Are We Creating Safe and Inclusive Mass Transportation?

Jennifer Ramos
07 December 2023


Metro Manila serves as a case study in assessing how the Philippines has adapted to trends in road safety and public transport convenience. The country prides itself on a pool of experts who advocate user-friendly road networks and facilities. Academically, this is referred to as user-sensitive, in which the planning and implementation of road and transport projects for public commuters and pedestrians are geared towards their needs, almost to a personal level. Thus, such projects have to cater to mothers who hold a toddler or a baby in a stroller while traversing a sidewalk, people with disabilities (PWD) who may need to embark on a bus, people with visual impairment who need to cross the street or older adults who may need to climb up an overpass bridge.

While studies try to advocate for this, government budget allocation and outcomes of infrastructure projects show a glaring deviation. Going on our roads or using their facilities is still risky and inconvenient for most of the general public. Not that nothing has progressed, but the gap to ‘must-be’ in road transport is wide.

Challenges to Urban Public Transportation Development

The online lecture conducted by the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) under the Capability Building on Innovative Leadership for Legislative Staff (CBILLS) Program on 24 August 2023 featured a session of Dr. Ma. Sheila Napalang, a professor from the School of Urban and Regional Planning and former director of the National Center for Transportation Studies at the University of the Philippines. She discussed the challenges of urban public transportation development in the country. First, the urban population grew from 29% in 1955 to 45% in 2015 and is expected to reach 60% in 2050. Next, the demand for mobility increased while transport development was slow due to underinvestment and lack of proper maintenance.

Moreover, the policymakers’ mentality of constructing more roads is a knee-jerk reaction that has produced more vehicles without solving road problems. Dr. Napalang pointed out that private cars win in traffic volume at 53.1%; however, these only provide 21.6% of total person trips, resulting in road traffic, travel delays, and discomfort among drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. In one picture, this combines transport congestion with pedestrian traffic, aggravating the unsightly urban congestion in Metro Manila due to the growing informal settlements and lack of functional urban design.

Mainly, the culprit is our finite space. Thus, the problems we encounter in Metro Manila are almost identical to those in other metropolitan areas because the population grows along with the emerging demands of new living conditions. If we do not design our space strategically, our roads will be smaller and more congested, leaving us with more problems, including higher carbon footprints and unhealthy air quality. The reverse of this scenario is an eco-friendly and smart community, which hopefully is what the Philippines will become sooner rather than later.

People-Oriented and Sustainable Transportation Planning

The infrastructure sector aims to align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 11, which focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Unless translated to structural engineering and architectural designs of road networks and connectivity, those are just lovely strings of terms from researchers and educators. 

Dr. Syrus Gomari, CEO of MobilityVision+ and one of the panelists during the lecture was right to point out that our planning practices and policymaking efforts no longer match our growing population. Today, we simplify variables by breaking down the population into different types of road users, such as persons with limited mobility, workers, older adults, women, and children.  Hence, traffic management policies must be people-oriented rather than vehicle-oriented to promote sustainable transportation planning.

Using Data and Technology in Road Network and Traffic Management

While planning may sound easy, some challenges and issues deter people-oriented and sustainable road policies. Dr. Gomari underscored that these issues might be resolved by taking into account the following: (1) using smart technology or artificial intelligence (AI) to address fragmented and expensive mobility data collection; (2) simplifying complicated and unscalable software tools for efficiency and ease of use or navigation; (3) incorporating evidence-driven rather than interest-driven policymaking through automated analytics and integrated monitoring mechanisms; and (4) using science-based or AI-driven support for infrastructure and policy development. Overall, the emphasis is on integrating technologies into the solution process to reduce the time required for planning sustainable mobility policies. 

In Japan, precision is considered a means rather than an end. Using advanced technology, they can conduct data analytics to map the transportation supply and demand hourly. For instance, their precise train schedules make commuting a preferred option among Japan’s executives and workforce. As a national policy, they value punctuality and give so much respect to everyone’s time. The railway companies even issue a densha chien shoumeisho, or train delay certificate, which the passengers can use as an excuse for being late to school or work.

