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Topics for transportation research

I notice that I have been getting a lot of traffic on my site lately from people searching about research topics. I guess its that time of year when students (undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate) are looking for topics. I have written before that it seems to me that many schools don’t really provide much guidance to students in their topic selection for their undergraduate research, masters thesis and even doctoral dissertations. I have received and seen emails from students from other schools asking if I or one of my colleagues at the university can be their research advisers. We usually politely decline so as we also have our own students to advise and researches to undertake. While I believe we should encourage research on transportation topics, I would dare say that schools should be responsible enough to build capacity for their faculty to be able to effectively guide their students and not unfairly pass them on to others.

Here are some topics that I think are quite relevant at present:

  • Anything that’s about ride sharing (i.e., Uber, Grab, etc.) and particularly on passengers’ and drivers’ characteristics.
  • Carpooling as applied in offices, schools, communities. There’s an app that promotes this – Wunder.
  • Motorcycle taxis – this includes habal-habal, Skylab and other variations both in the urban and rural setting. What are their characteristics? Passengers? Drivers?
  • Complete streets – how can we apply its principles to our cities, towns, communities, even specific roads?
  • Road safety – this genre covers a lot of topics including pedestrian safety, motorcycle safety, public transport safety, chid safety, driver behavior, safe road designs, etc.
  • Transportation costs/expenditures – characteristics of commuting and commuters in relation to the modes they take as well as the distances between their homes and workplaces or schools.

I believe there are a lot of topics that can be developed from the above. But perhaps schools can first formulate research agendas first and not attempt to snipe at every and all topics that come to mind.

Good luck on topic selection and here’s hoping your outcomes are useful to improve transport and traffic in the Philippines.

Standards for integrated railways in the Philippines

With the recent pronouncements about railway projects in Metro Manila including the ongoing Line 2 Extension to Masinag, the impending construction of Line 7 (i.e., along Commonwealth and Regalado Avenues and Quirino Highway) and the proposal for a Line 4 (Diliman, Quezon City to Lerma, Manila), it becomes more imperative to have integrated railway infrastructure including and especially common stations where lines intersect and common specifications guided by standards or guidelines. Do we have such or has there been work towards their formulation in the past? The simple answer to that question is yes. But then we have to qualify that affirmative response because while there was a study a decade and a half ago, the outcomes of that study, which is a comprehensive take on all aspects of railway systems was never formally adopted (again?) by the Philippines.

The following link is for the Executive Summary of the “Study on Integrated Railway Network for Metro Manila (SIRNMM) completed in 2001.

2001 – SIRNMM – Summary

Perhaps there is a need to revisit the outcomes of this study? This can serve as a good platform from which updated guidelines and standards can be developed for a more harmonious development of railways systems not just for Metro Manila but for other cities as well.

On doing research for your undergraduate course requirements

It’s that time of year again when we are swamped with requests for interviews from students taking undergraduate courses. These undergraduate courses include those on Science, Technology and Society, English, Communications, Architecture, Geography, Business, and Economics. These requests are not limited to students from our university but also come from students in other schools as well. While we are happy to oblige, granting interviews face-to-face or through correspondence (through email, of course), we are becoming wary about students not doing their part first before requesting an interview. In many cases, they just fire off a list of questions in the first email, probably hoping the addressee would be kind enough to answer all these questions in a comprehensive manner. That way, perhaps the student will be able to save on time and effort in doing his/her report. That’s right, let the expert answer all the questions and tell me what references I should list down in my report. If the student can’t understand what the expert wrote in reply or if the student thinks its not enough, then the latter could just send a follow-up with additional questions or request another interview.

Is this the right way to do research? I do not agree with this and perhaps the faculty handling their respective courses these students are enrolled under should take care in how they frame their requirements. It is as if they are passing on their responsibilities to other faculty members, experts in their particular fields, who would have to contend with requests for interviews or outright questions in their emails. That’s probably understandable for general education courses like English and STS, but not acceptable for undergraduate research projects that are supposed to be “capping” courses in their programs.

