Hack the CBD brings out ways to end traffic woes
The virtual “dispute” between vehicles and pedestrians on Metro Manila roads could still end sooner or later along with the multibillion peso daily losses to traffic congestion—given the right formula for change.
The decades-old transportation problem does not only need new technology but also young minds and old solutions in order to bring back to the public their right over the streets, experts believe.
“We look too much at technology to solve our problems. A lot of the solutions are very old ones, even Uber and Grab. My advice for young entrepreneurs is to take a very old idea, marry it with the latest technology, and make a billion dollars,” said entrepreneur and global transportation expert Gabe Klein in the recently concluded “Hack the CBD (Central Business District)” pitch battle in Taguig City.
Klein also said partnerships between the government and the private sector should focus on providing pedestrians and commuters convenient, safe and affordable transportation options. Hack the CBD is a startup pitching contest on innovative urban planning ideas, which aims to discover viable technology-based solutions on various transportation problems in the Philippines.
It is organized by nonprofit research and education organization Urban Land Institute (ULI) Philippines and Inquirer Group of Companies’ mobile news arm, Inquirer Mobile.
With technology on the rise, reinventing extremely congested cities into transit-oriented public spaces can become reality. Some viable solutions include bicycle-sharing schemes, whereby bikes are made available for others to use, and legislation focused on transit-oriented development (TOD), he said.
“Bike-share is an old idea—big, easy-to-use bikes. But the solar technology, modular design, GPS (Global Positioning System), RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) then suddenly you take all the idea, you reduce the ‘friction,’ and make it very easy for people to use,” Klein said.
TOD, meanwhile, is an urban planning solution that creates compact, walkable, and mixed-use communities situated around high quality rail systems. The aim is to make communities more sustainable by reducing the utilization of vehicles and energy consumption.
This strategy has been effectively implemented in western cities like Washington D.C., New Jersey, San Francisco in the United States (US); Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg in Canada; Hong Kong in Asia; Paris in Europe; Curitiba and Guatemala in Latin America.
However, hesitancy to try out new approaches always hampered development because “people need to see it to believe it.”
“Even a bus lane or a bike lane, go show them how it works. Let them use it to get to the metro. Go out there and paint the stripes. And the government’s going to be more flexible. They have to try things. The excuse that all of these are multimillion dollar investments, that it’s going to take years to get there [is not right because] you can do a quick-build approach,” he said.
Klein said that in developing countries, car ownership is already dead. He said these developing countries were already following the trend of creating less car-centric and walkable cities.
UP Bike Share
Metro Manila’s traffic problem was why a group of 30 undergraduate students of the University of the Philippines (UP)-Diliman created a bike-share program called “UP Bike Share,” which allows students to use “public” bicycles strewn across campus.
Although the system would not really solve the country’s transportation woes, the team believes it’s one big leap from the status quo.
Bikes, which students can use the entire semester, are grouped into two units—red and white. Through a soon-to-be-completed smartphone application, anyone could use a bike and then park and lock it in designated racks inside the campus so the next user could easily access it.
The smart-lock technology the students designed should guarantee security since a tracking system is enabled in the mobile app.
“Some of the students don’t even know how to bike, but it makes them care more deeply about the advocacy for liveable cities. [We aim to] get young people to think this way. We really hope that through biking, people would see the city differently—that they would care more for the air they’re breathing and the environment they’re in,” said UP Bike Share president Miguel Laperal.
Laperal said biking was the simplest and quickest way for the public “to take command, take back the road and the city.”
Compared to other existing bike-share schemes, Laperal claimed UP Bike Share was much cheaper to operate since materials were purchased at low costs.
Each fixed bike unit costs P5,000 while the smart-lock and software each cost P10,000.
A student will have to pay P500 to P700 per semester to be able to access a bike. This translates to P6 a day, or a peso cheaper than a jeepney fare.
The team started operating in August 2014 with an initial budget of P30,000, straight from the members’ own pockets, and only a few bike units. Since donations started pouring in from large corporations, the team now has a total of 72 units. It planned to add eight more after winning the $1,000 prize from the Hack the CBD competition.
Although the organization remained nonprofit for the benefit of the UP community, the members planned to get funding from angel investors and venture capitalists so that they could commercialize and extend their services to other universities and urban and rural communities in and out of Metro Manila.
“Our plan is to sell the system to communities [including CBDs], help them implement it, then optimize it to become sustainable,” Laperal said.
Just last year, the team’s innovation was also recognized at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Startup Accelerator Leadership Summit. The team brought home the “Online Popularity Award.”
With the aggravating traffic problems pulling down the rising tide of the local economy, the business sector is also urging immediate action from the government to make Metro Manila a sustainable city.
“People cannot wait for too long. They need quick solutions,” Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) governor-in-charge of traffic, transportation and infrastructure Eduardo Yap said, rebuking the country’s “dysfunctional” transportation system and inefficient management of infrastructure projects.
He said the congested streets of aging Metro Manila were because of the government’s “failed [urban] planning.”
He said 63 percent of the population were “aspiring to own a car” ironically because of the “present reality,” thus adding to the traffic congestion.
Department of Transportation & Communications (DOTC) senior adviser Robert Siy said while the government was planning to ramp up infrastructure, it has yet to deal with the necessary legislation to complement plans.
“We have a lot of mass transport and high percentage of usage, but with low quality. We hope that the next administration will invest in high quality transportation,” he said.
Future of PH startup ecosystem
Redesigning the transport system through technology would not only result in public convenience but also a reduction in the costs of congestion, Klein said, citing recent US studies.
Although the country still lagged behind in terms of technology and connectivity, he believes the local startup ecosystem has potential in the global technology industry and in leading in nation-building.
“The infrastructure, the fiber, the connectivity are definitely important. That’s where the government can really be helpful. Public and private can work together,” he said.
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