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On the importance of public transportation post-pandemic

I am sharing another article from Todd Litman that appear yesterday:

Litman, T. (2020) “Lessons from Pandemics: Valuing Public Transportation,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/109584-lessons-pandemics-valuing-public-transportation?fbclid=IwAR2jduFuYoyf_MoksI2Th4UoWtQYMQVOdwHuiih8JM9NxMN5pT_e1lwhgDQ [Last accessed: 6/13/2020]

The article contains material derived from previous work by the author and provides a list (and links to) resources or references related to this topic.

Traffic is back to “normal”

Traveling to the office last Monday, I could not help but notice the long lines of cars along Ortigas Avenue’s westbound lanes and Katipunan’s southbound lanes. Without adequate public transportation, people have few options for their commutes. Walking from home to workplaces is feasible only for those who live relatively near their workplace (perhaps up to 5km distance?). Cycling may be considered but not everyone can bike beyond 5km, what more for 10km+ commutes. And for both cases, there are just so many obstacles (and I’m not just fault-finding here) like a lack of sidewalks and bike paths to ensure safe walking and cycling.

Traffic congestion along Felix Avenue in Cainta towards Cainta Junction (with Ortigas Avenue Extension) – these are┬ámostly outbound traffic likely coming from the residential subdivisions along Felix Avenue and heading to workplaces in Pasig, Mandaluyong, Makati and Taguig. They will likely take Ortigas Avenue to connect with other major roads such as C-5 and EDSA to get to their destinations.

 

The DOTr and the LTFRB have released guidelines for safety and the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Yet, they have moved quite so slowly to bring back public transportation to address the demand for it and to be able to discourage or restrict car usage in the “business-as-usual” or “old normal” sense. Public transportation is critical if we are to transform transportation during this transition from the lockdowns. Granted, the government probably wants to use the situation to effect its modernization plans but it is one thing to take advantage of the opportunity and another to be an opportunist considering the vulnerabilities of the transport sector after it endured 3 months of shutdown. The moral and right thing to do is to bring back public transport and give incentives for it to thrive and perhaps transform or upgrade by themselves rather than force the situation at the expense of commuters.

Assessing the risk of infection from the transport safety perspective

My colleagues and I have been developing a risk assessment table for land transport modes to be submitted to the UP COVID-19 Response Team. We did a rapid assessment using mainly concepts from road safety.

The concepts are fairly simple. Risk assessment can be based on the likelihood of contracting the virus gauged from certain exposure factors. Exposure estimation may be quantitative where metrics are applied and data collected for the analysis. Estimation may alternatively qualitative based on experiences, perceptions, expert opinions, etc. but subject to logic (e.g., careful deduction). In road safety, for example, these factors may be defined as three: time, distance and volume.

Time exposure can be determined using travel time as a metric. Longer the travel times mean higher exposures for a commuter. Higher exposure translate to a higher likelihood that a person may become involved in a road crash. Thus, a commuter traveling for 1 hour, one way, will have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash compared to another traveling only 10 minutes even assuming that both use the same mode of transport. Applied to the risk of viral infection, longer commutes may mean people can have higher exposure to potential carriers of the virus.

Distance exposure can be determined using travel distance as a metric. Longer travel distances mean higher exposures for a commuter. Higher exposure again translate to a higher likelihood that a person may become involved in a road crash. Thus, a commuter with a travel distance of 10 kilometers will have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash compared to someone traveling only 1 kilometer. Applying this to the risk of viral infection is similar to the previous case for time exposure even when assuming the same mode of transport.

Volume exposure can be determined using both the volume of vehicles as well as the number of passengers inside the vehicles. The more vehicles or people you have on the roads interacting, the higher the likelihood of one becoming involved in a crash. It can also be argued that riding public transport in high volume, mixed traffic makes a passenger have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash. Again, applying this to the risk of viral infection, it should be easy to understand why physical distancing is necessary in vehicles as well as outdoors when walking or cycling. It should also extend to having less vehicles on the road to further reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.

