Travel Time

The ongoing repair of the Marcelo B. Fernan Bridge gives us a good example of the term we are discussing today, “travel time.”  Consider this – the three local dailies in Cebu described the repair work as having caused, 1) “monstrous,” 2) “slow,” and 3) “manageable” traffic last Monday.  So which one is the correct description?  Depends on from what angle you’re looking at it.  Maybe it also depends on where you are at the time you observed the traffic, and what time.  Certainly it will differ if you’re at the Lapu-lapu side, Mandaue, or in the air.

So which paper is correct?  Probably all.  Depends on which way you’re looking at it – one end or the other end or high above the air, or what they commonly call “bird’s eye view” – something which is usually considered the bigger picture but usually not the whole picture at all.  Not unless you have a scale which measures traffic congestion can we really have a uniform assessment of it.  And even if we have, there is also the scale relating to what is considered normal.  Certainly, the traffic on the bridge today is far from normal.

So it’s abnormal, but is it monstrous, just slow, or actually manageable?  I bet the proponent – DPWH and the contractor will agree with the last assessment.  It’s to their interest to do so.  A passenger coming from a flight at the airport riding in a taxi to Cebu City will consider it monstrous, as the taximeter steadily piles up the fare.  For sure the bridge repair will increase the normal travel time from a point in Mactan to a point in the mainland, … by say, 30 minutes maybe? 45 minutes? one hour? one hour and a half?  But what increase will it be to be considered manageable, slow, or monstrous?  Different strokes for different folks.

The concept of travel time is important because in an urban area, distance is measured in hours and minutes, not in kilometers.  Consder the following real estate advertising enticements – “10 minutes from the downtown,” or “30 minutes from the airport,” or “an hour’s drive from the city.”  Nobody uses kilometers to describe distances in a city – it wouldn’t mean anything unless you’re familiar with the traffic situation.  And city life is controlled by time – any deviation away from the norm will cause terrible disruption of one’s life.

Each one of us has our own daily routine and our personal travel time for different chores and the trips associated with them are etched in our daily clocks.  We know how long it normally takes to go to work or school (in my case, 5 minutes), how far (how long it takes) to the mall, bank, port or airport.  Depending on what mode of travel we take, we look at travel time as the totality of travel from origin to destination.  For example, for a person who has to take 2 jeepney rides and one tricycle from home to work, total travel time includes the time it takes for the jeepney travel, walking time between jeepney stops, time waiting for the jeepney(s) and tricycle, and the walking time from the jeepney/tricycle stops from/to the origin and final destination.  We don’t look at travel time as the speed of the jeepney or tricycle only.

This is important because people usually choose they way they travel on the least total travel time.  There are other factors, of course – fare rate, convenience and comfort, security, etc. but in general, nobody wants to stay in the road longer than what is necessary, unless you’re “joyriding.”  And it’s important because it will define the kind of transport infrastructure and transport network we should plan for.   (Email:  streetlife@villarete.com)