How do I address such inquiries in my mailbox? I do respond immediately and in fairness to the students whom I assume are somewhat misguided in his/her research work; particularly on how to conduct research. My usual reply is that I cannot accommodate the request due to my schedule followed by a counter-request for the student to send me his/her questions first (if he/she hasn’t done so in the first email). If I already have an idea of the students’ topics, then I would suggest some reading material or references first, and hopefully that can help the students frame their questions. That way, I can gauge if the students are really serious about their research or are just going through the motions. It’s difficult for me to be serious or passionate with my replies if the person on the other side of the proverbial table is not at all interested in the topic and treats the exercise as just another requirement for him/her to get a good grade.

Doing his/her part before even contacting experts mean the student needs to do some literature review. That can be in the form of research online and not the kind where the student will just mention a few articles (often opinion pieces) that they read on Rappler, Yahoo or other online sources. There’s a wealth of more scholarly and objective information now available on the net and UP students have access to journals, books and other references through the university’s libraries. These are privileges that they have already paid for as part of their tuition so why let these resources go to waste? I believe students can do a good job in their research projects if they are given proper guidance by their advisers or instructors, who should be the “first line of defense” against mediocrity in their studies at this level. Getting rarer these days are students who come in prepared and are really passionate about the topics they are studying.

The Metro Manila Urban Transportation Strategy and Planning Project (MMUTSTRAP, 1983)

I continue on my feature on past studies on transport in Metro Manila. The Metro Manila Urban Transportation Strategy and Planning Project (MMUTSTRAP) was conducted from November 1982 to April 1983, with support from the Australian Development Assistance Bureau – the precursor of AusAID. The study was conceptualized by a Metro Manila Transportation Policy Committee that consisted of the Ministers of the then Ministry of Transportation and Communications (now DOTC) and Ministry of Public Works and Highways (now DPWH), the Vice Governor of what was the Metro Manila Commission (now MMDA), and the Chief of the Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police (now PNP). The Philippine Government-funded study examined alternative futures on Metro Manila’s development and used these as the basis for formulating alternative futures for public transport modes. These futures did not mention UTSMMA and its the recommendations for an RTR but presented pessimistic, most likely and optimistic scenarios for PNR, LRT bus and jeepneys.

The study examined recommendations of past studies, most specifically the more recent MMETROPLAN and MMUTIP. MMUTSTRAP seem to contradict MMETROPLAN’s recommendations to encourage the entry of new bus and jeepney operators rather than restricting or controlling these as it (MMUTSTRAP) concluded that “deregulation is not a viable alternative for urban public transportation in Metro Manila.” It further explained that deregulation is justified on the assumption that the main objective in urban public transport is simply to make it a profitable business. To the contrary, the study pointed out that there are other objectives such as adequate service to the public and safety, which should be placed above profitability. This last statement reverberates over the decades to the present when it seems to many that the objective of urban public transport is more on the “profit side” rather than the “adequate and safe aspect” of something that it supposed to be a public service.

The study explored strategies for traffic management and various travel demand management (TDM) measures including area traffic restraint similar to what Singapore had already implemented at the time. A significant output of MMUTSTRAP was a prioritization plan for transport projects and policies for Metro Manila. This included the ranking of projects for implementation in Metro Manila such as:

  • Pending road projects
  • Potential road projects
  • Urgent traffic signals
  • Potential pedestrian projects
  • Potential transit projects
  • Terminal projects

Examples of the transport projects ranked by MMUTSTRAP are shown in Tables A and B for pending road projects, and potential transit projects. An index was developed based on perceived importance of the project and the associated costs.

Table A – Ranking of pending road projects identified in MMUTSTRAP (1983)

