Understanding rapid transit capacities part 2 – Measuring vehicles or people
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete (The Freeman) - September 11, 2018 - 12:00am

We’re still at the topic of the basic measurement. But of what? As we have started last week, the basic engineering measurement of DPWH in planning and building roads is the traffic count – meaning, counting vehicles. But roads are just the passageways for vehicles to travel on, and the real beneficiary, the “passengers” we are planning for are people. People ride on vehicles and vehicles travel on the road. We measure vehicles when we should have measured people.

But the ultimate goal of transportation is to move people primarily from their homes to their places of work in the morning and back in the afternoon. This includes the daily rides to school for younger people and these constitute the biggest portion of all trips in a city. All the others have minor measurements, which are more evenly spread out during the day, unlike home-to-work (or school) trips which are cramped usually in a two-hour window in the morning and afternoon. This window can expand to four to five hours due to congestion.

If the true measure of transport planning is how many people a certain road space can move and not how many vehicles, then we must change our metric, from that of vehicles per hour to people per hour. Say, let’s just assume that we only have cars to use, and that a single urban road lane can move 1,000 cars in one hour, then it can also move 1,000 people in an hour if there is only one passenger each (the driver). But if there are three other passengers (four in all) the same road space can carry 4,000 people per hour. Four times as much! And if we replace cars with vans with approximately the same footprint as the car, and which can carry seven passengers, that’s 7,000 people. Seven times as much!

So why not make the car carry four passengers each trip? That raises its capacity four times. That doesn’t happen in real life –the average passenger count for a car hovers around something like 1.2. MMDA wants to increase this to at least two in their HOV lanes in Manila and we see the protests it generated even up to the halls of Congress and the Senate. Which seems weird because they’re politicians and cars don’t vote!

So, what is the moving capacity (in passengers per hour) of a single lane of road if we devote it to cars? How about if we devote it to jeepneys? Or buses, the ordinary type you see in EDSA? Or buses operated as a Bus Rapid Transit? We will try to investigate this factually in the next articles. Not only is this important in relation to why we need to encourage people to shift from private cars to public transportation, but also in deciding on the right public transportation/rapid transit. Because in these modes, there are more misconceptions, mostly caused by assumptions imprinted in our mindset and which we accept as truth without the benefit of more realistic evaluation. (To be continued)

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