Nuances of Public Transport Services

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - June 4, 2019 - 12:00am

(Part 6 - Terminals)

We have so far made some generalizations: First, that all things being equal, people will prefer direct, single trip, home-to-work trips, over a series of inter-connected trips requiring transfers; and second, integrated intermodal transport is a key objective when direct services become expensive or will take a longer time, or both. Another truism that we propose is that the “mode transfer” is the “weakest link” in an intermodal system. People hate transfers and long queues in terminals.

The best evidence of this is in the air transport industry, particularly in the advent of low-cost carriers (LCCs). It’s not just the no-frills and lower costs of LCCs that made them predominant in most countries, it’s also their propensity for “direct flights.” Traditionally, “legacy” airlines use the old “hub and spoke” approach linking long distance destinations, and then distributing the passengers to “connecting” flights. LCCs introduced direct flights and air passengers love them!

In land transport, cities also use the hub and spoke approach, and that’s why we have provincial terminals in most of our biggest cities. In the olden days, many cities placed their “out-of-town” terminals at the outskirts, ferrying the passengers inside through the local transport system. This has been found very expensive, inconvenient, and wasteful. Besides, we see other big cities in the world – London, Tokyo, Seoul, etc., have their terminals strategically placed inside and at the center of the city, properly and seamlessly integrated with the city networks. They work and people don’t complain.

It’s when government starts tinkering with established systems based on… well, not based on anything at all, that you get the citizens’ ire. The present brouhaha in the provincial buses in Metro Manila is a perfect example. Decision makers must remind themselves of realities – passengers ride on vehicles and vehicles use road space, and the bigger vehicles you have carrying more passengers, the more efficient you are. If you place the terminal at the outskirts, passengers still need to go to their final destinations using smaller, less-efficient carriers. Worst, if they turn to single-capacity cars, private or for-hire, you are exacerbating the congestion many times over!

On a more scientific note, the crux of the matter is what we call the origin-destination data. Transport officials need to know where the people come from, and where they go, in terms of percent shares of total trips, arranged in a matrix. Then you can establish the route patterns and design the terminal locations.

You prioritize these public transportation modes because these are the most efficient! You don’t make decisions in favor of inefficient private cars, unless your motive is simply to serve the elite. And making public transportation better actually benefits everybody, even the elite.

How are we in Cebu? Do our leaders want good transport for the majority who don’t own cars? Or do they want us to make many trips with plenty of transfers and waiting time in queues? This remains to be seen…

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