Democratizing Transportation

Democratizing Transportation – Part 1
Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), September 21, 2012

I was attending a transport conference in Bangkok sometime in 2004, when the next speaker, out of the blue, made a presentation on something we don’t normally talk about in transport conference.  He showed a slide showing a man wearing a sort of a wire frame skirt … don’t laugh – it really looks like a skirt, or a petticoat made of wires which were worn by medieval ladies of old.  But this wired frame is quite large, or rather wide, and is in a the shape of a rectangle, 1.5 meters wide by 3 meters long, attached to his belt and covering the ground.


lifted from – © Let’s Bike It

That area, he said, 4.5 square meters of road space, is what the typical car-owners, claim is theirs, or at least they have the right to, whenever they’re on the road.  No need to argue that everyone knows people fight over every inch of road space, and those 1.5 x 3 meters is the typical dimension of a car.  It’s as if the grounds over which their cars cover are their own personal properties and they have a title to it.  So when many others buy cars, the roads become congested, and people clamor for road widening, or for more new roads.

Worse is the case of parking space.  How many people complain that government is not providing parking spaces?  And because government really can’t provide for everybody, you see of those streetside parking!  And you see cars being parked on sidewalks!  I wished we could show pictures here but it’s not uncommon to see cars parked on driveways and sidewalks and people walking around them, sometimes on the streets because there is no more space to walk on.

And since traffic volume always increases while road space remains the same, congestion follows.  And who do the people blame first and foremost?  – the jeepneys!  (or buses, in the case of Metro Manila, particularly EDSA).  Wait a minute – who is utilizing more road space? – the jeepneys or buses which carry 20 to 80 persons per vehicle?  Or the private cars with 1 to 4 passengers?  Back to that most famous internet picture of the comparison of a road with 60 bicycles, 60 cars, and 1 bus – all carries 60 passengers but which one occupies the least space.  The question is which is the most efficient mode?

the famous walk-bike-bus-car comparison
(Image from the website of Cycling Promotion Fund, Australia)

The naked reality is that in many democratic countries of the world, ours included, class inequality still exists in the transport sector.  Transport and traffic policies still favor those who can afford to own cars over those who use public transportation for their daily mobility.  Show me a sign anywhere in the country which says, “Cars, no entry!”  No sir, it’s always “Buses, no entry,” or “Jeepneys, no entry,” or no right turn or no left turn, and we do this because we want to control or regulate traffic.  But we try to restrict the mode which carries the most!

In the column we wrote last March 1, deduced that typically, in Cebu City, private car journeys carry just 12% of trips despite accounting for about 30% of the vehicles on the road, while jeepneys carry 65% of the trips while making up just about 25% of the vehicles on the road.  That’s by number.  In terms of passenger-trips vis-a-vis road space, it’s just like the Pareto principle – 80% of the passengers are carried over 20% of the road space, while 20% of the passengers use 80% of the road space.  Sorry, maybe it’s nearer to 70-30 ratio, but I hope you get the drift.  Now who are those 80%? – they’re the ones who can’t afford cars and uses public transportation.  You know who the other 20% are.

And I want to share what my good friend, Bernie Arellano, shared on Facebook, about one of Enrique Peñalosa’s famous quotes: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars; it’s where the rich use public transportation.”

Democratizing Transportation – Part 2
Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), September 27, 2012

Last week, we said 80 percent of the people being served by a road are carried over 20 percent of the road space, while 20 percent of the passengers use 80 percent of the road space.  Or something like that.  It’s not also exactly the 80-20 ratio but fairly close to it.  But definitely quite far from the equality that is the cornerstone of what we consider a democratic society.  That’s why the transport sector maybe considered the last bastion of inequality in a society characterized as “governed for the people, by the people, and of the people.”  And not too many people notice.

If you have a car, try driving the entire length of N. Bacalso Ave. from Bulacao up to the downtown-uptown area between 6 and 8 o’clock in the morning.  You’ll see scores of our fellow city dwellers lining up the side of the road waiting for jeepneys to take them to work or school.  Definitely you don’t have a queue there; it’s a free-for-all, survival of the fittest kind of thing, where the old, the women and children, and the physically-challenged are always at a disadvantage.  It is so commonplace; we all seem to simply accept it as normal.

source:  Cebu Daily News

In striving to get a ride ahead of the others, people outwit each other and rush towards oncoming jeepneys, jostling to enter the rear to get a seat, with a few just hanging on at the back, inspite of the rules prohibiting it.  And so in the early mornings, half of the outer lanes of a 4-lane road is always full of waiting passengers, or even the whole lane, since oncoming vehicles certainly could not use half a lane.  And since jeepneys stop every few meters to load/unload passengers, that outer lane actually carries a fourth of its supposed capacity.  That’s how inefficient our present road system is.  We’re complaining of traffic jams.  But in reality, the roads carry only less than 70% of its capacity.  Even on peak hours.  Especially on peak hours since traffic jams slow down traffic even further and decrease the capacity.

Source:  Cebu Daily News

Yet the few who own cars, and who still manage to be comfortable in air-conditioned
interiors are the first to complain of traffic congestion.  Some quarters have already demanded, correctly in fact, that the road should be shared to everybody – to allocate space for people who walk or ride bicycles.  We hear all sorts of sectorial demands for pedestrian lanes, bicycle lanes, motorcycle lanes, and other lanes we can think of.  Then we add that heavy trucks should be banned or garbage trucks should not pass these ways.  How unfair can we get?  And if we do allocate road space as such, we need at least 8 to 10-lane roads just to give at least a lane to every kind of road user.  How absurd can we get?

When former Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars; it’s where the rich use public transportation,” a lot of people cringe at the thought.  But we fail to see that in many of the world’s more progressive cities, this is already a reality.  Tokyo, and the rest of Japan for that matter, is one perfect example where almost everybody uses public transportation to work or school.  In fact, it is often said that in Japan, only the president or the vice-president of a company rides cars in going to work.  And then we rationalize that, yes, that’s possible because they have a very efficient and comfortable public transport system.

But we have LRTs/MRTs in Manila, and soon we’ll have a BRT in Cebu.  Manila is still dysfunctional, and the Cebu BRT is still to be built.  But if we are to look at how BRT’s in those cities which built them ahead changed their urban shape, there is indeed something to look forward to.  It’s a long way to go, to attain equality in transport.  But we’re getting there.