THE rise of ride-sharing services in the Philippines does not come as a surprise to me, especially in Metro Manila where many people commute to and from work. In 2013, Metro Manila was recognized as one of the 20 largest megacities in the world. It is reported to have a night-time population of 11.8 million and an estimated daytime population of 16 million. Many of those working in the Makati and Quezon City areas live at the opposite ends of EDSA, even as far as Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. In consequence, there are massive daily movements that clog major roads.
The wave of support from the commuting public for ride-sharing services like Uber and Grab reflects the need for better service and security in the current transport system. However, the challenge goes beyond which mode of transport is more preferred. We need to look at all possible options and we need all of them to be efficient, if the goal is to move millions of people in and out of Metro Manila.
The supply and demand of transportation
When we talk about transportation supply, we refer to the different modes of urban transportation systems, including: walking, biking, mass transportation (e.g. buses, ferries, and commuter rail transit, among others), and last are private cars. Transport modes also include heavy rail transit, trucks, and industrial water transport for the movement of goods, which also have significant impact on our economy.
On the other hand, when we talk about the demand side of transportation we are referring to the total need for mobility, kind of use of mobility (leisure, fast-paced, exercise, etc.), and traffic impact of existing land use and zoning.
There is a need to understand first what the demand side of transportation is. The truth is, even ride-sharing services contribute to traffic because it only allows one to six passengers at a time, as compared to high-capacity vehicles like buses and trains, which means we will need more ride-sharing vehicles on the road in order to move more people. In order to improve the mobility in Metro Manila, there is a need to balance both transportation supply and transportation demand. It cannot be one over the other.
Land use and zoning issues
When an employee needs to travel three hours just to go to work, in the eyes of an urban planner, this is a big problem. There are two general insights from this: He is priced out and cannot afford to live nearer his work, and it is the best work he could find because his locality does not offer that same opportunity. If we multiply this sentiment to a million more people, we will see the reality of citizens from Bulacan and Laguna traveling all the way to Quezon City and Makati to work. And even those from Quezon City and other parts of Metro Manila, travel back and forth to Makati. The result is dreadful traffic all over the metropolis.
If we look at our city from a bird’s eye view, we still see the segregation of social classes. The rich live within gated communities near the central business districts while the average employee lives much farther from places of work.
From 1989, Makati CBD increased densities, floor area ratios, and building heights four times. However, it has not increased the access, transportation, and parking capacities four times. Some of the gated communities have not opened their gates to share their underutilized roads to pedestrians, bicycles, and motorists to alleviate the congestion of EDSA and improve access to and from Makati CBD. The same seems to be happening at the Ortigas Center, surrounded by gated communities for the rich.
This phenomenon is not unique to Metro Manila. It was also a major issue for London, New York, Singapore, Seoul, and Hong Kong back in the 1970s. In a forum on city planning that I attended in Boston in the late 1990s, it was shared with us participants that having big houses in the heart of the central business district takes away opportunity for families to live in the area. In the economics of supply and demand, as demand goes up but supply does not, then prices goes up. This is why real estate values in central business districts become very expensive. Having low-density residential development, and even low-density commercial development, greatly contributes to the scarcity of the housing stock. It pushes the real estate value to go up further, but diminishes the supply.
In a gated subdivision at the heart of a central business district, one hectare of land can only accommodate large houses of four families. But by building higher and making it into a multi-family dwelling or condominium, one hectare of land can provide dwelling units for up to 200 families or even more.
Today, in the cities of London, New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong, central business districts discourage low-density development. The rich, even the politicians, rent condominiums, townhomes, apartments, and build their big houses in the suburbs.
Encouraging mixed-use and vertical urbanism prevents development from sprawling into green open spaces. Each building can accommodate more habitable spaces for families as well as integrating places to work, learn, shop, dine, play, and worship, among others. Even with Hong Kong’s density, preserving 70 percent of its land area as open and green space is possible because of more mixed-use and vertical developments.
By promoting a land use and zoning of mixed-use and vertical urbanism, there will be more options for affordable dwelling units near one’s place of work. This means less travel time and less dependence on cars. It is also easier to interconnect buildings with elevated walkways; and easier to implement intermodal and integrated mass-transportation systems. We also preserve green and open spaces as lungs of the city.
In future articles, I hope to share with you the recommendations on best practices and revolutionary ideas on transport and land use that I have put forward to the government, developers, and civil society.