Jun 3, 2009

[Philippines] The Dearth of MRT Time Tables

Manila MRT Train (type Tatra RT8D5) approachin...Image via Wikipedia

Recently, the MRT-3, otherwise known as the Metrostar Express, tried experimenting with expanding their operations window to a full 24-hour run in an effort to meet a presidential request to assist BPO employees and other graveyard workers with their daily commute. The anticipation around the event was pretty big in the call center industry and many people were looking forward to having a safer means of going to work despite the rather dangerous hours they have to operate around.

Of course when the 24/7 experiment started last June 1, it was met with heavy criticism and much confusion. Apparently the MRT operators only planned for 2 trains every hour starting at 11:00pm, this anyone visiting the station would have to wait around 30 or so minutes before a train comes along as compared to the much shorter wait during the day. A lot of people who were interviewed about their sentiments related to the "experiment" gave negative comments and of course the operators themselves noted that the revenue gained from the extra hours was not enough to cover their electricity costs alone.

While many feel this is a cop out of some sort and the entire experiment was wrong in the sense that there should have been more trains since people expect speed from light railway transit systems like this, but I think the problem is more fundamental than that. The real issue here is the lack of clear communication and information related to what this plan was around the implementation of the 24/7 operations scheme.

As helpful as the MRT is to city living, the biggest thing that has irked me about the transit service is the lack of schedules and time tables. I know, I know, obvious references to the supposed "Filipino Time" notion are bound to come into play here, but hear me out.

In other countries, any train / subway / railway service is able to publish expected schedules of trains arriving at stations. With this you can figure out which train you're trying to catch once you hit a particular station. Here, all MRT and LRT lines just publish the schedules of the first and last trains in terms of that particular station. Thus within that window, you have no guaranteed assurance of when the trains are going to arrive. Yehey! has published these schedules in an effort to make them more known while the actual Metrostar Express website emphasizes the number of trains expected per hour.

Why are we so afraid of committing to a schedule? Why do we continually buy into the notion that the Filipino cannot be expected to adhere to a time table? This is what I feel was a larger contributing factor to the "failure" of the MRT 24/7 experiment. Most people didn't know they were only planning to have 2 trains per hour and expected generally "normal" operations. Thus when the first few riders were shocked with the actual scheduling, this resulted in negative feedback, buzz quickly spreading by word of mouth or SMS and ultimately lower rider numbers. This is just factoring in the people who actually knew about the experiment. In my personal experience, a lot of folks didn't know about it until the day itself.

When are we going to learn? Instead we're just sticking to the norm, blaming the failure of the experiment on low rider numbers and thus justifying a change of plans. Now they're going to try experimenting with an extended run instead, citing barely anyone used the MRT between the hours of 01:00am and 04:00am.

They might have generated more riders had the public known in advance about the change in operations and with the expectations of when the trains would actually be there instead of just the start and end times. Knowledge of the precise schedules would have allowed commuters to arrive at the station closer to their expected transit time, thus reducing the amount of time spent loitering in the station and thus reducing the need for more stringent security coverage.

A time table is such a simple thing. Why can't we even manage that?

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  1. In Oslo the bus-stops have started telling how long it is until the next bus arrives, at a per line basis. You can instantly see if it is better to go to the subway, or just walk along for a while.

    The subway has been telling the time for many years, the buses just for the last few.

    In Oslo a bus every 30 minutes during night would be heaven; no such thing here, too few people, especially during weekdays.

  2. Sadly, your comment just further emphasizes that Manila is not Oslo, hehe.