Brief description Rank Index
Visayas Avenue extension: Elliptical Road to C-6 1 66.4
Mindanao Avenue Extension: North Avenue to C-6 2 66.1
C-5 construction: MacArthur Highway to North Expressway 3 64.0
Makati-Mandaluyong Link Road 4 61.4
Loop Road: from Bicutan to Alabang 5 61.2
C-6 construction: North Expressway to M. Marcos Avenue 6 61.1
Widen R-10: C-1 to Dagat-dagatan Spine 7 60.7
C-3 construction: Rizal Avenue to G. Araneta Extension 8 60.5
C-3 improvement: G. Araneta to Aurora Boulevard 9 59.5
Widen South Superhighway 10 58.7
C-4 interchange with Boni Avenue 11 58.6
C-5 construction: R-4 to Pasig Boulevard to Aurora Boulevard 12 58.5
R-4 construction: EDSA to Pasig/Pateros 13 57.9
R-5 construction: Kapasigan to Taytay Diversion 14 57.7
C-5 construction: North Expressway to Aurora Boulevard 15 56.2
C-3 works: Ayala Avenue to Tripa de Gallina 16 55.9
C-3 construction: N. Domingo to Ayala Avenue 17 55.7
Widen Domestic Road: MIA Road to Airport Road 18 55.5
C-4 extension: Taft Avenue to Roxas Boulevard 19 55.3
C-4 interchange with Roosevelt Avenue 20 55.2
C-4 interchange with Ortigas Avenue 21 54.7
C-4 interchanges with Ayala Avenue and Pasay Road 22 54.1
C-4 interchange with Santolan Road 23 53.7
C-4 interchange with Kamias/East Avenue 24 53.2
C-4 interchange with Buendia Avenue 25 52.2
C-5 construction: R-4 to South Superhighway 26 52.1
Widen Parañaque to Sucat Road 27 51.8
Re-align western 1.6 km of Zapote-Alabang Road 28 49.3
R-10 Construction 29 49.1

Notes: The codes C and R stand for Circumferential and Radial, respectively, and refer to the main road network of Metro Manila. These roads are more commonly known by other names such as, for example, EDSA (C-4), Aurora Boulevard (R-6) and España Boulevard (R-7).

Table B – Ranking of potential transit projects identified in MMUTSTRAP (1983)

Brief description Ranking based on assessment by project team Ranking based on evaluation from selected MOTC panel Index
Bus replacementa 1 1 55.6
PNR Commuter additional coaches and upgrade 2 2 50.8
LRT Line #2 – EDSA 3 3 44.4
Surface tramway – Radial road along Españab 4 43.9
LRT Line #3 – Radial along España 4 5 43.0

aAssumed that additional bus units will not be needed in the next 5 years with replacements likely after 1987.

bProject proposed by one of the members of the MOTC panel. This was treated as an alternative (on a mutually exclusive basis) to LRT Line #3, rather than an independent project for ranking.

[Reference: MMUTSTRAP, 1983 – NCTS Library]

Earlier studies recommended projects but did not show lists ranking projects in terms of an objective index or criteria. MMUTSTRAP did a good job in coming up with this idea or basis that was transparent and objective in evaluating projects. The criteria, however, is based mainly on perception of those involved in the study and, arguably, such perceptions may vary according to the knowledge and experiences of those involved in the evaluation. This is where the biases lie in as far as project prioritisation was concerned for this project. Perhaps a more participatory approach could have been conducted? Of course, it can be argued that at this time, both capacity and capability of local governments and national agencies were quite limited and so these have to be dependent on consultants (i.e., the study team) for their assessment and recommendations.

Metro Manila Urban Transport Improvement Project (MMUTIP, 1981)

We continue with our historical features on transport with the Metro Manila Urban Transport Improvement Project (MMUTIP). MMUTIP was implemented from July 1980 to August 1981 with funding from the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) of Japan. MMUTIP recommended for a new franchising system to be adopted by the then Board of Transportation (BOT), with standards covering citizenship, route opening, operating performance and financial capability. It also called for the adoption of measures that will safeguard the integrity of franchise records and the speedy processing and better control of franchise applications. The BOT is the precursor of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).


Additional bus routes were identified by the study and recommended for 5,900 units for daily operations. The study estimated that as much as 1,870 additional units were required for Metro Manila. Meanwhile, the study found the operations of the Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC), the government owned bus company, unprofitable and stated that the government-run company has failed to define objectives and policies particularly in specifying the extent to which MMTC will render public service at the sacrifice of profit (note that MMTC was losing money in part because it was serving missionary routes so as to reduce direct competition with the private companies). I think looking back now, this was perhaps the beginning of the end for MMTC. Some people say that we could probably have used something like the MMTC today to keep public transport operators honest in their operations and also to continue providing services for missionary routes rather than letting these be served by tricycles and jeepneys that will eventually would have to be granted franchises. As it is, such situations often lead to poorly planned transport services including the (mis)determination of the number of PUV units required to serve an area or corridor.

