Sudhir Gota

 I plan to document a series of interviews with people from different cities to understand “how to improve our cities”.  The idea is to absorb varied perspectives from different cities and stakeholders on various transport issues in order to capture the problems and solutions and provide a menu of options for policymakers, researchers and other stakeholders.  Cities in Asia are using different tools and strategies and thus I hope this experiment of using a series of interview would provide a good basis to understand the issues and solutions in cities without having to travel to the cities.

In the first part, I am concentrating on Manila transport by interviewing an expert from London - Stefan Trinder.

Stefan Trinder is a transport planner with around 8 years’ experience, primarily as a strategic planner at Transport for London. As part of a sabbatical to travel and experience some new cultures Stefan offered to spend 3 months with the MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) as a volunteer transport consultant. He recently finished his 3 months of crash course on Manila transport issues.


His sabbatical of ‘actually’ working in developing cities to understand the issues is a “win – win” situation for all. His experience and insights can provide a different dimension to our problems and thus he is the first expert to be interviewed in this series.

Why Manila city?

Manila transport system is rapidly evolving with time. The motorization growth is intense (vehicle double every 10 years) and travel time budget is constantly increasing with time.  Traffic congestion is so intense that in 2007, official sources estimated P140 billion direct and indirect economic losses. The public transport and non motorized facilities are deteriorating with investments dominating towards few mega projects.  The landuse policy by the government is very confusing and disconnected with transport system. The city landuse policy is decentralized and it is under control of local municipalities. Manila is probably the only city which i know where the two wheelers have outpaced car growth rates and in recent years two wheelers and tricycles have become dominant modes for the first time. This is in contrast to other cities where car growth rates are outpacing the two wheeler growth rates.  

Vehicle growth in Manila


Growth in CO2 emissions in Manila

 Interview with Stefan Trinder

1.       What do you think of the metro manila transport system?

Unorganised, unreliable and inefficient are the first adjectives that spring to mind. What makes it interesting for a transport planner like me is that there is so much potential for improvement. For me the most interesting challenge is improving quality of life by tackling the long and unreliable commute times endured by many residents, the ugly streets (e.g. gigantic billboards, very little greenery, potholes, litter) and the air pollution to mention just a few factors. The competitiveness of the city suffers because of congestion and freight restrictions and the impact on the environment is clear for everyone to see.


Have you traveled in Jeepneys and Tricycles in Manila? What do you think of them?

For a visitor they are great fun, but I’m relieved I don’t have to use them every day! Jeepneys dominate public transport in Metro Manila accounting for around 75% of trips. There are around 50,000 registered Jeepneys in the city, although over 80,000 are estimated to be operating. Jeepney owners are very powerful lobby group. Jeepneys provide both local and long distance services and have a capacity of around 20 passengers. Estimates suggest that over 90,000 tricycles operate in Metro Manila.

Both Jeepneys and Tricycles were great innovations of their time (converted army jeeps and adaptions of motorcycles). The original innovations have been duplicated and established as unique traits of the Philippines. Unfortunately the process of duplication led to little further innovation. We are now saddled with huge fleets of antiquated vehicles that don’t provide shelter from the fumes and dust of the road, are tricky to get in and out of if you are tall like I am and account for a sizeable proportion of air pollution. There are initiatives to modernise the Jeepney and Tricycle concepts, such as loan schemes to convert to 4-stroke tricycles and the Makati electric Jeepneys. I very much hope these initiatives are successful and adopted across the city.

(Literature on problems and solutions being tried out on tricycles can be found here )

3.       How do you visualize Manila transport System in say 2020?

The density of development in Metro Manila (around 20,000 population per km2) dictates that motorised transport must be dominated by public transport. Decision makers must recognise that aspiring to a transport system typical of a North American city is not possible and look closer to home at the likes of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore. If this happens then I see a city in the midst of a mass rapid transit building boom (like Chinese cities now) and teeming with gleaming new air-conditioned e-Jeepneys powered by geothermal electricity. I see dedicated lanes on EDSA shared by pedal cycles and e-cycles and huge controversy about planned per km charges for private cars on top of the already introduced parking taxes. If the change in aspiration doesn’t occur then I expect Commonwealth Avenue to be repeated across the city in a frantic effort to build a way out of congestion 


4.       What should London learn from Manila? Any positives you see in the landuse-transport system?

Unfortunately, a lot of my observations in Manila illustrate the consequences of a lack of coordinated planning (e.g. the balance of planning power too far towards the 17 individual Local Government Units that form Metro Manila) and lack of effective regulation (both of public transport services and private traffic). However, I think the AUV/FX concept of point-to-point, limited-stop, demand-responsive service could be helpful in and around London. Especially for longer distance routes such as to and from London airports and between key centres in outer London

5.       How did you find walkability and cycling in Manila?

In a word – appalling. I’m a keen cyclist but never dared to try it partially because of the traffic and also because of the air pollution. I can’t immediately think of any dedicated facilities for cyclists other than the Marikina cycleways. There is great potential for cycling as it would be one of the quickest ways to get around the city. Conditions for pedestrians are no better. The potholed pavements are treated as spare space to park cars, dump garbage and even live. The smelly drains and limited road crossings (that generally involve climbing many flights of stairs) are other factors that deter walking. It’s little wonder that motorised transport such as tricycles are commonly used for journeys of walking distance.

       If you are the MMDA boss for next two years what would be your action plan?

It could be argued that MMDA is already overly transport focussed in comparison to the wide range of other responsibilities such as development planning, flood control, disaster preparedness and waste management. However, for MMDA to successfully fulfil its mandate it requires far greater powers to plan, implement and operate schemes across the metropolis with less interference from local and national Government. Therefore, lobbying for a transfer of strategic planning powers from local and national Government would be high on the list of priorities. Within 2 years I think it would be feasible to develop a strategy to transform Jeepney and bus services in the city and (with enhanced powers) have implemented the plan on a number of strategic corridors. In addition I would seek to produce a long term development plan for the city with the aim of attracting investment in transport and other infrastructure.

7.       How was your experience of working in a developing country?

Fascinating to experience at first-hand how planners attempt to get to grips with a metropolis as dynamic as Manila. I witnessed an enormous amount of dedication from colleagues and was warmly welcomed as part of the team. As you would expect there are fewer resources available. In my line of work the resource issue was particularly evident in the limited amount of data and evidence available to guide decision makers.