Caught (up) in traffic

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How my students see transport and traffic

With social media and the ascendance or popularity of influencers and the like, we have often encountered assessments or opinions about transportation and traffic. While there are those that make sense, there are more that are of the rant variety. The latter include the self-righteous who seem to relish bashing professionals and government officials while not being able to present much in terms of their own accomplishments. I am aware of my students (including research advisees) being aware of these people and I often see them posting their comments on topics, articles and opinions being shared on social media. For most, their comments and posts on social media show they’re being more informed than most, especially about the state of transportation in the country.

Here are some observations and comments from my students:

  1. One of my students asked me about my take on the public transport situation. I replied that it is unfortunate that public transportation has deteriorated the way it has for the past decades. The current state is not due to recent policies or regulations but a product of various policies, regulations and even trends over so many years. My student countered that perhaps the current officials must not make an excuse of the past in failing to act in the present.
  2. I always read about posts that anchor their arguments on the supposed low car ownership in Metro Manila. These are usually followed by calls for taking lanes away from car use for public transport and cycling. While I agree with the latter, I don’t with the former arguments. A student was curious about my statement in one lecture that we need to validate the numbers because what we see on the streets appears to be inconsistent with the notion of low car ownership. There are other ways, she said, to determine vehicle ownership other than the conventional HIS data. We could probably use the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) that is regularly conducted by the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA). This will show if people own motor vehicles as well as how much they spend for transportation.
  3. I asked my students to critique the plans and implementation of airports in the Greater Capital Region (GCR) also known as Mega Manila, and which is larger than the NCR Plus used to refer to Metro Manila plus Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite. I was not surprised about their assessments as all of them did their homework in the sense that they researched on information and data they could use for their critiques. Most were in favor of developing a new capital airport in Bulacan rather than in Cavite. And many favored the continued operation of NAIA but with reduced air traffic and a different role.

More on these opinions, observations and comments as I try to recall the more remarkable or notable ones.

Have a nice Sunday!

MRT 4 on the way – a monorail along the Ortigas Avenue corridor

I’ve seen and read articles and discussions about the proposed MRT Line 4 along Ortigas Avenue. I’ve written about having a mass transit line along this corridor in the past as it is one of my alternate routes between our home and my workplace. The Line will have the following stations (based on the news articles that came out):

  1. Taytay – likely at the junction near the Taytay Public Market;
  2. Manila East Road – likely near SM City Taytay;
  3. Tikling Junction – major transfer station for those going to Antipolo and beyond;
  4. San Juan – (future/provisional station) near Valley Golf; will probably materialize when Sierra Valley is completed and occupied;
  5. Cainta Junction – major transfer station for those heading towards Marcos Highway;
  6. St. Joseph – likely near or across SM City East Ortigas;
  7. Rosario – major transfer station for those going to Pasig, Marikina and even Quezon City
  8. Tiendesitas – (future/provisional station) possible transfer for people traveling along C5;
  9. Meralco – likely near the Meralco main gate;
  10. EDSA – likely across Robinsons Galeria and another major transfer station;
  11. Greenshills – likely across Virra Mall;
  12. Bonny Serrano – likely near the junction and transfer for people heading towards Camp Crame; and
  13. N. Domingo – end station connecting to Line 2 at Gilmore.

Following are photos of the current soil test locations for Line 4, all of which are along the eastbound side of Ortigas Avenue Extension between Cainta Junction and Tikling Junction:

Soil test across the former G-Liner 

Soil test near Brookside

Soil test before Valley Golf near Mandaue Foam

Soil test just after the junction with Valley Golf across from the Primark commercial center.

I will not be commenting on Line 4 and its being a monorail at this point. I will probably be writing about this and the idea of having cable cars for Rizal in another post.

Free public transportation services?

