Expanding Mass Transit in Metro Manila

NEDA's given the greenlight to MRT-7. The pricetag? $3.3B, but that doesn't all go to rail:
The scheme calls for a 20-kilometer light rail system integrated with a 20-kilometer highway that will link the North Triangle area in Quezon City with San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan province.

“So all in all, this will be a 40-kilometer project and will come at no cost to the government (since it would be funded through the BOT scheme),” Santos explained.

The rail and road network is expected to cost as much as $1.3 billion, while the commercial and residential developments that are expected to rise along the route would cost another $2 billion.
Wait a minute. The "commercial and residential developments that are expected to rise along the route" will cost $2B and is part of the BOT?

Like MRT-8, this seems to be more of a real estate deal than a public infra project.

I'd like to see how all that "development" is going to be distributed. I'm betting most of it will be along the 20 kilometer highway, NOT along the 20-kilometer rail route. So much for leveraging the transit investment. More like the investors are leveraging government funds for their investments.

I have not seen any detailed plans, although they've given the general locations of the 14 stations, we do need to pay close attention to how these stations are designed and sited. For example: will the locations make it easy for commuters to transfer to connecting jeepneys? (To get to UP from the University Station? or to Ateneo from the Tandang Sora station?)

What will also be important is how the local government and the LTO respond to the plans for the stations. Quezon City should re-zone around the stations to get more density and more riders. The LTO and LTFRB should reconsider jeepney routes to feed the stations.

I would have much rather a Bus Rapid Transit project in place of light rail. The $1.2 billion (for the railway) would have brought at least 60 kilometers of BRT. Plus, a BRT system would have allowed the existing transport franchise holders (jeeps and buses) to possibly participate in the venture.

blinders or blindspot

Buses and traffic discipline in Metro Manila

These were my comments on iReport's "Too many buses, too many agencies clog Edsa": (hat tip to Eugene for leading me to the article)
Margie Grey's PCIJ article on the travails of the public bus system in Metro Manila was (characteristically) well researched and gives a quick overview of the confusing governance of traffic numbers involved in the PUB system. Thank you, Margie, for pointing out that private vehicles outnumber PUBs 9 to 1. A viable traffic solution must involve reducing private car use -and that can only be accomplished by providing more efficient public transport.

Margie's article does fail to account for the role of the economic model of PUBs in the behavior of bus drivers. I believe this less an oversight of the reporter than it is a serious blindspot among our policy makers.

We seem to have taken the "boorish behavior" of buses on EDSA as a given, taken it as function of (at best) a lack of driver education, or (more often_ as a lack of discipline among bus drivers. But bus drivers behave the way they do, drive the way they do because of the economic drivers (no pun intended) behind their occupation.

The "boundary" or commission system ("12 percent commission if daily earnings are P10,000 or less and 14 percent if earnings are more than P10,000") dictates the driving behavior as surely as confusing layers of governance on EDSA.

As I wrote before:

The Boundary System is basically a vehicle rent system. The driver is "hired" by the transport operator, to run and maintain his jeep, bus, or FX cab. The driver can run as many trips within the boundary period (standard is 12 hours) as he wants but he basically has to pay the "boundary fee" (usually, daily) to the owner -and his source of income is whatever he makes over and above the boundary fee. The driver covers the cost of gasoline and minor repairs.

The boundary system brings a logic to earning money that shapes the driving habits of the renting drivers. If the driver only earns above the boundary, then logic dictates that he must get as many passengers as he can in as many trips as possible . The driver also benefits by having the vehicle on the road as many days as possible - as repairs and shutdowns mean no income for the day.

So, a driver will:
  1. soak up passengers by basically waiting as long as he can in a high traffic/passenger volume area and then
  2. speed up to the next high volume pickup point to soak in more passengers.
  3. he will also see other public utility vehicles plying the route as competition so waiting in a line does not make much sense,
  4. he will try to get ahead of the line (usually by doubling up on the pickup lane) so he can be closer to the "source" of passengers and so
  5. he won't be tied down on the line and can speed up to the next destination.
  6. It also means that shorter trips are preferred to longer trips and
  7. vehicle downtime and thus vehicle maintenance is kept to a minimum (=inefficient engines, =more pollution).
This system is behind the traffic chokepoints at the major junctions and intersections of our cities. (I've written extensively about how our disorganized public transport system has shaped the built fabric and the quality of life in our metropolis.)

