And you thought our traffic was bad. CityFix quotes Time Magazine, which recently named Bangkok The Capital of Gridlock.

CityFix says that the author explained just how bad traffic can get in the Thai capital:

“Police don’t consider traffic bad until a car is stationary for at least an hour. Really bad is two hours.”
And they proceed to cite how the article relates traffic to a myriad of problems, including:

The human side: “Traffic in Thailand’s capital snarls with such ferocity that hundreds of women over the past few years have been forced to give birth in cars.” Police are now trained in midwifery, [Hannah Beech] reports.

The economic side: “More than $1 billion in productivity is lost every year to traffic jams.”

The environmental side: In the 1970’s Bangkok cemented over canals to build more streets for the growing number of cars. “…the declining number of canals, which once served as reservoirs for rain, means that substantial portions of the city flood during the five-month-long wet season. The rising water invariably short-circuits traffic lights, turning intersections into free-for-alls.”
So be grateful that things are not that bad in our megacity. But realize we are headed that way if we continue to prioritize cars over people. We really need efficient public transportation.

And if you have some time on your hands and are prepared to get caught up with online tweaking, go learn about traffic patterns and how traffic jams form via this nifty java-based traffic simulator (via WorldChanging).

Try tweaking the speed limits vs. traffic flow, you'll see how slowing down the traffic actually allows the roads to absorb more vehicles and allows traffic to flow smoother.

(Except it doesn't let you control the number of lanes otherwise you can see how adding road capacity doesn't actually lead to smoother traffic.)

Photo by pchweat via TheCityFix


getting better public transit in metro manila (part 4)

Mobilizing the political will
to improve public transit in Metro Manila
Part 3: Divide and Conquer

This is part four of a series on how to improve public transit in Metro Manila.

Reviewing again the previous posts:

Step One is to change the frame. Improving public transit is not about decongesting traffic. It is about social justice.

Step Two is to show an alternative vision. Discussing what is wrong about the status quo will not bring change by itself. We have to show what is possible.

Step Three is to build a winning political coalition. A political coalition that will shepherd the change through the political process, and bring political pressure to bear to convince the policy wonks and sway the elected officials.

"Winning" presumes a political contest - a battle, and so we cannot win unless we win over or defeat the opposition which brings us to:

Step Four, Dividing and Conquering the Opposition.

Sun Tzu exhorts us to "know your enemy," so the first question is, "Who would be opposed to more efficient public transportation in Metro Manila?"

The answer, of course, is no one.

More so if the premise is social justice. What politically-sane person in the Philippines would stand against something that is about efficiency, serves the public and is pro-poor?

But it would be the height of naivete to think that there would be no opposition. There will be, but their opposition will stand on issues NOT diametrically opposed to efficiency and social justice.

We need to know their interests, issues and goals and use the same to gain leverage for our agenda.

There will be two types of opposition: organized and not. And that nomenclature is split further down to groups who are influential or not.

The biggest, most visible threat would be from organized and influential opposition, which in my book will likely be the Operators and Drivers Associations of the present public transport services (BODAs, JODAs and TODAs). They have, after all, recently and successfully flexed their muscles (giving, what R.O./Y.R. calls Manila's Extreme Sport, a day long uptick in degree of difficulty -though Enrique claims he found no real effect). They also have a long history of protest action.

But as organized as the ODAs are, they are in no way monolithic. To succeed in breaking the opposition, we have to look at the internal faultlines and use their interest to win adherents over to our side.

Drivers, above all, want a predictable income. Under the boundary system, fluctuations in fuel prices, uneven fines, capricious law enforcement and traffic and traffic congestion affects their take home income. Any system that smooths out those fluctuations - that gives them steady income would be preferable.

Operators, meanwhile, want to maximize their profits. As businessmen, they will appreciate a system that provides incentives to their investments.

One other note, the current free-wheeling public transport ecosystem provides an entrepreneurial route from driver, to small operator, to large operator (or transport consortium). A better public transit system can win adherents if it answers those concerns.

The Bus Rapid Transit system, as implemented in many cities, offers viable solutions to each of these concerns.

First of, the dedicated-lane, bus priority traffic system automatically eliminates the congestion and capricious law enforcement concerns of the drivers.

Also, unlike capital intensive Light or Heavy Rail systems, BRT systems provide a pathway for participation for existing transport providers. Drivers and smaller operators can be encouraged to form cooperatives to bid for and to run the services of the BRT. Large consortiums can easily transition and also provides services. Take the example of Mexico's MetroBus, where 70% of the service is run by companies and cooperatives from the ranks of the former drivers and operators of the minibus services that the BRT system replaced.

Becoming service providers for the BRT, under a formalized enterprise, will allow drivers to shift into formal salaries , moving them away the insecurity of the boundary system. They will also have the benefits of formal employments, such as health insurance and social security.

We can also mandate employee ownership of the service firms so that the drivers earn more than their salaries, but also partake of the profits. Their livelihoods will also not be tied down to the fare rates, but their extra income (share of the profits) will be linked to the efficiency of the service.

A properly designed BRT policy and investment program will move small operators from single proprietorships into medium sized business enterprises. We can provide the capital and tax incentives -for example, by having the government buy and own the buses and leasing them back to the operators to reduce the operator's asset risks. The system can professionalize the current large consortiums, encouraging better corporate management.

A properly designed BRT policy will break the ranks of the ODAs and will likely appeal to majority of the drivers and will draw quite a few of the entrepreneurs.

Other opposition

The only possible opposition left will be the companies with vested interests in large infrastructure projects along with politicians who earn kickbacks from these major investments.

They will argue that fixed rail systems are more efficient but their influence can be neutralized by questioning their vested interests. So, too, with politicians who would stand on their side.

Imagine a politician who is not only labelled "anti-poor" for standing against the social justice issues of a more efficient public transport system, but that they could also be questioned for supporting large investments - as having vested interests.

The final other possible group would be an organized motorist group, which presently does not exist as a viable political force, but it is foreseeable that they could coalesce into a front that can wield some influence. Their main concern would be the traffic consequences of appropriating a lane for the BRT, but that easily be traded of with the removal of undisciplined PUV behavior and by arguing that more efficient public transit will actually reduce car use -thereby freeing up the road for more devoted motorists.

If we frame the BRT proposition correctly, and wield the right political levers, we can easily neutralize the opposition listed above.

Next up: Making it work, the mechanics

Image credit: Our Direction by B Tal

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