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Democracy in transport: #CommutersNaman

By Ira Cruz and Keisha Mayuga Published Jul 29, 2022 5:00 am

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An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.” — Enrique Peñalosa, cycling mayor of Bogota, former president of Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Imagine a Philippines where we can walk, commute and cycle stress-free. Where, instead of ugly pillars and overpasses that block light and divide communities, we walk by trees and open spaces with calming views of our greenways and waterways. Where a Filipino on a P1,000 bicycle is treated equally on the road as one riding a P1-million car.

This can only become a reality when we prioritize #CommutersNaman in the public space and reduce dependency on car-centric infrastructure.

Commuters line up at an EDSA bus carousel terminal along Monumento in Caloocan City.

In the Philippines, private cars are the “kings of the road,” taking up 80% of the scarce road space based on the annual average daily traffic counts of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. This despite five national surveys conducted by Social Weather Stations from May 2020 to May 2021 showing there are more bicycle owners compared to car owners, with the latest ratio at 4:1. Moreover, a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study showed that only 11% of Filipino households own a private vehicle.

What if we changed our car-centric mindset and instead prioritized the needs of the majority — the commuters, pedestrians, and bicyclists who comprise more than 80% of the Filipino commuting public?

What if #CommutersNaman is the priority in transportation planning?

With prohibitive fuel costs, using private vehicles is more costly than ever. But our government can mitigate the impact of rising transport costs by increasing the fleet of public transportation operating each day to provide Filipinos with a cheaper alternative.

#SharetheCity Pop-Up by Mobile in MNL and Pasig Transport was organized to celebrate Independence Day 2022, and how biking is a form of celebrating independence

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We should increase the nationwide network of protected bike lanes, as biking is less expensive. We should welcome the use of personal mobility devices (such as e-bikes and electric kick scooters) which have become adaptive solutions for many Filipinos post-pandemic. Lastly, we should expand our pedestrian walkways to reduce the need for motorized travel. Aside from reducing our dependence on oil imports, these steps can also help reduce our carbon footprint.

Based on Department of Budget and Management data, road infrastructure projects routinely receive more than 70% of the combined General Appropriations Act (GAA) budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways and Department of Transportation, but public utility vehicles and infrastructure for walking and cycling receive less than 10% of the DPWH’s and DOTr’s government budget. Most of our streets’ infrastructure design are primarily focused on car mobility, with many road widening and expressway projects. However, the majority of Filipinos that do not own a car will have limited access to expressways and similar infrastructure. Filipinos will benefit more from the availability of public transportation, walking, and cycling which are more accessible modes of transportation.

Commuters board an EDSA carousel bus at Nepa Q-Mart in Quezon City during the start of the government’s free ride program.

Projects designed to benefit private vehicle mobility will only increase the demand for car use and expand vehicle volume. This is the concept of “induced demand,” where capacity improvements of highways increase the demand for car use, resulting in more car volume and traffic. Various studies about this phenomenon have been made recently by the UK Department for Transport, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Canada and the US and Canada’s National Association of City Transportation Officials.

The real long-lasting solutions are projects that reduce private vehicle dependency and instead “induce demand” for sustainable and inclusive transport modes such as walking, biking, and public transportation.

We believe that Filipinos will happily take non-car alternatives if such options are, more than merely available, abundant, convenient, affordable and safe.

Walkable and bikeable cities are generally more breathable and liveable. The top liveable cities in 2021 all have good walking, biking, and public transportation systems. A concept called “placemaking” in transport planning says it is important to make the journey as pleasant as the destination. Hence, pedestrian walkways are the most important element of transport infrastructure, as all trips start and end with walking. Better sidewalks will mean a better and safer experience not just for pedestrians but also for other road users. Moreover, sidewalks are the most accessible open space in the public realm. This is where community activities and “community pantries” can happen and where trees and shade are often planted.

If we are able to think outside our car-centric mindset, we will discover that #CommutersNaman transport solutions can be implemented at a fraction of the time and cost used to implement big infrastructure projects. With our limited budget due to the pandemic, such equitable solutions should be welcomed as a way toward economic recovery. But making these reforms a reality will need the collaboration of the public sector, private companies, and civil society.

As a start, why don’t we try a car-free #CommutersNaman day, for a change? But, at the same time, the government must provide a sufficient volume of public transport, as well as protected bike lanes and wide and PWD-accessible pedestrian walkways. We believe that Filipinos will happily take non-car alternatives if such options are, more than merely available, abundant, convenient, affordable, and safe.