MMUTIP recommended for the control of entry and operation of jeepneys along major bus routes while at the same time calling for a deregulation of entry and operations outside major thoroughfares, which were served or are more suitable for buses. Further, the study called for encouraging tricycle services where bus and jeepney routes are scarce while also stating that these should be limited to local or feeder services. Then as now, tricycles are restricted from national roads.

[Note: A copy of MMUTIP may be found at the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) Library located at their building along Apacible Street at the University of the Philippines Diliman. This is not a public library so access is limited to UP staff and students. Researchers and others from outside UP would have to write to the Director for permission to use the library and its holdings.]

Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN, 1977)

In a previous article, I had written about the Urban Transport Study for the Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA), which was completed in 1973 and proposed, among others, a rapid rail transit network for Metro Manila. The government proceeded to undertake a feasibility study for the first line of that network almost immediately afterwards. However, something happened a few years later that effectively contradicted UTSMMA’s recommendations and, from what the documents available to us now suggest, effectively doomed the future of transport in Metro Manila.

The Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) was implemented from January 1976 to February 1977. It was apparently commissioned by the Philippine Government, and funded by the World Bank, which commissioned the precursor of Halcrow Fox to do the study with a steering group comprised of senior government official dealing with transport at the time.


The MMETROPLAN project team is shown in the photo below. Note the inclusion of some familiar names particularly from the DPWH and DOTC who were then with what was the Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications (DPWTC) and Department of Public Highways (DPH) before these were reorganised. Note, too, a familiar name under Planning, who is very much active today with his own advocacies.


The study is more expansive in terms of scope as it included components on land use and development planning for Metro Manila. It identified three main strategies to address issues on traffic congestion and public transport requirements, namely:

  • Cordon pricing,
  • Bus lanes, and
  • LRT

Short-term recommendations focused on bus and jeepney operations, recommending that:

  • Standard buses (non-airconditioned) be designed for more standing passengers and charge a fare affordable by the poor;
  • Premium buses (including Love Bus) be designed for seated passengers and charge a higher fare; this may be used to cross-subsidize Standard bus operations;
  • Metro Manila Transit Corporation (MMTC) bus operations should not be further expanded:
    • MMTC buses should operate missionary routes, which are generally unprofitable routes.
    • There should be no arbitrary exemption on franchises like in the case of MMTC.
  • In reference to private bus companies, the project states that “properly regulated competition” provides best course of action for the foreseeable future;
  • Jeepneys are suited for low demand but high frequency service

MMETROPLAN also touched on the route structure for road public transport. However, its most far-reaching recommendations on road public transport concern the issuance of franchises for buses and jeepneys. The study recommended that franchises should be issued for a period of a few years instead of 25 years and to define a minimum LOS. The study cautioned against arbitrary restrictions on franchises for buses at the time while mentioning that there were already restrictions for jeepneys. MMETROPLAN further recommended the encouraging of small operators for both jeepneys and buses.

However, MMETROPLAN deviated from the recommendations of UTSMMA in that it struck down the proposal and plans for the Rapid Transit Rail (RTR) network for Metro Manila. The long-term recommendations and conclusions of the study show these and one particular recommendation that probably doomed heavy rail transport and the RTR network is quoted below:

“Heavy Rapid Transit (HRT) would provide public transport passengers with much faster journey, but by 1990 would attract only 2.5% of motorists and would have negligible impact on traffic congestion. Partly because of this and partly because of its very high capital cost, it would be hopelessly uneconomic: the annualized capital costs would be higher than the estimated benefits in 1990…passenger flows are not high enough to exploit its full capacity…and the large savings in time for public transport passengers are not given a high value in Manila, and are not high enough to persuade motorists to change mode.

These results are conclusive, and are unlikely to be changed by any circumstances or reasonable assumptions…it is clear that any other fully segregated public transport system, whether light rail or busway, would also be uneconomic. As such systems would require the appropriation of most, if not all, of the available funds for all transport (including highways) in Metro Manila for the foreseeable future, and as there is not other rationale for their implementation, they have been rejected from further consideration.” (MMETROPLAN, 1977)

The study also did not have good words for the PNR as it concluded that its “routes related poorly to the major demands for movement” and that it would be expensive to improve the PNR at the time. PNR costs were compared to buses and jeepneys with the further concluded that these road transport modes are preferred over an upgraded PNR.

