Tuesday, March 28, 2017

BWorld 116, Urban transport myths and the jeepney strike

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last March 01, 2017.

Traffic congestion in urban areas is an engineering problem with engineering solutions. It is a result of some market failures with market solutions and in many cases, government solutions only lead to failures in reducing the congestion.

Here are some myths in urban transportation that persist until today.

1 Big urban population means big urban congestion in traffic and housing.


If people refer to Metro Manila as a “prime example” of this statement, then they do not know or see other megacities in East Asia alone, like Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, and Osaka-Kobe. Huge urban populations are served by modern urban transport systems and expansive high-rise residential condos that cut travel times to and from work or schools.

There is net benefit for people living in congested urban areas than in far away rural areas. People try to squeeze themselves in a limited space where various amenities are available, where the distance from house to work or school is shorter.

2 Prohibitions like “number coding” of private vehicles and banning some buses to enter Metro Manila will reduce traffic congestion.


Prohibiting cars in Metro Manila one day a week led to more households to buy a second or third car (usually a used car) or motorcycles so they have another vehicle car to use on the “coding day” of their first car.

Many passengers of provincial buses are car- or motorcycle-owners in the province, so when government prohibits these provincial buses to enter Metro Manila and force the passengers to alight at far ends of the metropolis and take city buses that move slow because of frequent stops or take taxis that are more expensive, these people instead will drive their cars or motorcycles to the metropolis and this will further worsen traffic congestion.

3 Prohibition of multiple-destination air-con vans and allow only point-to-point (P2P) vans and buses will reduce congestion.


People put high priority for their convenience and safety when they travel. They avoid three to four rides one way to go to their offices, universities, other destinations (tricycle, then jeep/van, then MRT/LRT/P2P bus, then jeep/van/tricycle to final destination). These same rides are more inconvenient during bad weather. That is why many people drive their cars or motorcycles despite the heavy traffic and expensive parking.

Government should allow multiple destination air-con vans, say from Fairview to Marikina or Pasig or Navotas; or from Las PiƱas to Taguig or Marikina or Manila, and so on. This will make commutes convenient and safe. Many people will leave their cars or motorcycles at home and jeepneys and tricycles will slowly die a natural death.

4 Government should regulate bus/jeepney/van fares always and disallow flexible fare setting by transport operators.


Airfares and shipping fares are deregulated and as a result, airlines and shipping lines can adjust their fares depending on the travel season (low/cheap during the rainy season and school days, high during Christmas, school breaks, and fiestas), and they set different fares per class of seats and passengers (ordinary, deluxe air-con, business class, etc) for the same plane or boat.

Fare deregulation will allow transport operators to field modern and convenient vans and buses that charge higher fares (but still lower than riding a taxi or any ride-sharing service) so that less modern buses and vans will be forced to charge lower.

5 Jeepneys and similar small-volume public transportation are common in some Asian countries.


Small-population Asian economies like Hong Kong and Singapore do not have jeepneys. Even economies that are less-developed than the Philippines like Vietnam and Cambodia do not have jeepneys. Motorcycles and buses are the common mode of transportation by the poor in these countries.

6 The jeepney strike will endear jeepneys to the public.


The jeepney strike in Metro Manila and other big cities in the Philippines last Feb. 27 has succeeded only in class cancellations and the public have found more ways to travel without jeepneys. Again, if multiple-destination (not just the inflexible destination P2P) air-con vans, and buses with deregulated and competitive fares are allowed, jeepneys and tricycles will die a natural death without the government creating a new law or Department/Administrative Order or LGU ordinance.

7 Jeepney drivers and operators will go hungry if jeepneys are phased out ultimately.


The same fear was expressed when telegrams were replaced by pagers, and when pagers were replaced by mobile phones and the Internet; or when horse-drawn calesas were replaced by jeepneys and tricycles; or when rice farms were converted to poultry farms or residential subdivisions; or when fishing villages were converted to beach resorts and hotels. People learn new skills, they move to other work or professions. Jeepney drivers can become van or bus drivers, or do other work.

Meanwhile, government should learn to step back and allow players to initiate market solutions to the traffic congestion problem.

Government should instead focus on securing road right of way (ROW) for important infrastructure projects like MRT/LRT, skyways and interchanges. Transporting people and goods to various destinations is not a crime that must require lots of government permits, taxes, and expensive franchises.

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