The train system in Japan also offers various options for the public. The local train stops at every station while the shinkansen or bullet train traverses across provinces or prefectures. There are also rapid and express trains that stop at designated stations. Order and discipline, embedded in the meritocratic culture of the Japanese, largely contribute to the reliability of their road connectivity, railway networks, and train schedules.

User-Sensitive Road and Transport Network

Japan’s transportation networks, people movements, buildings, and open spaces coexist. Japanese planners are also keen on space consumption as their railways and other transport terminals are sensibly and usually aesthetically situated. Their road signs are loud narrations of safety. For example, people with visual impairment can travel in Japan since the sounds of traffic lights alert them when crossing the streets. Textured tiles guide their path to the exits or train stations from malls or public buildings, and the railway personnel are constantly ready to assist them during arrival and departure. Because of these, it is easy to assume that such care and sensibilities are mandatory in Japan. 

They also have strict traffic rules that designate pathways for foot travel and micro-mobility using scooters or bicycles throughout the country. The comfort of traveling to Japan through its road network and traffic management using smart technology makes it one of the best countries in the world for international travel, thus positively helping its economy with tourist arrivals year-round.

In other countries such as the Netherlands, biking or cycling is a matter of public policy. Bicycles fulfill more than 25% of the transportation requirements of the Dutch, contributing to their country’s clean environment due to zero greenhouse gas emissions. Their cycling infrastructure networks are comprehensive and seamless with their terminals or parking areas. Renting a bike in Amsterdam is also relatively easy.  Using technology, a local or foreign renter can pick up a bike at the nearest parking facility and traverse any fietsstraat (cycle street) in the city, where the bike can sometimes be returned to another parking terminal. Once done, the company owner will charge the bike renter based on the time and distance the bike was used through an AI digital application. 

Our country can learn from ample models of user-sensitive road and transport network facilities worldwide, provided political will is present. It is a good thing there are multi-sectoral advocates to steer the political waves in this direction. Thus, relevant legislative actions promoting commuters’ welfare in transportation policies are now in the mills of the Philippine Congress, which include House Bill No. 04913, authored by Representative Patrick Michael Vargas of Quezon City, and House Bill No. 06308 by Representative Teodorico Haresco, Jr. of Aklan, both of which aim to create a universal contactless smart card for public transportation in Metro Manila to provide more convenience to commuters. Senate Bill No. 106, introduced by Senator Grace Poe, to be known as “The Commuters’ Welfare Act,” if passed into law, upholds the rights of commuters to safe and convenient mobility through public transport and roads. It mandates that people of all ages, abilities, genders, and economic status should enjoy mobility. It also proposes the creation of the Office for Commuter Affairs to have better coordination among agencies.

Whole-of-Government and Whole-of-Nation Approach

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) launched its Build, Better, More Program (BBMP) to deliver “sustainable, resilient, integrated, and modernized infrastructure facilities and services” as reflected in the Philippine Development Plan 2023 to 2028. This program includes the Php357 billion Philippine Subway System project, which will span for about 33km from Valenzuela City to Paranaque City. With an operational speed of 80km/h, its trains can run from the depot in Valenzuela to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in only 45 minutes. This railway project will be partially completed in 2025 and be fully operational in 2029.

Another highlight of the BBMP is the Transport Modernization Program (TMP), which will remain affordable to the public, as emphasized by Mr. Billie Aranzaso, Supervising Transportation Development Officer of the DOTr. However, some project roll-outs under this program have been delayed. He explained that big-ticket projects, financed under Official Development Assistance (ODA) or often bilateral loans, took time to embark on as these required resource-intensive and robust project preparation and development. As such, bottlenecks include the diversification of ODA partners affecting framework agreements, concessionality, procurement rules, and commercial bank involvement. He also added that the DOTr currently advocates ESG (environment, social, and governance) as an essential tool in project implementation, not just a compliance checklist.

