5 ways to improve our urban transport infrastructure


The word, “traveler,” in its original French form, “travaillier” and its Middle English form “travailen” originally had harsh meanings, among them, toil, trouble, labor, and torment. If you are a daily commuter plying the major road arteries of Metro Manila, then you’ve experienced the harsh side of being a traveler on a daily basis.

A recent New York Times article on our strained infrastructure in the Philippines shows the difficult state our Philippine infrastructure is in despite being one of the fastest growing economies in Asia in the past years. The next generation of urban transportation systems are expected to adjust to the increasing capacity and be environmentally sustainable at the same time. We need good urban transportation systems in order to prosper and grow. Here are the five ways of how we can improve our urban transportation infrastructure:

1. Prioritize public transit
The main reason people still queue up to take the MRT/LRT despite the long lines and technical problems is because it is the most convenient, fast, and affordable transportation mode available in Metro Manila. The survey conducted by the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) in its “Infrastructure 2014: Shaping a Competitive City” report, found out that the top driver of real estate investments is the quality of infrastructure (transportation, telecommunications, etc) and the highest infrastructure priority is improved public transit services (bus and rail). Improved roads and bridges came second, followed by improved pedestrian infrastructure.

The respondents also believe that the public’s willingness or ability to pay for infrastructure and the growing demand for compact, walkable developments will continue to be an important factor in shaping infrastructure in the next ten years.

In our firm’s urban planning projects, we call them transit-oriented developments.

Transport-oriented developments (TODs) must be located along or near an existing or planned segment of a trunk transit line, feeder bus network, or any form of major transportation mode. Adequate auto accessibility is also important. These guidelines are the standard for site selection and development in our projects to ensure the success of TODs. The main life of this particular development would be pedestrian and transit travel.

2. Look for best practices elsewhere
According to the ULI Report, Hong Kong’s investment in high-quality public transit has allowed the city to achieve remarkable densities, a superior quality of life, and protection of environmentally sensitive land areas. By intentionally linking real estate and transit, and developing land around its stations, the Hong Kong transit system has been able to achieve exceptional transit service, compact land use patterns around the city, as well as profitablity. In fact, the system boasts a 99.9 percent on-time percentage with trains arriving every two minutes or less, and carries 5.1 million passengers daily. What made it such a successful and profitable system is that Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR) is not just a transit provider. The corporation is also a developer, developing land above and around its stations, generating revenues that also help fund transit expansions and upgrades and ensure that the system runs smoothly and efficiently.

3. Encourage more compact development
With compact development, it becomes possible to achieve sustainability on a national level because it allows neighborhoods and employment centers concentration of population and employment, create a mix of uses, and encourage pedestrian-, bicycle-, and transit-friendly design. Moreover, this kind of development improves physical and social activities and prioritizes public spaces.

The best example would have to be Singapore, where they made public spaces work harder and developed affordable mixed-use neighborhoods. Singapore also relieved density by adding a variety of green boundaries around neighborhoods.

4. Get the parking right
With Metro Manila’s road systems mainly planned and prioritized for cars, parking is a big factor in the economic viability of real estate development projects. Too much parking, says a ULI study on Transportation, makes an area less pedestrian-friendly and wastes space that could be used for the types of development that can best suit the area. In my experience, creating too much parking spaces, especially in commercial spaces, also encourage motorists to use their cars to get there, adding to the traffic congestion. Too little parking, or the perception that there is too little parking, could scare off potential leasers or force patrons to park in the surrounding neighborhoods, creating problems for the residents and businesses.

5. Make it better with a vision
The Philippine geography makes our country a great platform to maximize the different types of transportation networks available. To quote ULI’s Ten Principles Towards Better Transit, “a good urban transportation vision can help create the kind of place in which residents want to live, work, play, and raise a family.” A great vision should be oriented toward the future but based in reality, is stakeholder centered, collaborative and educational, focused on implementation, and above all, flexible.

Infrastructure is often seen as a driver of real estate and development. Our urban transportation system needs a new perspective and embrace different types of transportation systems to accommodate the increasing densification in our cities.

Sustainable cities and communities have visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance.


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  1. Metro Manila’s population is 12,000,000, but if we include the municipalities surrounding it, the total population jumps to 20,000,000. That’s a lot of people in need of fast and efficient mass transportation. However, because Filipinos love affair with the inefficient car has not waned a bit, our clueless planners had incorrectly made building more roads geared for cars the top priority. The result is what we witness now – nauseating, heavily polluted, chaotic traffic gridlock that drives away foreign investors and cost our economy P2 billion a day.

    The answer to our traffic woes is the an adequate mass transit system. We only have two light rapid transit lines when we should have nine times as much LRT and MRT lines linked with buses. The waiting lines in MRT stations is kilometer long during rush hours because the demand is great, yet the government has not met this big demand for rapid transit. For lack of trains, people drive their cars and motorcycles that further clog up our traffic and pollute our air. Metro Seoul, South Korea has a population similar in size to ours and Seoul has 17 strategically located subways, linked with buses. Furthermore, Seoul is building seven more LRT lines due for completion in 2017. On the other hand, Singapore, a city-state with five million people, has four MRT lines linked with an extensive bus connections. Furthermore, Singapore restricted the number of cars in the city by making the costs of owning a car prohibitive, and their smooth-flowing traffic is the envy of traffic-paralyzed cities like Metro Manila, Jakarta or Hanoi.