MMETROPLAN assessed the LRT vs. the Monorail in the context of cordon pricing and bus lane strategies. While the monorail was dismissed for reasons that included few monorail systems operating at the time, the study recommended for an LRT along Rizal Avenue, which was considered feasible. These conclusions and recommendations by MMETROPLAN would eventually have far-reaching impacts on Metro Manila’s transport system and the study would be among the most cited in discussions and future planning where land use and transport are discussed in the same light.

For land use planning, the report also provides us with a history of land use planning for Metro Manila, which we can now compare with what actually happened. That is, if the plans made back in the 1970’s were actually implemented and to what extent were they realised. Many of these plans remain controversial to this day and are often invoked whenever there is talk about the perennial flooding and the spectre of earthquakes threatening much of Metro Manila and its surrounding areas in addition to other issues like the transport and traffic problems experienced around what has become a megalopolis.

[Reference: MMETROPLAN, 1977 – NCTS Library]

But what could have  influenced the MMETROPLAN study team and government officials to debunk UTSMMA? Why the “about-face” for something that seems to be the JICA Dream Plan circa 1970’s? UTSMMA and the rail rapid transit network, after all, was the product of a vision for future Metropolitan Manila transport by  a visionary professor from the University of Tokyo – one Dr. Takashi Inouye of that university’s Department of Urban Engineering. I think the next article will provide us with the answers to these questions regarding the turnaround. Abangan!

Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA, 1973)

With the recent approval of JICA’s Dream Plan for Mega Manila, I thought it was timely to look back at similar plans developed for Metro Manila and its surrounding areas. At the time these plans were made, I guess they were all regarded as “dream plans” in their own ways. Let us start with what is probably the original dream plan, the Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA, 1973). The project was implemented from March 1971 to September 1973 with the assistance of the Government of Japan’s Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency (OTCA), the precursor of today’s Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Being the first comprehensive study for a metropolitan area that was yet to be formally consolidated and called Metro Manila, UTSMMA set the stage for future transport studies for the metropolis. Among the study’s main recommendations is one proposing for a mass transit system restricted to railways. A Rapid Transit Railway (RTR) network was recommended in the form of subways in the inner area bound by EDSA, and elevated in the suburban areas. Brief descriptions of the proposed lines are as follows:

  • Line 1 (27.1 km) – from Construction Hill to Talon via central Quezon Boulevard, Manila downtown and the International Airport
  • Line 2 (36.0 km) – from Novaliches to Cainta via Manila downtown and Pasig
  • Line 3 (24.3 km) – Along Highway 54 (C-4): half a circle route about 12 km from Manila downtown
  • Line 4 (30.1 km) – From Marikina to Zapote via Cubao, Manila downtown and the Manila Bay area
  • Line 5 (17.6 km) – From Meycauayan to Manila downtown running between Line No. 2 and PNR
  • PNR improvement (56.4 km) – From Bocaue to Muntinglupa via Tutuban Station

The following that was posted here before in another article shows a map illustrating the recommended RTR network for the Manila Metropolitan area. (Note that the map was enhanced from the original black and white to clearly show the proposed lines back then.) MM RTR map2 UTSMMA also recognized the important roles of buses and jeepneys in the future, and recommended that these be used for feeder services once the rail systems have been constructed and operational. As a result of the study, a Feasibility Study for the Manila Rapid Transit Railway Line No. 1 was conducted and completed in June 1976. The study, which was supported by JICA, noted that “the implementation should be initiated immediately” in light of the estimated heavy traffic demand along the corridor. This project could have been the first major transport project for Metro Manila if it had been implemented. Unfortunately, despite a favorable assessment in this study, the proposed RTR Line 1 was not implemented after a contrary assessment by a subsequent study, MMETROPLAN, which is discussed in the succeeding section of this report. The estimated costs of construction of recommended transport infrastructure were provided in the Final Report of the study including indicative costs and benefits of proposed urban expressways and urban rapid transit railways. [Reference: UTSMMA, 1973 – NCTS Library] Whenever I go back to UTSMMA and the network of proposed railway lines, I can’t help but wonder what could have been one of the more efficient transport systems in Asia or even in the world. What happened? Why was this plan not realised? The answer may be found in the next big study conducted for Metro Manila that also included in much detail its land use and development plans. Next: MMETROPLAN, 1977 –