Will We Live Our Whole Lives Experiencing Traffic?

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We know the MRT is operating way past its capacity. Now, we also know how much space all the registered vehicles of NCR take. Moreover, the dimensions illustrated above are merely an estimate because we assumed all the cars were of the same model, the buses and trucks were of the same size, and that tricycles and motorcycles were equal in size due to limited data. This means that the actual total area consumed by registered vehicles in NCR is larger, and because Metro Manila’s infrastructure cannot handle this volume of vehicles, we need to lessen this.

While we know how much space the vehicles take, the more important concept is density. Unfortunately, we don’t have data that would give us how many of the registered vehicles pass through each city in NCR. However, we do know that these traffic jams cost the Philippines PHP 2.4 billion per day. By 2030, they could cost the economy PHP 6 billion per day.[8]

Are we screwed? Pretty much.

While the current administration still has to put effort into minimizing traffic, it isn’t realistic to expect the problem to be solved by adding more trains or implementing number coding of vehicles. This is because the skeleton of Metro Manila is just a jumble of bones with little to no bones complementing one another. But it was never supposed to be like this. Metro Manila was poised to be the shining city in Asia. (To read more about Burnham’s Plan of Manila, click here.However, Burnham’s master plan was never followed.[9]

If Metro Manila’s urban planning sucks, can you really expect traffic to cease? Even now, the government tries to find ways to minimize traffic without looking at the bigger picture. For instance, why allow the construction of several condominiums along EDSA while saying you’re trying to fix traffic? More condominiums equate to a greater number of cars traversing EDSA.

The best solution is to master plan the whole Philippines. Because the Philippines is an archipelago, transportation is even more difficult, and so planning cities and urban transport is even more important. If we’re going to look at Metro Manila, the only way commuting to several provinces is through bus or plane. Transportation to and from Metro Manila then becomes a problem of convenience versus cost. If we are serious about changing and improving the transportation system, we need to develop connections between different cities and rural areas.

Once everything is connected, the next step would be to decide what will remain as agricultural land and build smart green cities on those that won’t be designated as protected areas or farmlands. Smart green cities are characterised by proper urban planning, energy-efficiency, disaster resiliency, and integration with the internet of things (IOT).[3,5] The Philippines does not have a smart green city yet. Currently, the 9450-hectare area Clark Green City located near Clark International Airport is still being built.[2,8]

Once people start moving to smart green cities, we can now bulldoze Metro Manila bit by bit. Metro Manila can then be rebuilt as a smart green city. We should keep the iconic structures, but the constant flooded areas, tiny streets, and badly constructed overpasses must go. If there are better cities outside Metro Manila, it may seem like a waste to rehabilitate Metro Manila. However, Metro Manila is in a strategic location because of the major roads passing through, the Port of Manila, and NAIA. Moreover, while this may seem like an unimportant reason to some, Metro Manila is rife with history. Letting historical structures deteriorate would be a shame. Just imagine Vienna without the gondolas. While the gondolas aren’t the main mode of transportation anymore, the gondolas presence is specific to Vienna.[4] It is so important we keep these structures in order to differentiate ourselves from other countries.

However, since this ideal solution will take a very long time, we have a few suggestions to improve transportation in Metro Manila.

Data-driven Traffic Solutions

Get better data about incoming and outgoing transportation and transportation within Metro Manila. Right now, we are living in a data-driven world (Just think of Waze and Youtube’s recommended videos!), but the Philippines doesn’t seem to be a part of that world. Unfortunately, it is either the government lacks data or the average Filipino citizen doesn’t have access to the data. If it is the latter, the government should make the data available to all. Someone might be able to find patterns and think of better solutions. If it is the former, gather the data. Know what routes are taken by each person and their reasons behind a preference to one route would help urban planners make better decisions.

Moreover, we’re not sure if we’re misinterpreting the data sheet available here. Our understanding is that the data sheet contains the total number of passengers entering and exiting the station for the month at that time slot. If that is the case, for each month, the total number of passengers entering does not equal the total number of passengers exiting. You can view our excel sheet here:

Also, there are non-zero entries outside operating hours of MRT.