We start August with an article share. Much has been said and written about public transportation being a basic right for people. And the experiences during this Covid-19 pandemic have shown us just how efficient and adequate public transportation can help make our lives better in terms of addressing our commuting or travel needs. Here is a very informative article that should make sense from the perspective of the general commuting public:

Konbie, N. (July 29, 2022) “The Case for Making Public Transit Free Everywhere,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/free-public-transit/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_content=WIR_Daily_072922&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_072922&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=P7 [Last accessed: 8/1/2022]

To quote:

“Free fares might not get everyone out of cars, but will convert some journeys, which benefits everyone in terms of carbon reduction and improving local air quality—and even helps drivers by calming traffic. Free fares won’t pull low-income people out of poverty, but will keep money in their pockets and ensure everyone can travel when they need to. Ditching fares comes at a cost, but there are savings to be had by not investing in expensive ticketing systems and wider logistical and societal benefits…
Public transport should be considered a human right, alongside access to health and education.”

Of course, service quality is a major concern here in the Philippines but isn’t it everywhere else? The question of sustainability should be a rather complex one considering we haven’t truly understood and translated the benefits that can be obtained from providing high quality public transport services vs. being car-oriented. Congestion pricing, for example, could very well provide the funds to improve, upgrade and maintain desirable public transport services (i.e., desirable from the perspective of most commuters and not just the lower and middle income people who more regularly or likely to take public transport than other modes of transport).

What do you think?

On the benefits of developing and investing in active and public transportation

Here is another quick share of an article with a very relevant and timely topic – the business case for multimodal transport planning:

Litman, T. (July 2022) “The Business Case for Multimodal Transportation Planning,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/117697-business-case-multimodal-transportation-planning?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-07142022&mc_cid=03c159ebcf&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 7/15/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Conventional planning tends to undervalue non-auto mode improvements by assuming that each additional mile of their travel can reduce, at best, one vehicle mile traveled. In fact, in many situations they can leverage much larger reductions in vehicle travel, meaning that each additional mile of walking, bicycling, or public transit can reduce more than one vehicle mile … As a result, walking, bicycling and public transit improvements can provide much larger vehicle travel reductions and benefits than is commonly recognized.”

There is a box referred to in the preceding quote. I will not reproduce it here so I leave it up to the reader to go to the original article by Litman to find out how active and public transport can leverage additional travel reductions. Understanding these and the extend by which we can be independent of car-use (referring to non-car travel demand) will allow for a better appreciation, travel-wise and economics or business-wise, of the advantages of developing and investing in active and public transportation infrastructure and services.

Flashback: Transport Infrastructure Framework Plan for the Philippines

I was reading an article yesterday about the outgoing NEDA Director General stating that Philippines needing a long term strategy for infrastructure development that will address the shortcomings or gaps due to unsolicited proposals. There was already something like this drafted almost a decade ago and under the auspices of the returning NEDA DG. Unfortunately, while NEDA accepted the Final Report of the study, they never adopted it as a policy that could also be imposed on agencies like the DOTr (still DOTC back then) and the DPWH. So for a sort of Throwback Thursday and on the last day of the Duterte Administration, I am sharing the promotional video produced for the framework plan that was supported by The World Bank.

The study was conducted by Cambridge Systematics (not related to Cambridge Analytics as far as I know) and was implemented at the same time as the JICA Dream Plan study for Mega Manila. I recall there is also a video on the latter and it listed all the infrastructure projects needed to address the transport problems of the Greater Capital Region. The Infra Framework Plan for the country mentions the various infrastructure projects ongoing and proposed for the Philippines but focuses on the soft side (i.e., strategies) including the reforms and institutional set-up that need to be in place for everything to come together and produce the desired outcomes in the long term. Sadly, strategies and plans are not well appreciated despite their being essential as foundations. While the Build, Build, Build mantra of the outgoing administration is worth praising for attempting to do the catch-up needed in as far as certain transport infrastructure is concerned, it falls short of what are necessary and to be prioritized. Instead, it ended up accommodating projects that are “nice to have” but should not be prioritized considering our limited resources and the undesirable foreign debt racked up by government. Hopefully, the returning NEDA DG and other officials will be able to steer the country clear of the current and future crises that may end up bringing more hardships on Filipinos.