We've thrown good money after bad in countless traffic control and traffic discipline systems to try to get the "boorish behavior" under control. The OBR is just the latest incarnation (remember Oscar Orbos' sticker system?).

I find it amusing that Director Lantion thinks that getting buses to compete on "brand" will be the best approach to getting better traffic behavior from our PUBs.

Changing the economic model - to a salary based system, where the driver's income is NOT based on how many passengers he can pick up, will change driver behavior overnigh and will restore sanity to flow of PUBs on EDSA even without the expensive RFID systems.

Benjamin de la Pena
a.k.a -Urbano dela Cruz

Image credit: EDSA Traffic
by Mon Solo



So, this is what happens when you're so surrounded by artists that you take them for granted: somebody else claims the crown.

This, from the Jakarta Post:

Festivals promote Jakarta as regional cultural capital

Behind the visible poverty, endless traffic jams and nauseating polluted air, Jakarta has hidden treasures that are unrivaled by other big cities in the country, and possibly even in Southeast Asia.

They go together to make up the city's arts and culture scene.


The Urban Festival, a two-day festival in late August, involved a list of events, mostly beginning with the word "urban": Urban Distro, Urban Photo Exhibition, Urban Dancing, Urban Tattoo, Face Painting, Local Comics Exhibition and many others.


"As far as I know, Jiffest, for example, was the best in Southeast Asia. Last year, it attracted 63,000 enthusiasts with funding of US$500,000. Meanwhile, the Bangkok Film Festival cost US$5 million and attracted only 23,000 people. And I don't even want to compare Jiffest with festivals in Singapore or Manila; they're not in the same league," said Marco Kusumawijaya, an urban planning expert and chairman of the Jakarta Arts Council.

Marco added that although Jakarta lagged behind Singapore in infrastructural development, the Indonesian city was awash with artists.

He complained, however, that the festivals received little support from the government.

"Actually, the more independent a festival, the better it is. However, the city should see such festivals as investments. They attract visitors who spend money in hotels and restaurants in the city," Marco said. "The city administration should set targets in return for its financial support; a festival gets some funding but has to attract so many people from abroad, for example." (emphasis added)

Any chance we can direct some of that BOP income to encouraging the arts?

Image credit: photo by the incomparable
Andy Maluche


the city of god

Psalm 46
(The Message)

A Song of the Sons of Korah

    1-3 God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.
    We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
    Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains.
    Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

    4-6 River fountains splash joy, cooling God's city,
    this sacred haunt of the Most High.
    God lives here, the streets are safe,
    God at your service from crack of dawn.
    Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten,
    but Earth does anything he says.

    7 Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

    8-10 Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
    He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
    Bans war from pole to pole,
    breaks all the weapons across his knee.
    "Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    above politics, above everything."

    11 Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995,
1996, 2000, 2001, 2002
by Eugene H. Peterson

Merry Christmas everyone!

Image credit: photo swiped from
Sidney's excellent series on children



Innovation and Cities

Those folks preparing the National Innovation Strategy* could do well to read the reports on innovation and cities from the U.K.'s NESTA (National Endowment for Science and Technology).

They should pay particular interest to the Innovation and the city (pdf) report and the Leading Innovation (pdf) report.

The conclusions sync right into our discussion of the role of cities and the critical role of transportation in building a competitive economy:

Here's an extract from the conclusions and recommendations:

Urban assets play a critical and under-appreciated role in supporting innovative activity

The urban skills base and specialist labour markets are the most important of these urban assets. Transport connectivity is also important as it enables accessibility – which, in turn, increases the rate of collaboration and networking. Policymakers should:
  • Invest in the continued recovery and growth of large urban cores, particularly in transport infrastructure, skills and housing.

  • Make skills, transport, physical infrastructure, property and housing key planks of innovation strategies.

  • Recognise the links between the built environment, spatial clustering and networking.

  • Use design to influence the sustainability and development of spatial clusters.

Could someone help me get that on the agenda?

*-which they so "creatively" dubbed Filipinnovation -hence my riff on the headline of this post


viva voce

So it's been a busy week. (I miss the work lethargy of Christmas in the Philippines.)

I got interviewed about my project on one of my favorite radio shows/ podcasts. You can download or listen to the show here.