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If our understanding is wrong, please tell us. Otherwise, hey DOTC!

Getting exact data is important because we can use that data to price tickets if a congestion pricing system is applied to the train lines.

Congestion Pricing

One reason the congestion has continued to grow unchecked is that driving does not reflect its social cost especially during rush hour. As a result, economists have recommended congestion pricing. This system implements toll prices that increase or decrease depending on the time and location. With this system, economists hope to deter people from driving during peak hours or using already crowded routes.[11]

Unified Payment System for Public Transport

Implement a unified payment system for the trains and buses. Not only does this decrease transaction time, but it also protects bus operators from non-paying passengers. Likewise, passengers are also protected from conductors who don’t give the correct amount of change and discount.

Better Bus Stations

Dawdling buses along EDSA are a common sight. Bus drivers slowly inch the bus forward in the hopes of a few more customers boarding. With a unified payment system, substations within the bus station can be built. Each substation corresponds to a particular destination, and entry points similar to those in the MRT and LRT stations can be put in the station. With these substations, bus drivers can easily see if there really are potential passengers. Take a look at this bus station to see how the passengers board the bus easily. As shown, bus rapid transit systems are highly effective. In Cebu, a bus rapid transit system is being developed and should be completed by 2018. The system will cater to 330,000 passengers daily and will also include a computerized traffic management system.[6]

Inclusive Transportation

Transportation is not just about traffic. It’s also about ease. The Metro Manila transportation system is not friendly towards elderly, children, and PWD. One small solution would be to use buses with platforms closer to the ground or elevated stations. Instead of climbing the steps, passengers can opt to walk up a slight incline. This can be seen in the following video . Skip to 0:29 and 9:09. For this video, skip to 1:08.

Install Trams and Bicycle Lanes

If you walk along Katipunan, motorcyclists always drive on the sidewalk rather than the actual road. Most likely, this occurs along roads other than Katipunan Avenue. Since pedestrians walking on the sidewalk don’t seem to stop them, maybe they’ll stick to the road if they’re scared of getting squashed. Putting a five-carriage tram beside the sidewalk would hopefully stop this habit. At the same time, it provides transportation for people in the area.

These trams could replace the Filipino jeep because the jeep is a gas guzzler and uncomfortable. However, because the jeepney is a cultural icon, a jeep rapid transit system similar to that for buses can be implemented. At the same time, the unergonomic interior of the jeepney can be re-designed while retaining the exterior body of the jeep. Other problems to be addressed if the jeep is to be kept are smoke belching, reckless drivers, and safety within jeeps. To make it better, the tram rails or jeep lanes could be moved away from the sidewalk so a bicycle lane can be built beside the sidewalk.

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Self-Service Bike Rental System

Because there is no point in having a bike lane without bicycles, it would be good if the government could implement a self-service bike rental system since many cannot afford the high upfront cost of a bike. Paris has the Vélib’. People go to any Vélib’ station, rent a bike, and return it to any station.[7] We could do a similar system and couple it with the unified payment system.

Water Transport

DOTC has done an admirable job of reviving the Pasig River Ferry System. However, as of August 26, 2015, the total ridership was 121,839.[1] Compared to the millions of people commuting in Metro Manila, that is a very small number. Several reasons could be behind this low amount (e.g., lack of boats, inconvenience, a passenger’s disgust towards the pollution in Pasig River, lack of awareness on the existence of the system). DOTC should gather data in order to ramp up water transport usage.

Speed Development Mechanism (SDM)

Okay, we, at BOX, made this up. It’s like the Clean Development Mechanism except it is for traffic. To give a background, in simple terms, CDM allows governments or companies to buy Certified Emissions Reductions (CER) in order for them to meet their emission reduction targets. The revenue from CER is used to fund a CDM-accredited project in a developing country.[10] (Disclaimer: We’re not economists or policymakers so we’re not sure if it will work.) The idea behind this is for cities to have their own traffic reduction targets. These targets could be measured by travel time and ease of travel. Failure to meet traffic reduction targets would mean the city has to fund an accredited transport or urban planning proposal in a less developed region. Of course, these accredited projects must be in line with the Philippines’ master plan.

