getting better public transit in metro manila (part 1)

Mobilizing the political will
to improve public transit in Metro Manila
Part 1: A sense of urgency

This begins my long promised post on how to get better public transportation (in particular: bus rapid transit or BRT) in Metro Manila.

The first thing we have to do

The first thing we have to do is to create a sense of urgency.

To do that, we have to change the frame of the conversation.

Ask anyone in Metro Manila about the "effects of bad public transportation" and invariably they will say bad traffic. Granted that PUV driving behavior (caused by the economic model) does cause traffic chaos, to put that first on the list of adverse effects of bad public transportation is to be myopic.

Traffic congestion is the most visible effect -but it is largely visible to car users. What is invisible and ignored is the effect bad public transportation has on the urban poor and lower middle classes who are dependent on PUVs to get from home to school or to work.

That segment is the fat part of the pyramid, almost 80% of daily person trips in Metro Manila are taken via public transport. Despite the overwhelming size of this cohort, I have yet to see statistics that detail the consequences of the inefficient system on the riding public.

Whatever conversations about public transit that is covered by the papers centers around fare prices and the issues of the operators and drivers. Their regular threats to hold transport strikes and their near constant refrains of the fares being too low to support their livelihood and their complaints about harassment from the MMDA and the local police. (I am not discounting those complaints, only saying that they have become monotonous.)

The questions we need to ask are: what are the economic and social effects of an inefficient public transport on the riding public in general, and the urban poor in particular? What are the comparative efficiency advantages (e.g. -time) of driving a private car vs. taking the bus or jeep? Specifically we need to ask:
  1. How much of the household budget does transportation consume? (Particularly for the C,D and E classes.) -and this should cover the costs of car ownership (purchase, maintenance and operation) as well as the costs of fares for all modes of public transit.
  2. How much more time does it take to get from home to work or home to school when you take public transit (all modes) vs. a private car?
  3. What is the social cost of the inefficiency and bias towards cars? How much less time do parents in families without cars have to spend with their children? Do students have to rent at boarding houses because it is just not feasible to travel from home to school daily?
My own back of the envelope (read: totally unscientific) calculations make me think transportation eats up about 20% of the household budget of middle class families -and that share could rise up to about a third in poorer families.

I suspect that the inefficient PUV system offsets the daily schedule of transit riders by 1.5 to 2 hours a day vs. private car owners. That's about 20 hours a week of bias for car owners.

But again, these are all just estimates. We need to demand that someone study the real numbers -or bring the stats out if there have already been studies.

We need to bring these issues to the public sphere and we need to frame this as an urgent social justice issue.

Imagine the direct impact you could have on the quality of life of the middle class and the urban poor if you could at least halve that time bias. You would be giving parents 10 more hours a week with their families; giving mothers and fathers an extra hour a day to tend to their children; giving students respite from the grueling time spent on the road or giving them the option of not having to pay for room and board just to live closer to school.

We need to make efficient public transport more important than traffic congestion.

Next up: Part 2: A promise of what is possible

Image credit: "63, alone / solo" by yeraze


ben c. said...

I agree. We need to use good change management techniques (like amplify the sense of urgency) to drum up the issue of public transportation and implement meaningful change.

The funny and ironic part of it is, as you said, Pinoys already know this problem first-hand. It's just that our god-forsaken public officials, oppositionists and "cause-oriented groups" are too busy slugging out politically that they forget the bottomline: to solve the mass transit problem.

The best way right now to rally people is to paint the problem as a social issue. It is a basic right that is denied the majority.

Solving the mass transit problem will not only help the majority to move from point A to B, it will also eventually help revive our sleepy old-rich-powered economy.

Peter said...

I hope you don't mind , i reposted your blog on BRT on skyscrapercity. If you do mind, just indicate here and I'll take it down. Anyway it's a good quick way to get more people intersted on the topic since they're already interested in urban affairs.

BTW I'm pretty sure the UP guys have the data you seek. The wrote the WB study on metro transport and also the prefeasibility of the BRT and the basic info is the same. Getting their message out seems to be their limitation. Tried emailing one of them but no response.

Peter said...

BTW was going through the BRT policy website http://www.gobrt.org/ and noticed they are willing to sponsor BRT workshops in particular cities. If you can contact them to get this moving I can do things on my end to get it done on the ground here.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

ben c,

agreed. I also think our media practitioners are too busy reporting to actually be journalists. they don't bother to look deeper into the issues.

the other big problem is that even the leaders of the "people's organizations" think that owning/driving/being driven in a car is the apex of privilege.


no problem at all with the cross-posting.

i'll do you one better and get in touch with EMBARQ and ITDP,too and maybe we can get them to go visit Manila. email me at urbano at gmail and let's work out the details.


Sidney said...

Who cares for the (urban) poor?

I don't think a lot of policy makers are awake at night because their maids, cooks, security guards need to travel 3 hours to reach their workplace.

Big infrastructure projects are only of interest if there are big "commissions" to be earned.

To make it a "social issue" will not help.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

i understand your cynicism, sidney.

but this is about politics -not about the compassion of the political leaders.

playing politics (with a small p) means finding the political leverage points.

we need to make this a social justice issue so that anyone who stands against a more efficient public transit system gets the privilege of being labeled "anti-poor."

politics is also the art of cobbling coalitions to move agendas forward.

the current issue is congestion. and the most vocal proponents are car owners. - we need to get groups to line up behind "efficient public transit is about social justice"

but more about that in my succeeding posts.

Peter said...

Ok will do.

Who cares about the urban poor?

Well actually a lot of people, starting with the kind of people, the citizenry are most cynical off: politicians.

Let's not forget that these guys (e.g. Binay a very clear example) pander to these urban poor. They are the easiest sources of votes because they are for sale (literally and figuratively). And their measurement for success of a politicians term is very local and direct -Free hospitalization, Free education, cemented roads, tenancy rights, Free movies etc. A good menu to start from and a clear example of how politicians the elite hate (e.g. Binay again) manage to stay in power election after election, scandal after scandal.

This is because they care about the urban poor or at least as the cynics would say the urban poor's votes.

Bea said...

While you are on the social justice idea, what about pollution? Everyone who commutes inhales facefuls of exhaust, like it is a fact of life. There are even commercials about having the right shampoo to overpower the smell of smoke you might obtain while you are on your way to work.

The saddest part is that the mere presence of both throngs of public transit users (despite the unpleasant experience), as well as congestion of private vehicles are not seen as opportunities and indications of enough density to have cost-effective public transport.

The aspirational problem you speak of-- people seeing cars as the apex of comfort and progress in life-- is an offshoot of shitty city planning and largely pollution and safety issues.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Hi Bea,

Pollution as frame, I fear, would have very little traction. It's easy to point out how polluting our public transit vehicles are (this, despite private cars outnumbering PUVs 10 to 1) and once you take that line of argument, then the logical conclusion is to put more efficient motors/cleaner burning engines in public vehicles. Which, of course, won't bring equity to travel times. ("Yes, it'll still take you two hours more to go by bus, but at least it's a CNG bus!")

re: offshoot of shitty city planning

-which, in turn, is based on a preference for cars. chicken and egg cycle.

First, we have to decide that we want cities for people - not just for cars...


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