In the real world, we cannot isolate each factor from one another. Instead, we have to contend with all three combining to create various scenarios. Along expressways, for example, the volume of vehicles might be high and so are distances. Time exposure can be lower due to high speeds. Yet high speeds can contribute to increased likelihood of crashes. Meanwhile, traffic congestion has all the ingredients for maximizing the likelihood for crashes and, by extension, viral infection. Long commutes (by time and distance) plus high volumes of people and vehicles combine to create the worst case scenario from the perspectives of both road safety and infection, which are both public health issues.

Next – Why we should not return to the old normal…

On urban planning resources or references for the pandemic

I am posting for reference this article compiling helpful references for urban planning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the references listed are based on the US experience and I am sure there is already a wealth of information coming from other countries as well including those that have been successful in mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

Brasuell, J. (2020) “Urban Planning Resources for COVID-19”, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/node/109238?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05142020&mc_cid=2e155996b6&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/16/2020]

 

On the proposed single bus route along EDSA

A friend posted this on social media as news came out about the government’s statement on its considering a single bus route for EDSA. EDSA, of course, is Circumferential Road 4 and perhaps the busiest road in Metropolitan Manila in terms of volumes of people and vehicles traversing this road. Public transportation along EDSA is mainly by buses and the MRT Line 3. Line 3’s capacity is already diminished despite the high demand for it mainly because of the number of train sets that are currently in operation. Buses, meanwhile, are split among the many routes converging along much of EDSA. These routes are shown in the map on the left where you can see the overlapping routes that have various end points.

 

Of course, it is best to read the Final Report of this study. That way, one is able to see the overall context for this section that is part of the concluding part of the report. I recall that the consulting team from UP was able to map the routes of other public utility vehicles like jeepneys and UV Express from that time. Perhaps the DOTr still has a copy somewhere? The NCTS Library in UP Diliman is currently closed so one may have to search the internet first for a copy of the study or perhaps snippets of it here and there. Perhaps related to this is a proposal to revive (or maybe the right word is ‘resurrect’?) the now defunct Metro Manila Transit Corporation or MMTC that used to dominate EDSA and other major roads in direct competition with the few private bus companies during its heydays as well as the jeepneys.

National Transport Policy is out!

The National Transport Policy is out and there’s a lot of buzz about the wording of the policy. NEDA released the following infographics on their official Facebook page:

Definition of what the policy is about

Hierarchy of transport modes (note the emphasis on walking and cycling)

Checklist for programs and projects: I am already anticipating what proponents will be writing to justify projects according to this checklist.

I will reserve my commentaries for future blogs. There is really a lot to discuss about this policy and how it will implemented (properly or improperly), There are lots of different ideas, advocacies, interests and agendas on transportation that come into play here. And we can only hope that the policy and its implementing rules and regulations will be clear enough (not vague as to have so many loopholes) for this policy to effect transformation and inclusive and sustainable development.

Bus stops in Bangkok

My former professor – my second adviser – posted a few photos of bus stops in Bangkok. I am re-sharing these here to show one aspect of how buses operate in Bangkok including the route numbering and the schedules.

Bus route numbers and lists of designated stops for each [Photo credits: Fumihiko Nakamura]

Route map on the other side of the panel [Photo credits: Fumihiko Nakamura]

There are no schedules here like the ones on bus stops in Japan or Singapore but the basic information is quite helpful for commuters and tourists who opt to take regular public transport instead of taxis or ride share. Are such devices being considered by the MMDA or other cities for their public transportation? If not, then maybe they can consider and include this in their New Year’s resolutions.

Is there really a transport or traffic crisis in Metro Manila?

I was interviewed recently for a research project by students enrolled in a journalism class. I was asked by one in the group if we indeed have a transport crisis in Metro Manila. The other quickly added “hindi transport, traffic” (not transport but traffic). And so I replied that both terms are valid but refer to different aspects of the daily travel we call “commuting”. “Traffic” generally refers to the flow of vehicles (and people if we are to be inclusive) while “transport” refers to the modes of travel available to us.