This was the blurb:

Benjamin dela Peña and Bill Fulton are collaborating to provide tools for communities to use to figure out step-by-step how they achieve smart growth. Benjamin is the Smart Growth Leadership Institute's Associate Director for Implementation. Bill is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southern California.
Our interview is towards the latter half of the show. Carol Colleta's interview of Paul Krutko is really good, too.
Paul Krutko is attempting to re-make San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley with smart growth from his office of economic development. His efforts come at the insistence of company CEOs who say their employees' time is too valuable to be spent in traffic.
That bears repeating:
"His efforts come at the insistence of company CEOs who say their employees' time is too valuable to be spent in traffic." (emphasis added)
Don't you think your time is too valuable to be spent in traffic?

(And if my voice doesn't grate on you, you can listen to a much longer interview with Edi Sian's Pinoy Post earlier this year. I reprise most of my "sirang plaka" ("broken record" -that's vinyl speak for you, cd generation) issues during the interview. )


measures of success

These were my comments on Dave Llorito's latest post on the "success" of the MRT and how changing the pricing could decongest it and reduce the required subsidies:

Here's the news: very, very few mass transit systems in the world are profitable. I think only HK's metro and Tokyo's system make money. Even NYC's MTA is short on cash. Most systems are heavily subsidized.

Why? Because the governments account for the externalities of faster transport for workers, which, in theory, equals more productivity.
If the problem is bad service due to congestion -could it first be solved by more trains and more frequent trips? Of course, that does raise the operating costs.

That said, i'd trade you an increase in fares to cover actual operating costs of the mrt
IF you're willing to raise road and gasoline taxes to cover total environmental costs of driving (not just the road maintenance costs).

Better management, yes. recovering the true costs, sure -as long as you account for the public goods generated and as long as you even up the playing field by asking road users to pay the true costs of driving, too.

Oh, and I'm for variable pricing. maybe a two-tiered system (or a third for weekends).

One other way we can look at leveraging our light rail investments and paying for the operating costs is to use value capture strategies:
Increase the property tax for properties within a certain perimeter around the train stations (say 2/3 of a kilometer). -they benefit from the pedestrian traffic and location so why not capture that value?

Increase the real estate taxes around the stations -and while you're there, increase the densities and height limits (floor area ratios) of the zone, too.
You'll get more housing and more office space next to the train stations -making the train even more convenient.

And, oh, pair that up with a program to subsidize not just the rail, but part of the housing units generated by the increased density around the transit station. to encourage more people to live within walking distance of the transport investment.

Image credit: by vertex
from the Skyscraper Forum



If you've ten minutes to spare, watch this short video from StreetsBlog featuring Bogota's Ciclovia program.

Every Sunday (and during holidays), from 7 am to 2 pm the city sets up 130 kilometers of roads and reserves them for biking, jogging, running and skating. It's a weekly festival that gets people out and exercising and interacting and just enjoying the city.

Clarence Eckerson shot the video and he says "Ciclovía was simply one of the most moving experiences I have had in my entire life (no pun intended)."
"What immediately comes to mind when I think back to our trip were the ubiquitous smiles on everyone’s faces wherever we went. Nearly 1.8 million Colombians out using the Ciclovia and Recreovia to de-stress, get healthy, and connect personally with their fellow citizens. Young or old, rich or poor, pedestrian or cyclist - in Bogotá everyone loves the Ciclovia."

We pinoys, the "fiesta people of asia," can so do this. Think of the old events in Baywalk, multiplied across the city.

We don't have to do it weekly. We can start with a few weekends in January when the weather is a bit cooler. Or we could do it in February to commemorate the first EDSA.

If not EDSA, then maybe could do this for the whole stretch of Commonwealth Ave. and connect it all the way to Quezon Boulevard and the Welcome rotonda.

Anyone have a line to Mayor Belmonte?

Check out more resources from Walk and Bike for Life (a site I'm sure Tutubi will appreciate).

P.S. - check out the segment about recruiting for "Streetwatch" by marketing it like "Baywatch."


cars vs. brt

(V.O.: ...and now we return you to our regular programming.)

I've illustrated this before, but if you need more convincing, try this very short video by Carlos Pardo of the Sustainable Urban Transport Project. (Via Richard Layman's Rebuilding Place in Urban Space.)

Seen it? Like it? Share it by emailing this link.

Ready to come up with the standard excuses of why this can't work in Metro Manila? Go ahead, throw them at me.

Btw, notice how you can fit a BRT on to an 8 lane road?


ilang tulog na lang

Continuing our rant: this via, Ang Tagal Naman.

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