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Revisiting Baguio’s traffic and transportation system for the future
by Wenilyn Asuncion

Traffic gridlock is strongly felt within the central business district during peak season in Baguio and nearby La Trinidad town. The increase in volume of vehicles during peak season likewise contributed to high air pollution level within the CBD. -- Harley Palangchao

 
Being stuck in a traffic jam is a very unpleasant experience. This situation, however, has become a part of the daily lives of ordinary commuters and they could do nothing but air their complaints or keep it to themselves as traffic slows into a crawl.

The traffic and transportation system is probably one of the most pressing concerns in every city and Baguio is no exemption.

Consequently, traffic congestion contributes to the high level of air pollution in the central business district due to dirty fuel emissions. The Environmental Management Bureau-Cordillera, using a monitoring facility, also traced the main generators of the pollutant in the area to the diesel-powered transport vehicles plying the road network. These diesel-powered vehicles consist mostly of public utility jeepneys and cabs.

In a similar study, the EMB-CAR monitored the levels of finer particulates (PM10) in Baguio from 2007 to 2012. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to this particulate matter (PM), an air pollutant, will put people at risk of mortality and morbidity from heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer.

The results showed that the six-year annual PM10 was 83.2 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), which exceeds both national and international standards. This figure is almost 40 percent higher than the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 annual exposure standard of 60 µg/m3, and four times higher than that of the WHO health standard of 20 µg/m3.

In 2014, the air at Baguio’s CBD was declared by the WHO as the most polluted in the Philippines. With the health risks and economic losses brought by this pollution, the city government is searching for effective policies and measures to reduce the concentration levels of air pollution in the CBD including the support for researches to enhance local public transportation system utilizing various technologies and renewable energies including solar bus and monorail system.

“I am very supportive and very open to new system of transportation that are a lot better than our present transportation system as far as environment and services to our constituents are concerned,” Mayor Mauricio Domagain said.

Past: The cleanest and greenest city

Domogan expressed his dismay over the current degree of pollution in the city. He said when he was serving as the mayor in the 1990s, the city was hailed as the “Cleanest and Greenest Highly Urbanized City” in the country for three consecutive years. When he came back to office in 2010, pollution has become a problem, until today, due to the residents’ lack of discipline and cooperation.

“This is because people do not cooperate. The responsibility of cleaning the city does not rest solely on the city government. It is also the people’s responsibility. This is not my sole obligation, but every one of us,” he added.


The operation of solar bus and other eco-friendly modes of transport would depend how Baguio officials and other concerned sector weigh the importance of addressing the air pollution and public health due to smoke emissions from vehicles. -- Harley Palangchao

 
Now and the future: Clean and green once again

Architect Daniel Burnham designed Baguio for 25,000 people only, but a population of 319,000 was recorded on 2010 with an annual growth rate of 2.36 percent annually. With the rapid population growth comes also the rapid increase of vehicles in the city.

Reports from the City Environment and Traffic Management Office indicate that one of the major challenges in the city is the large volume of vehicles traversing the roads, which undersized the capacity of road networks, inevitably resulting in traffic congestion.

“Our road networks cannot cope and cannot accommodate the continuing increase in the number of vehicles. We cannot just widen the roads because these also have width limits,” Domogan said.

Presently, however, the city government has piece-meal approaches to deal with traffic congestion, such as parking management, rerouting systems, number-coding, and zoning schemes, among measures.

Also, Baguio was one of the first to pass its own Clean Air Act ordinance, which established measures to regulate the flow of motor vehicles into the CBD and enforced emission standards that vehicles should meet.

As part of the promotion on the use of clean fuels in the city, the mayor also encourages studies for an alternative mode of public transportation that could be a lasting solution to Baguio’s traffic and pollution woes.

The Green Bus, a solar-assisted vehicle introduced by environmental group Glad to be Green (G2BG), commenced a technological demonstration last June 8 that sought to promote zero-emission trips and contribute to the lowering of air pollutants in the CBD and, gradually, to decongest the area.

The bus is equipped with photovoltaic or solar panels and uses solar and electric as its source of fuel. It is charged at night or when it is not in use by plugging it into a conventional electric outlet or to a solar battery which was earlier charged under the sun. When in use or running, it is charged and powered by sunlight. It can cover 100 kilometers on a single full charge while its solar panel helps in adding 10 to 15 kilometers of distance coverage.

The result of the demonstration indicated that the Green Bus was more economical to operate compared to jeepneys. It registered eight percent lower maintenance cost and generated 40 percent savings in terms of fuel cost per kilometer covered as against to jeepneys.

Because the vehicle does not burn gas or diesel, each unit also prevents 2.2 tons per cubic meter of greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere annually. Unlike diesel-powered vehicles, as stated by G2BG Chief Executive Officer Gladys Vergara, the Green Bus does not have any harmful effects into the atmosphere. It also runs quietly so it does not contribute to noise pollution.

The solar bus got 98 percent acceptability rating from its 1,845 passengers during its month-long demonstration. This means that the people agree that the bus gave out no noise and did not emit smoke.