The Future We Want

While progress in transportation and urban planning has been slow, one recent excellent move by the government has been the implementation of a P2P bus system. While the P2P rates are higher than their regular counterparts, passengers are guaranteed an actual seat and a direct commute to the destination terminal.

Actually, talks to improve the transportation system – only for Manila sadly –  have begun. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) proposed a Metro Manila Dream Plan to be completed by 2030. The study focuses on connecting Metro Manila, Region III, and Region IV-A via better roads and railways, improving transportation infrastructure (shipping ports, airports, bus and jeepney terminals) in those regions, and implementing a better traffic management scheme.[12] However, we have yet to hear updates on the Metro Manila Dream Plan. At the moment, we don’t know what solutions from JICA will be implemented.

For now, we highly encourage the government to consider the Metro Manila Dream Plan and, since the government is highly lacking in engineers, architects, and urban planners, to form partnerships with private firms in order to create a better transportation system.

P.S.

Also, BOX is optimistic the Hyperloop will be operational in 10 years. Elon Musk conceptualized the Hyperloop as capsules travelling within low pressure tubes. Aside from it being crazy cool, it could usher in a new form of urban transportation. If cars replaced horse-drawn carriages, the Hyperloop would replace trains. That being said, we highly recommend a route for the Hyperloop already be included in the Philippine master plan. If you want to know more about the Hyperloop, you can view the concept here.

References:

[1] Abadicio, C. (2015, September 18). MMDA launches new ferry boat. CNN Philippines.  Retrieved from : http://cnnphilippines.com/metro/2015/09/16/MMDA-Pasig-River-     Ferry-System-new-boat.html

[2] Clark Green City. (2016). About. Retrieved from https://clarkgreencityphils.com/about/

[3] DNV GL. (n.d.). Smart Green Cities. Retrieved from:  https://www.dnvgl.com/energy/themes/smart-green-cities.html

[4] GowithOh. Transport around Vienna. Retrieved from: http://www.gowithoh.com/guide-vienna/public-transport/

[5] Lebeck, S. (2014, May 14). How do you build a smart city? Start with energy, tech, water. GreenBiz. Retrieved from: https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/05/14/how-do-you-build-smart-city-start-ict-energy-and-water

[6] Mabasa, R. (2016, March 10). Cebu’s mass transit project plans reach final stage. Manila Bulletin. Retrieved from http://www.mb.com.ph/cebus-mass-transit-project-plans-reach-final-stage/

[7] Mairie de Paris. (2010). Use Vélib’. Retrieved from http://en.velib.paris.fr/How-it-works

[8] Magkilat, B. (2016, March 6). Clark Green City: PH’s next frontier. Manila Bulletin. Retrieved from http://www.mb.com.ph/clark-green-city-phs-next-frontier/#UElwFlcBVgB3aSVc.99

[9] Palafox, F. (2014, August 6). Revisiting Daniel Burnham’s plan for Manila and Baguio (1). The Manila Times. Retrieved from : http://www.manilatimes.net/revisiting-daniel-burnhams-plan-manila-baguio-1/117058/

[10] Sandbag. (2011, July 26). What is the clean development mechanism (CDM)?. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jul/26/clean-development-mechanism

[11] Small, K.(n.d.). Urban transportation. Retrieved from: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/UrbanTransportation.html

[12] Japan International Cooperation Agency. Roadmap for transport infrastructure development for Metro Manila and its surrounding areas (Region III and Region IV-A) [PDF document].Retrieved from http://www.jica.go.jp/topics/news/2014/ku57pq00001nkatn-att/20140917_01_0rev20150206.pdf

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