Quezon City’s bus services

One of the projects of the Quezon City (QC) government during the pandemic and which they continued to the present was transport-related. QC deployed buses to provide free transport for its residents.

Here are the routes (source: QC FB page):

Route 1 – Quezon City Hall to Cubao (and vice versa)
Route 2 – Litex / IBP Road to Quezon City Hall (and vice versa)
Route 3 – Welcome Rotonda to Aurora Blvd. / Katipunan Avenue (and vice versa)
Route 4 – General Luis to Quezon City Hall (and vice versa)
Route 5 – Mindanao Ave. cor. Quirino Highway to Quezon City Hall (and vice versa)
Route 6 – Quezon City Hall to Robinsons Magnolia (and vice versa)
Route 7 – Quezon City Hall to Ortigas Avenue Extension (and vice versa)
Route 8 – Quezon City Hall to Muñoz (and vice versa)

See their UPDATED Bus Route & Schedule:

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=273192358328744&id=100069139452704

https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=273192031662110&set=pcb.273192358328744

Here are some photos of the buses along the Elliptical Road. These are air-conditioned and have WiFi for the comfort and benefit of the commuters.

With the fresh mandate (second term) of the QC Mayor Joy Belmonte, it is expected that they will continue with this public service. I am not sure if it should be strictly for QC residents. Perhaps those who work or study in QC should also benefit from the service. These people may show proof in the form of valid IDs like school or employee IDs.

Early morning commuting

Early morning commutes are not new to me as I’ve been doing this since I started to commute by myself decades ago. My usual trip between home and school consisted of two jeepney rides or one jeepney ride and a tricycle ride, depending on whether I carried a lot of items or if I didn’t feel like walking the so-called last mile between the jeepney stop and my home. While traffic wasn’t as bad in the 1980s and 1990s as it is today, it was still difficult to get a ride. Little has improved with public transport even though there are air-conditioned vans, P2P and additional railway option for me now along my usual routes to the office.

Back in the day, I liked to enlist in the 7:00 – 8:30 AM classes at UP Diliman as it was easy to get a ride at 6:00AM. That allowed for some time to spare before class and in the rare cases when UP-Katipunan jeepney drivers were on strike, you can walk the length of Katipunan and arrive in time for class. It was later when my classes were mostly in the afternoon that I had to delay my trips so I wouldn’t have to travel during the peak periods. It was difficult to get a ride and travel times were longer. When I was already working, I often traveled early if we had field work scheduled. That meant traveling before 6AM. There were fewer jeepneys but most were not full and it was easy to get a ride.

I took a couple of photos of a bus plying the Antipolo-Cubao route at around 5:30 AM one Friday morning. This was before the return to work order was issued to many workers so perhaps it does not show the current situation for the same time.

JAM Transit bus plying the Antipolo-Cubao route
Close-up of the bus showing the interior and passengers on-board

I now go to the office twice or thrice per week. On my way at 7:30 AM, I see many people lined along the streets at the typical loading/unloading areas along my routes. People would have to travel earlier if they want to easily get a ride and if their travel distances are relatively far (i.e., many people live outside of Metro Manila and have to travel 10+ kilometers one way).

On the future on urban transportation

I’m sharing the following article on the idea of mobility hubs in cities:

Descant, S (March 16, 2022) “Are mobility hubs the future of urban transportation?” Government Technology, https://www.govtech.com/fs/are-mobility-hubs-the-future-of-urban-transportation [Last accessed: 3/18/2022]

To quote from the article:

“As cities reimagine transportation and transit, they’re turning toward innovative attempts to bring multiple modes together, with the essential aim of making it easier for residents and others to choose a mode of travel other than the single-occupancy car.”

