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‘Intelligent’ trackways

I have been having a series of conversations with someone who has a very interesting concept. Francis Yuseco has developed, in considerable detail, a new kind of public transport. In essence, it’s a light rail transit (LRT)—but without the rails. It consists of isolated lanes that are called trackways. He calls the project the “Intelligent Trackways System” (ITS).

In this system, passenger buses run on a dedicated track under strictly, completely controlled conditions. The system can also incorporate cargo vans and trucks. Refrigerated or nonrefrigerated vans may be provided as needed.

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Because the system is completely controlled, it is completely programmable. The trackways can either be at street level, or elevated, or subgrade (subway). It has fixed headways, dwell times, and loading and unloading stations. Its vehicles may run at controlled average speed or top speed.

The buses are “articulated” for inner-city rides; those servicing the suburbs can be double-deckers.

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A “centralized command post” houses the systems that control the movement of the vehicles, thus eliminating the problem of having to deal with errant drivers. These include a supervisory control and data acquisition system, global positioning system, wireless telemetry (sensor, receiver and display) monitoring system, audio communication systems, closed-circuit television, etc. The doors open sideways and the door frames are on the same level as the bus door, so you walk straight in or out. (Very convenient for us oldies and persons with disabilities.)

The buses can carry 200 passengers. With 92 buses, the ITS can move over 1 million passengers every day—and replace as well 6,000 ordinary buses and the failing LRT. On some routes, the trackways can already be installed. The ITS  can be operated 24/7, and thus offers our young call center operators a safer and more comfortable ride home. Xiamen in China totally dismantled its LRT and replaced it with its version of the ITS. The same can be done here, with the owners and operators of the LRT as ITS partners.

The ITS simulates all the operating characteristics of a rail-based system without the rails. It has a fixed headway that, at one minute, is far shorter than the four or five minutes of the LRT. Dwell times are short and fixed on loading and unloading stations.

Drivers’ salaries and allowances are also fixed, thus doing away with the boundary system. In fact, the driver could be relegated to just a supervisory role. The driverless car system already in use in the United States can be adopted into ITS vehicles. And given ITS’ simplicity—single track, zero traffic and zero intersections—the driverless system would be easy to incorporate, with complete safety.

The result is that they can match or even exceed the operating efficiency and capacities of any rail-based system at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, their coaches can be manufactured locally, so the system can be up and running within a short period of six to eight months. All the negative operating characteristics of conventional buses (e.g., swerving, speeding, illegal loading and unloading) will be eliminated; these buses will be gone from city streets.

The first Aquino administration rejected the ITS idea for being “merely theoretical, unproven and with only a limited systems capacity.” Which seemed true at the time; hardly was it known then that such a system was already successfully operating in Curitiba, Brazil. Since 1999, 136 cities in several countries have adopted this system, more than proving its worth.

In 1997, then President Fidel V. Ramos, through Transportation Secretary Art Enrile, Public Works Secretary Greg Vigilar and MMDA Chair Prospero Oreta, agreed to install a pilot system along Commonwealth Avenue and the then-under-construction C5. Enrile’s successor, Josie Lichauco, after another review, signed the project’s implementation plan. But the Asian financial crisis brought this to a halt. And it was never revived.

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On transporting cargoes, the ITS tracks not only the movement of cargo vehicles traveling along its trackways but also the goods and cargo inside them. Among its other objectives is to connect online, in real time, the customs and internal revenue bureaus. Thus, once goods are loaded or unloaded, both agencies can monitor the movement of the goods and merchandise for proper assessment and payment of pertinent duties, tariffs and taxes.

Yuseco also says he cannot overemphasize the importance of the system for farmers and fisherfolk who, under the current system, rely on the transport facilities of middle men. This results in incredulous margins between farm/sea gate prices and urban market prices. which can go as high as 400 percent or even more. With the ITS, both sectors can increase their income multifold even as food prices go down to benefit the consumers.

Yuseco has both the patents and copyrights on the ITS, so under the Constitution and the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines, this project can be awarded without public bidding. This means the project can be put up and start operating within months without the need of emergency powers. (I share Secretary Art Tugade’s disdain for the idea of the “lowest bidder” winning the contract. Lowest price is lowest quality. The Duterte administration has to discard the lowest-bidder scheme.

The ITS deserves serious, urgent second look and consideration. Pull out the studies done on the ITS during Ramos’ presidency and look into similar, successful systems elsewhere. A decision can be made this year, this quarter even. We can actually rush the project. It’s an intelligent approach deserving intelligent consideration.

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E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: Francis Yuseco, Intelligent Trackways System, LRT, mass transit, public transport, trackways
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