Mr. Jaime Aguilar of the MoveAsONe Coalition said that the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), which will replace PUVs older than 15 years, is anti-workers. He criticized the policies crafted by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) because the jeepney drivers and operators must consolidate as a cooperative or corporation. Moreover, the Php 2.5 million cost per new vehicle to qualify for the program and the franchise fees are insurmountable. Their documents also showed that their capability to pay does not pass bank loan standards, and they also fall short of the required “ideal garage” to join the program. He recommended that the government conduct proper public consultations for this program’s success.

Ms. Anne Clarice Ng, Executive Director of SafeTravelPH, agreed that the existing problems in building safe and inclusive mass transportation in the country cannot be solved unilaterally by action groups or the academe alone. These problems must be addressed through a whole-of-government or whole-of-nation approach. As such, these challenges call for multi-stakeholder governance that is (1) collaborative in initiating and maintaining efficient relationships, (2) transformative in employing innovations, particularly in data access and processing, and (3) proactive in accentuating partnerships with the stakeholders for continuous policy improvement.  

Transportation and the Experience of Policy

Locally, many lectures on safe commuting often lead to a disconnect between theories and practice. Lecture participants might identify that inclusivity among stakeholders is essential. However, as they leave the hall or digital platform, they may question why policy actors and experts overlook the safety and convenience of the public while constructing our sidewalks. Nowadays, sidewalks are easily converted into tricycle terminals or havens for street vendors. In some cases, footbridges were constructed with steep stairs, pedestrian lanes were not repainted, and train stations needed safety signs or had non-working elevators. These only showed that the good narrations were left in the lecture halls and not applied “out there” in real life. 

Conversely, in Japan, the experience of tourists narrates the country’s transportation policy. They may wonder about the audible traffic signals, but eventually, they will realize that these must have been for people with visual impairment. They may also notice that all the comfort rooms in the railway stations are always clean and never run out of tissue paper. They will also be amazed at how conveniently a train station leads to a beautiful mall or a covered walkway to a bus terminal. There are clear, easy-to-follow signages, and every station and terminal has an escalator or elevator, which is convenient for individual commuters carrying heavy luggage.

Ultimately, the whole travel experience narrates that the Japanese government carefully considers its tourists, commuters, pedestrians, and riders, including the vulnerable, in its policymaking and project execution to promote safe and convenient mobility. These insights are what we hope our country can learn from to make ways for safe and inclusive mass transportation.


Aguilar, J. (2023). The Future of Urban Mobility in the Philippines: Perspective from Civil Society Organization. [Webinar]. Development Academy of the Philippines.

Aranzaso, B. (2023). The Future of Urban Mobility in the Philippines: Presentation of Undersecretary for Planning and Project Development. [Webinar]. Development Academy of the Philippines.

Gomari, S. (2023). MobilityVision+ Enhancing Your Future of Urban Mobility. [Webinar]. Development Academy of the Philippines.

Government of Netherlands. (n.d.). Bicycles.

Napalang, M. (2023). Mass Transportation System and the Commuters in the Philippines:
Different needs, Different challenges in Mobility. [Webinar]. Development Academy of the Philippines.

National Economic and Development Authority. (n.d.) Philippine Development Plan 2023 – 2028.

Ng, A. (2023). Exploring the Multi-Stakeholder Perspective in Promoting Safe and Inclusive Mass Transportation for Filipinos. [Webinar]. Development Academy of the Philippines.

The Commuters’ Welfare Act, S.B. 106, 19th Cong. (2022).

The Universal Beep Card Act, H.B. 4913 and H.B. 6308, 19th Cong. (2022).

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the House of Representatives, the Senate of the Philippines, or the Development Academy of the Philippines.

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Ms. Jennifer Ramos currently serves as the Committee Secretary on Metro Manila Development of the House of Representatives. As an Officer-in-Charge or Committee Secretary, she has supervised and managed various committees such as the Good Government, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development, and Metro Manila Development. She obtained her Masters in International Studies at the University of the Philippines – Diliman and Masters in Business Administration at the International University of Japan.