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Progress in promoting and realizing sustainable transport in the Philippines

There is a very good article that came out of Rappler last March 28, 2016:

Creating sustainable transport systems: PH’s progress so far

The article caught my attention as I have lost track of what should be the monitoring of sustainable transport initiatives anchored on the pillars of EST as described in the National EST Strategy and the article. The formulation of the national EST strategy started under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza) and was completed under President Benigno C. Aquino III (DOTC Secretary Jose Dela Cruz). The formulation was initiated and supported by the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) and is unique partly because it is the only one to be completed among similar projects across ASEAN. The other countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia were only able to get to the baseline and consultations stages of their own national EST strategy formulations. The Philippines National EST Strategy document eventually became an input for the formulation of the National Transport Policy Framework (supported by AusAID) as well as the National Transport Infrastructure Framework (supported by the WB).

Looking back at EST social marketing

With all that are happening today that are related to sustainable transport, I tend to pause and look back with a smile on how it was more many years ago when we were struggling to promote environmentally sustainable transport (EST). At that time, most local government units were not yet into sustainable transport and were unaware of the principles. There were a few who already had a project or program in place but didn’t know that these were classified as EST.


Under the project, we identified several local good practice examples for EST and invited representatives of those LGUs to spread the word to other LGUs. Those who regularly went with us to promote EST were representatives of the Marikina City Bikeways Office, and San Fernando, La Union’s City Planning Office who shared their experiences in phasing out 2-stroke motorcycle-run tricycles.

I recall that one major Visayan city wasn’t so receptive at the time as the City Planning Coordinator seemed more interested in international trainings and foreign assisted projects than the city actually developing sustainable programs and projects on its own. The irony now is that despite his being not so excited about sustainable transport that city now has good examples for EST including a bicycle corridor and pedestrian and bike-friendly riverside developments.

But there was the case of the very receptive and progressive City Planning Coordinator of another major Visayan city who helped us immensely in promoting EST. His eagerness, particularly for public transport options, paved the way for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to gain a foothold in the discussions paving the way for more efficient transit systems to be considered (and now planned and designed) for his city. That interest led to his city getting the attention of an international agency that brought in then former mayor and now the recently re-elected Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, to do talks about his city’s Trans Milenio BRT system. I remember a couple of visits of Mr. Penalosa including a series of dinner meetings sponsored by the private sector in Makati City who were interested in the Bogota’s transport success story.

We always wondered who, when and how EST would be advocated by others and particularly by a younger generation who would turn out to be more outspoken and aggressive in promoting EST. These include those calling for better public transport systems, those advocating for pedestrian and bicycle facilities, those pushing for safer roads, and those lobbying for clean air. With all that we are seeing now around us (Congratulations Firefly Brigade for a very successful Tour of the Fireflies last Sunday!) and on various media platforms, I strongly believe that we are on the right path towards achieving better quality, sustainable and equitable transport for everyone.

On sustainability and inclusiveness of pedicabs

“Sustainable transport is inclusive but inclusive transport is not necessarily sustainable.” Is this statement true? If yes, why and to what extent? This is not a philosophical take at transport. There seems to be some conflict in that statement but there should really be no confusion once you delve into the essence of sustainability and define the limits of inclusiveness. The statement is true to the extent that all sustainable forms of transport can be inclusive. These are transport modes that are friendly to all genders, all ages, all economic classes, and regardless of physical ability. However, there are transport modes that are inclusive in the same context stated but are unsustainable from the perspectives of suitability, efficiency and energy.

For example, non-motorized transport (NMT) in the form of pedicabs (also called trisikad or padyak) are sustainable from the perspective of energy. They are most suitable for operation along minor roads, especially those in residential areas. However, if the same pedicabs operate along national roads and mixed with motorized traffic, these become a nuisance and contribute to traffic congestion. Such operations also put passengers at risk, exposing to potential crashes as pedicab drivers tend to violate road traffic rules (e.g., moving against traffic).

IMG04131-20120829-1517Pedicabs along the Quezon Avenue Service Road near Agham Road.

IMG04578-20121019-1721Pedicab ferrying passengers from the Quezon Ave. MRT-3 station to destinations along Agham Road.

IMG04579-20121019-1721Counter-flowing pedicab along Quezon Ave. just outside the National Grid Corporation (formerly Napocor) office.

Pedicabs have another dimension, which is often cited as a reason for its very existence. It is a source of livelihood for many people. Whether this is something that needs to be encouraged is the subject of debates often involving discussions on poverty and governance. That is, pedicabs are often owned and/or operated by low income people and their numbers translate into votes for local officials who tolerate pedicabs and even encourage them as a form of livelihood. It is, after all, like the jeepneys and tricycles before it, supposed to be a simple investment that generates income for the owner/operator/driver. People have glorified or romanticized the pedicab as various designs have displayed the creativeness (or even artistry) of the Filipino. However, just like other modes of transport, the pedicab should function within a hierarchy based on its suitability with respect to other modes that are similarly appropriate for a certain range of conditions. Hopefully, such concepts are understood by stakeholders if only to effect the rationalization of transport services and  correct certain notions pertaining to inclusiveness and sustainability for such modes.