Upon the request of the city mayor, the Green Bus will be swapped for an electric-solar jeepney for a more appropriate cost-benefit analysis and comparison of the most suitable vehicle for Baguio.

The city is also currently looking for funding to conduct the final feasibility study for the proposed monorail system that will traverse Baguio and La Trinidad, Benguet.

“We have approved the move to look for necessary funding to conduct the final feasibility study so everything will be considered including the livelihood of the transport group for example. If it is feasible for the terrain of the city, I hope we can source out funding so we can complete the final feasibility study,” Domogan said.

An unmanned Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) system will be used, which is an invention of the Department of Science and Technology itself. The total project cost will be P4 billion for the 5.2-km La Trinidad line from the Capitol to the Slaughterhouse Compound and P3B for the Baguio line from Bonifacio rotunda to Luneta Hill.

The feasibility study will determine whether this alternative mode of transportation is a viable investment for the city.

The proposed mode of transportation, however, is not without flaw. Despite the positive feedback of the people on the solar bus, the city council raised concerns during the presentation of the result of the solar bus’ technological demonstration in a council session. The council members had issues on the vehicle’s climbing ability, its safety, and how it will affect the existing public transport system.

The Green Bus can climb an inclination of 20 degrees, which is relatively low-slung for the terrain of Baguio as being the highest city in the country, with elevation ranging from 900 meters along the Bued River to 1,600 meters at Pacdal. Majority of the slopes are gentle to moderately steep with a mean slope of 36 degrees.

Vergara is hopeful that the e-jeepney to be launched on September can climb the elevated land of the city better.

Another concern is the weather and climate pattern of Baguio as it can be rainy and foggy for a long period of time, which can affect the vehicle’s source of solar energy. Israel Buenabora, communication and marketing head of G2BG, admitted that efficiency rate and overall performance of the vehicle could go as low as 25 percent.

The city council also asked about the safety of the vehicle, since it is made from light materials that might put passengers at risk when it hit with larger vehicles.

Vice Mayor Edison Bilog particularly questioned the lack of an accompanying franchise of the Green Bus from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

Vergara, on the other hand, explained that the rides were offered free and if in the future it will be approved for permanent operation, it will continue to offer free rides for the people. She said there was and there will be no actual commercial activity that entails charging of fares, so the Green Bus does not need a franchise.

Councilor Elaine Sembrano asked about the business strategy for the Green Bus since it cannot be expected to operate for long without a source of income or even a return of investment.

Buenabora said the return of investment of the Green Bus does not necessarily have to be monetary because the advocacy of this vehicle is to promote a renewable source of energy, especially solar energy, which in the long run would save the environment and even make it cleaner.

Domogan requested the G2BG to further research on possible financing opportunities and schemes where the operators and drivers can easily avail these types of vehicles.


New hopes?

A series of interviews with local officials show that the city is supportive of its transportation pursuit.

“I approved the testing of the solar bus to consider its feasibility, cost, and maintenance. If all of these are good, then let’s offer it to the transport group. Let us update and change already the old vehicles since these have been existing for a long period of time. Parang running coffin na. Palitan na natin ito,” the mayor said.

Councilor Benny Bomogao, chair of the city council committee on public utilities, transportation, and traffic legislation, said these modes of transportation are very welcome, because this is the future. “Maybe 20 years from now, we will all be using electric cars, solar-powered cars, and that is very possible,” he said.

“Provided these are applicable to Baguio’s terrain and climate, and are affordable, why not? There is also the need to ensure that these transport modes can induce private investors to provide a capital, given the price range that is required for the infrastructure, equipment, and other technical needs,” said Sembrano.

Domogan, on the other hand, has answers for critics saying these projects might just remain as an inked paper and will not materialize.

He said first, changing the transportation system is not an easy task as one cannot force the private transport group to change their vehicles. “However, although it might take long, we can arrive at the end.”

Second, finding the applicable technologies for Baguio such as the monorail would take a really long time considering the city’s terrain and climate.

Lastly, the city cannot implement a project without funds. For instance Domogan said the city does not have P7B for the monorail construction.

Domogan said for Baguio to finally achieve its dream of an environmentally-sustainable transportation system, everyone – the city officials and people – should cooperate in the endeavor. The traffic in the city is man-made. Therefore, the solution is cooperation and discipline from residents. Instead of blaming, people should come and be a part of the solution.
Other news
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:: Tax reform key to sustaining Baguio’s improved services
:: Bringing back the scent, charm of the old Baguio
:: The legacy of Mauricio G. Domogan: From Barefoot Child to Father of Baguio
:: Hurdling garbage woes as attainable goal for Baguio
:: REV–BLOOM: Redefining a tourism story of RP’s Summer Capital
:: View from the sidelines:
Barangays share their vision for Baguio
:: The daunting task of providing decent shelter in a bustling city
:: The Duterte peace & order agenda: The road to achieving ‘crime–free’ Baguio
:: Rebuilding Baguio communities through urban agriculture

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