    Metro Manila has waterways like Pasig River and Manila Bay that it could harness to move people around like what Bangkok, Hong Kong, Vancouver Canada do by employing an extensive, pleasurable, nice looking ferry vessels to move people around the Metro; but surely not the decrepit, laughable-looking little yellow bus on a barge that MMDA’s Francis Tolentino employs.

  2. Political will is the answer.

    Political will to…

    1. Develop a “Phase-out” masterplan for jeepneys
    2. Widen EDSA bottlenecks by expropriating properties in Urdaneta, San Lorenzo, Wack wack, Palm, Dasma, Greenmeadows, Greenhills, etc etc., especially the EDSA Northbound Bottleneck in Buendia
    3. Clear ALL sidewalks of illegal occupants
    4. Create a system to phase out old vehicles (and develop junkyards with crushing equipment)
    5. Develop an integrated mass transport system, which includes use of waterways
    6. Put a qualified MMDA Head. Not an ex-mayor of Tagaytay City.
    7. Remove all billboards along major roads. It creates a sense of order and free space.
    8. Clear all illegal occupants of rivers and esteros.
    9. Encourage or create laws for private schools to use big buses for students, or a pick up point or drop point far away from the schools and bottle necks to reduce private vehicles during rush hours.
    10. Same as #9 for Private Corporations.
    11. Push for implementation of the original plan for the Nautical Highway via ROROs.
    12. Appoint a competent National Integrated Transport Guru, Cabinet level, with enough muscle, budget, and support to do all of the above within a prescribed period.

    Political will is the key. Otherwise, we are doomed as a nation stuck in traffic.

  3. You are so very right to press for addressing a thoughtful plan for infrastructure development. Every economist and business person in the world is looking right now at the Philippines. Everyone knows absolutely that if Infrastructure is not rapidly expanded, then the nation will lose out on the greatest opportunity that God has granted any nation in Asia. I love and care about the Philippines and pray that every Filipino will patriotically do what is best for the nation. This is a defining moment for the Philippines. Absolutely all the key ingredients are present to allow the Philippines to surpass any other nation and become the greatest Asian Tiger in history.

    You need a great leader to step up. This is like the decision that USA President Dwight Eisenhower made to build the US interstate highway system across America that gave us growth and prosperity of over 50 years. The Philippines MUST build its infrastructure now to raise a powerful economy with INCLUSIVE growth that will raise people out of poverty too!

    Think BIG! You Can Do It!

    God bless the Philippines!

  4. Eliseo Jr. P.Tenza on

    The best transportation system is the one that transport the most number of travelers and yet occupies the least road space. The MRT system in Singapore has used the underground system wherever possible. Underground transportation system occupies land spaces only at the terminal stations underground entrances. Singapore has developed Housing estates where housing, bussiness, education, small scale industries are provided. These housing estates are served by MRT, supported by the Bus system within the estate.
    The development of Singpore is eassier and faster as the most of the land belongs to the State. They can make the provision of transportation and housing easier.
    In the Philippines most of the land belongs to the people, and you need land to provide better transport and housing estate. It will take a longer time to acquire land for the redevelopment. It will also cost more as the land owners has to be paid for the value of their land. A Complete Master Plan for the re development of the Philippines must be approved and implemented. Other wise we will always be wishing for improvements in the Philippines.

  5. It sounds great & makes a lot of sense, but do you think any filipino government will look at it & try implementing it, of course they wont. They never seem to look for sensible solutions. Just look at how they are now saying you cant wear a crash helmet when riding a motorcycle because the rider & passenger can hide their faces & commit crimes. Tell me anything more stupid than that. Then you have the government will want to maximise its profit from anything, being taxation or any & everything involved. Then if you have investors in this country they dont look for long term growth but instant profit.
    With those problems i highlighted you can see that any improvement is just a dream.

  6. I like No.2, given the many reputable real property developer in the country. Owned and operate LRT and MRT maybe in sector and at the same time develop the properties along and around in the vicinities of its route. Although, in the total approach it definitely needed all five’s. No.2 reason can be implemented immediately with the help of private companies.

  7. There is no solution. It will require a huge amount of money to redesign a system that works…one that will fit into the present infrastructure. Color coding is not the answer. It’s time to move the ports elsewhere. All these will require Congress to be the major player. and it will require politicians to care and consider that it will only get worse before it gets better. This is not going to happen because your leaders are guilty of two sins : ignorance and apathy. I strongly agree with number 2. Look elsewhere. It will tell those concerned what they are doing wrong. Metro Manila has roughly 635 square km. in area. In comparison, the city of Calgary in the province of Alberta Canada has 726 square km. but any point from downtown Calgary can be reached within 40 minutes in rush hour traffic because the infrastructure is vastly superior than Metro Manila’s. Off peak hours it’s about 20 minutes, and yet people still complain about too many cars on the road. These 40 minutes only apply if the roads are dry and the weather is clear. In snowy conditions, the 40 minutes can increase to 60 or more. That’s still not bad compared to 2 and a half hours of commuting from Makati to Tandang Sora at rush hour. The Calgary transit system still has low ridership because people prefer driving their cars to work. Bottom line : Metro Manila, suck it up! What you see is what you get. BS Aquino shrugged this problem off by saying the traffic woes is a sign of progress..I rest my case about apathy.