stating that the first two rows of seats are preferably for persons with disabilities, senior citizens and others who may require these seats for convenience.

The bus I rode on is of Korean make (Daewoo) and a recent model based on the design and condition of the interiors. The air-conditioning was also strong so most passengers just close the aircon ducts above them.

There’s a bus leaving every 30 minutes. There is a no standing policy so passengers will be directed to the next bus once all seats are taken, even if there’s a lot of time remaining before the full bus departs. 

Nearby the bus terminal is a jeepney terminal for the Antipolo-Cubao (via Sumulong Highway) route. Tricycles freely come and go at the terminal. Meanwhile, people may also leave their vehicles at the parking area (free of charge) for the final legs of their daily commutes. These allow for practically seamless transfers between different modes of road transport.

There are several buses at the terminal when I boarded in the morning. I wonder how many are committed to this particular route but the sign on the body of one bus stated that it was for the SM City Masinag – Greenbelt 5 route. I guess the Robinsons Place Antipolo terminal serves as a waypoint for these buses, which are deployed from the RRCG terminal in Taytay.

The trip started at 7:30AM and took about 75 minutes between Robinsons and Medical City, where I alighted from the bus. I figure it could have been about 1.5 hours until Robinsons Galleria if I continued to the end of the route. I actually thought I had to alight at Galleria but then noticed a couple of passengers who requested the driver to let them out at Medical City. Traffic was moving very slowly along that section of Ortigas Avenue and it wasn’t really an inconvenience to the rest of the passengers for a quick stop at Medical City.

And so I quickly changed plans and alighted at the hospital where I figured I could easily get a cab to my first meeting near Shaw Boulevard. I was right and and quickly got a Grab car to my first meeting. I just walked to the next meeting before taking another P2P bus to get home. The bus ride was comfortable and one can even have a short nap without much worry about security as the bus does not stop for most of the route (i.e., with the exception of the Medical City stop). You can easily squeeze in some work as I saw a couple of passengers typing away on their notebooks. Commutes have become difficult to many that the service provided by these P2P buses present a comfortable option to many who could afford it. The P2P buses actually provide services that are supposed to have been delivered by vans (i.e., FX, GTE, UV Express, etc.) but the latter has evolved to be more like an air-conditioned jitney rather than an express service in urban areas. Hopefully, these P2P buses can retain their quality and level of service and it attracts more car users. I suspect that their passengers might be those who are already using public transport and just shifted to one with a higher level of service.

The unsafe situation at the U-turn slot near Ligaya (Feliz Mall)

I have been observing the U-turn slot at Ligaya just across from the Ayala Feliz Mall. Most of the times I pass by the area on my way home in the afternoons or evenings, I see that there are many people there meeting jeepneys head-on and getting ahead of other passengers waiting to get a ride who won’t risk crossing the busy Marcos Highway for this. There are usually no enforcers (MMDA or Pasig’s) in that area. Most of them congregate at the U-turn slot before this (across from the Mariposa motel) to flag down vehicles whose drivers are violating the number coding scheme. I finally had the opportunity to get a couple of photos care of the wife who took the photos as we turned to head to Feliz.

The photo shows people crowding the area at the U-turn slot in order to have a better chance at getting a jeepney ride. Many jeepneys turning here are actually cutting trips. So there are two clearly illegal activities going on here that the MMDA or Pasig City enforcers turn a blind eye to. The situation regarding the commuters is unsafe and requires attention. There is supposed to be a transport terminal across from the mall. And don’t mind the political ad (yes that stupid one in the background by an opportunist running for the senate).

Here is another photo of the people at the U-turn slot. Note that most if not all are worker types who are more likely to be risk takers; meeting jeepneys head-on (sumasalubong) and hanging on (sabit) if all seats are taken. Allowing or tolerating this means other people who don’t want to risk it cannot get a ride.

A footbridge will soon be constructed at the area but this may not solve this concern as it only addresses the crossing safety issue in the area. And so we urge those responsible for enforcing traffic rules and regulations to do their job and address this problem that concerns both safety and public transportation. Hindi lang naman number coding violations lang ang dapat tutukan ng mga enforcers. There are other more serious and safety-related concerns that they need to work on.

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.

On motorcycle taxis again – in support of the habal-habal

I was writing this article when I read the news about the Supreme Court upholding the LTFRB’s decision against motorcycle taxis, particularly that vs. Angkas. Prior to that, I’ve been spotting more of the “formal” motorcycle taxis around Metro Manila. And more recently, there have been news reports about some of them, particularly Angkas, being involved in road crashes. While I support having motorcycle taxis in part to address transport and traffic issues, I still have reservations concerning the safety of these services. The recent crashes and how they were or are handled will provide us with better insights on what regulations should apply to them. I know people tend to be allergic about ‘regulations’ especially when associated with the LTFRB or DOTr. But we have to understand that regulations are important to ensure safety of users of the service. That is, of course, if we assume the regulations are properly implemented or enforced. This is still a big question mark with a host of other regulations that are already in place and spelled out and yet are not enforced.

Angkas rider along Katipunan Avenue

More recently, I’ve spotted Angkas riders in Antipolo and Cainta along my usual commuting routes. And then I noticed quite a few of them in Cagayan De Oro, which means a more formalised “habal-habal” given the identification of Angkas riders with their helmets and shirts. Other “habal-habal” do not have anything to distinguish them from general motorcycle traffic. Former students with the DPWH who have access to data on road crashes state that there is still an increasing occurrence of motorcycle-related crashes and many involve those with passengers. However, it is unclear whether these are the typical free “riding in tandem” cases, which are likely the most common, or the “for hire” case as with motorcycle taxis like Angkas. I guess the key here is to keep the discussions ongoing and come up with solutions to address issues rather than simply ban the habal-habal.

A friend tagged me in a social media post where he explained his position on the motorcycle as a mode of public transport. He also shared some articles he wrote for his newspaper column. I replied that I also support inclusion of this mode of transport and think that authorities should engage positively and progressively. Again, there are opportunities here to help alleviate transport problems. Government should busy themselves in ensuring safety and security rather than just go for a ban. That’s a lazy approach to this matter.