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


Doctrine said...

Thank you for your very refreshing insights on transport problems in Metro Manila. The approach in tackling the public transport mess including the social aspects is really relevant as the there are now initiatives to reform our transport system.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Thanks, doctrine.

Your name is apropos. Much of what we're dealing with in finding solutions for our megacity is overturning the "doctrines" and "dogma" that our city managers and elected officials have somehow hardwired into their brains and frozen into our policies.


Anonymous said...

hello urbano,

this is an interesting subject you have. using this issue on a social context. traffic exists not only in rural or sub urban areas, but in commercial centers as well.

i just had this crazy idea and im just curios to what your reaction might be. in line with your topic, zeroing in further to the business areas, with some help from 20th century technology (if applicable), do you think the walkalator could be used as a means to "pedestrianize makati cbd"?

Urbano dela Cruz said...

hello anonymous,

yes, you could use walkalators but it would probably be very inefficient.

Let's go with Occam's razor: rather than spending that money on machines and maintenance and energy (to power the walkalators) to make it less tiring to walk, why not make walking more interesting and comfortable?

Why not expand sidewalks. Equip them with contiguous tree-trenches that can retain stormwater. Plant (and maintain) large canopy trees -so you improve the microclimate for walking.

Put in traffic calming features on our roads to protect pedestrians from cars.

Also, people prefer to walk if there is something to walk to. It's much more pleasant to walk if there are interesting places/stores to pass by, so why not encourage ground floor retail and outlaw large blank building facades.

(I think the Ayala CBD's move to allow more groundfloor retail in Salcedo and Legaspi business subdivisions is a step in this direction.)


Anonymous said...

dear urbano'

when you said traffic calming features, exactly what features do you mean?

Urbano dela Cruz said...


Try these recommendations from the Institute of Traffic Engineers.

Or these from Project for Public Spaces.

Or you can check out these images from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.


Anonymous said...

dear urbano,

i surveyed the site you mentioned and saw the pictures of traffic calming devices. i never took notice at them before, (i see them in movies). some should be applicable in street areas around the makati cbd. thanks.

theres this thing about the railings along ayala avenue though. and since you know a lot about these things, i really want to know your opinion on it. are they considered traffic calming devices? i dont see them on the pictures.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Dear Anonymous.

those railings aren't traffic calming devices. they are pedestrian and people control devices. (they basically keep people from getting on and off in areas that are not designated as stops).

i think it basically is controlling the wrong thing - the people instead of the buses.

and shows our bias for vehicles over people.


Anonymous said...


thats brilliant, but perhaps the enforcers considered pedestrian bulk and controllability as the main reason for this set-up. i do really find it very inconvenient (as a pedestrian). theres also the added danger of "trapped spaces" because of these devices. (i.e. an unaware person could be cornered first from the front then from behind during off peak use by unscrupulous men)

Bea said...

Hello. I was, a few years ago, in a meeting at the ADB with Enrique Penalosa, who you may know as the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, which did the "sexy" Transmilenio BRT.

There were several MMDA representatives present. While all other participants were elated, the MMDA folks were sitting slouched just like "backrow boys" in class. When it was their turn to speak, they started saying things like "We know that already. It won't work here."

Frustrating to see what we are up against.

Urbano dela Cruz said...


do you recall why they thought "it won't work here" -?

Of course, it's always easier to be a black hat -to be a cynic than to be a problem solver. And, if there is any sector that produces cynics by the dozen, it's government. (Media, too!)

That said, our challenge is no harder or easier than the challenge (and local governments) faced by all the urban activist in history. e.g. -Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses.


P.S. -It does look like the MMDA may be changing its mind.

Bea said...

I don't recall them giving any reasons at all. I would say at the time it was a "macho" reaction, sort of like "You can't tell us what to do". I'm sure not everyone at the MMDA is like that, probably they were sending the wrong people to meetings.

And also, if the general planning horizon of every politician is per-term, I guess it really takes a lot of guts to be the "transitional" leader who will make all the initially unpopular decisions.

A good topic would be ideas on what the public can do now, from individual humanizing practices to just things that will stop them from being invisible to policy makers. Commuters and pedestrians have no notion of their rights.

These days I think the coming together of a growing street culture, the increasing amount of traveling Pinoys seeing "better cities", digital media, and access to technology-- the time is right to give people some information and let them go crazy with it. I'm not so good at Tagalog, but I'm putting together a website giving an introduction to better cities and pedestrian rights.

It will include steps that people can take immediately-- for instance, putting transit directions to their establishments, parties, meetings, etc. (even people in the environment movement don't do this!)

Hopefully in the future, we'll have a database on meeting places or possible venues that are near transit hubs or rail stations.

For now, I'm building it on googlepages, to keep it free and clandestino... but more on this in the future

Michael said...

With regards to the BRT, I've recently seen (from the stretch of EDSA north-bound between Ayala and Kalayaan) painted on the sidewalks the words "BRT Bus Rapid Transit System". I guess our MMDA is already aware of the concept.

Peter said...

I think that BRT on EDSA is just MMDA's version of it. They call it a BRT but it's not a true BRT (dedicated lanes, access control, timed headway and stops, etc). The first true BRT will probably happen in MetroCebu which is seriously looking at it and has the support of National Gov't.

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