“Commuting” is actually not limited to those taking public transportation. The term refers to all regular travel between two locations. The most common pairs are home – office and home – school. The person traveling may use one or a combination of transport modes for the commute. Walking counts including when it is the only mode used. So if your residence is a building just across from your office then your commute probably would be that short walk crossing the street. In the Philippines, however, like “coke” and “Xerox”, which are brands by the way, we have come to associate “commute” with those taking public transportation.

And so we go back to the question or questions- Do we have a transport and traffic crises? My response was we do have a crisis on both aspects of travel. All indicators state so and it is a wonder many including top government transport officials deny this. Consider the following realities for most commuters at present:

  1. Longer travel times – what used to be 30-60 minutes one-way commutes have become 60 – 120 (even 180) minute one-way commutes. Many if not most people now have double, even triple, their previous travel times.
  2. It is more difficult to get a public transport ride – people wait longer to get their rides whether they are in lines at terminals or along the roadside. The latter is worse as you need to compete with others like you wanting to get a ride ahead of others.
  3. People have to wake up and get out of their homes earlier – it used to be that you can wake up at 6:00AM and be able to get a ride or drive to the workplace or school at 7:00/7:30 AM and get there by 8:00 or 9:00AM. Nowadays, you see a lot of people on the road at 5:30AM (even 4:30AM based on what I’ve seen). That means they are waking up earlier than 6:00 AM and its probably worse for school children who either will be fetched by a service vehicle (e.g., school van or bus) or taken by their parents to their schools before going to the workplaces themselves.
  4. People get home later at night – just when you think the mornings are bad, afternoons, evening and nighttimes might even be worse. Again, it’s hard to get a ride and when you drive, traffic congestion might be at its worst especially since most people leave at about the same time after 5:00PM. Coding people and others not wanting to spend time on the road (instead working overtime – with or without additional pay) leave for their homes later and arrive even later.
  5. Less trips for public transport vehicles – traffic congestion leads to this. What used to be 6 roundtrips may now be 4. That affect the bottomline of income for road public transport providers. Given the increased demand and reduced rolling stocks of existing rail lines that includes rail transport.

To be continued…

Quick share: “The ‘War on Cars’ is a Bad Joke

Here is another quick share. This time it is an article that I think attempts to diffuse what some many people regard as a war on cars being waged by those who advocate for public and active transport.

Litman, T. (2019) The ‘War on Cars’ is a Bad Joke, Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/105877-war-cars-bad-joke?fbclid=IwAR2_SZHQeYEUGiU2G8RUw0Za6GrkR-2peD3eSjshpNUOg9-G5SpDWm6OnFI [Last accessed: 8/25/2019]

The author makes very strong arguments supported by evidence and data to place this topic in the right context. That is, there is no need to “wage war” or use arguments that are more on the hateful side and therefore not constructive to both sides. I think there should be a mutual understanding of the benefits (and costs) of having many options for transport or commuting. That said, infrastructure or facilities should not heavily favour one mode (car-centric?) for transport to be sustainable and healthy.

Sadly, many so-called progressives (yes, I am referring to the younger generations who are still in the idealistic stage of their lives) appear to be blind to understanding but instead opt for the hardline stance vs. cars and those who use them. Instead of winning people over and convincing those who really don’t need to drive to take other modes, they end up with more people becoming more apathetic or unwilling to take a stand vs. the status quo. This is the very same status quo that is definitely degrading quality of life and is described as an assault to human dignity.

Quick share: “The changing role of transport strategy”

Here is a nice article briefly discussing the evolution of transport strategy planning that have led to local transport plans:

Gleave, J. (2019) The changing role of transport strategy, Transport Futures, https://transportfutures.co/the-changing-role-of-transport-strategy-598fce17e9e9 [Last accessed: 8/24/2019].

More importantly, there is a very good discussion here of the recent developments and the need to change approaches in order to become more effective at the local level. The article explains that there should be an appreciation of the availability of resources including tools that allow people to be more engaged or able to participate in the planning process for their cities, municipalities or communities.