Though I support this idea, I think it only implies that housing issues are already covered. In reality, there should be clear-cut and simultaneous initiatives covering both housing and transport. In Metro Manila’s case, for example, the sprawl is over a much wider area and covers at least 4 provinces surround the metropolis where people have chosen to settle/reside due to the high and rising cost of housing in the MM. While the example of Tokyo and its railway lines may be used as inspiration, it will take a lot for Metro Manila to have such a transit network to carry so many people around MM+.

Article on evaluating transport equity

Here is another quick share of an article on transportation equity:

Litman, T. (February 2, 2022) “Evaluating Transportation Equity: ITE Quickbite,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/news/2022/02/116058-evaluating-transportation-equity-ite-quickbite [Last accessed: 2/4/2022]

Transportation equity is a very relevant, very timely topic as people in the Philippines are just beginning to understand and weigh the advantages of having more efficient transport in the forms of active and public transport over private vehicles.

No vax, no ride – some insights and opinions

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) recently issued a memo stating unvaccinated people may not use public transportation in Metro Manila. People will have to show proof of vaccination (i.e., vaccination card) before he/she is allowed to board the bus, jeepney, van or train, which are all under the jurisdiction of the DOTr. I assume tricycles are not included here since these are under the local government units.

Certain groups quickly slammed the memo as being “anti-poor”. Note though that vaccinations are covered by government funds and are free. You only have to register and show-up for your shots. Given the period when vaccinations started, there should be few or no excuses for not being vaccinated at this time for most people (children under 11 years old are not yet being vaccinated as of this writing). In fact, many vaccination centers have already been giving booster shots from November 2021 and many have reportedly had fewer people getting vaccinated or boosters by December 2021. That changed when the current surge attributed mainly to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 led to a sudden influx of people at vaccination centers. Workplaces requiring their employees to be vaccinated also probably contributed to people being convinced they needed to get vaccinated. Otherwise, they could not earn a living.

A colleague explained that the modality of vaccinations requiring registrations online meant those without smart phones could only do walk-ins. While certain LGUs such as Cainta automatically registered their constituents, and particularly senior citizens, and posted vaccination schedules that covered everyone registered as their constituents, others especially larger LGUs might not have the capacity to do this simplification. Non-vaxxed people will also have to take some form of transport and not everyone will opt to bike or would have their own private vehicle.

Perhaps we should again look to science for an answer to the question whether this policy is good or bad. Ventilation or air circulation-wise, open air vehicles and without those plastic barriers present a better situation for lesser likelihoods of virus transmission among passengers. Many public transport vehicles though are closed, air-conditioned types. People are also obliged to wear masks (shields have been proved as ineffective and unnecessary) so everyone wearing masks should reduce the risk of transmission even with unvaccinated people (remember there was a time everybody when everybody was unvaccinated). Again the key word here is “reduce”. There is no guarantee that one will not get Covid even with excellent ventilation and mask use.

Implementation-wise, there are many challenges here including the additional delays to travel brought about by the vaccination card checks. If there are to be checkpoints, that’s another source of delay (and we already know how checkpoints can result in carmaggedon-level congestion). The even more recent DOTr pronouncement is their intention to deploy what they call “mystery passengers” seems amusing and inspired by similar people mingling in public to tell on people violating this and that law.

Meanwhile, here’s a question that’s easily answerable by “yes” or “no” but would likely elicit explanations or arguments for or against the idea: “Would you, assuming you’re vaccinated, be willing to take public transportation knowing that you will be riding a vehicle together with unvaccinated people?” I think the most common answer would be a “No”. Exceptional would be the “yes” reply if you consider the potential for spreading Covid-19 post-commute (by both the vaccinated and unvaccinated who are either asymptomatic or symptomatic).

As a parting note, a former student puts it quite bluntly in a social media post – “Smoking in public is banned precisely based on the science. Is smoking then anti-poor? And would you ride in public transport with people who are smoking while in the vehicles?” I think we also know the answer to this question without elaborating on the situation.