Truths & Thoughts on Traffic (Part 1: Space Dilemma)

By Inigo S. Roces and Vanne TerrazolaSeptember 17, 2017

2.4 million vehicles clog the streets of Metro Manila


THE PHILIPPINES IS fast developing as a nation with a total population of 100,981,437 according to a 2015 census, and spans a total land area of 298,170 square kilometers. A large portion of that population of 12,877,253 is concentrated in Metro Manila, the country’s national capital region (NCR). Metro Manila also has the most numerous means of transportation. The population can travel throughout the city via private motor vehicles, public utility buses, public utility jeepneys, taxis, transport network vehicles (TNV) through mobile phone apps like Uber and Grab, public utility tricycles (both motorized and non-motorized), and is the only city in the entire Philippines with railway transport.

Roads Nonetheless land transportation in the Philippines is highly dependent on road transport. The Philippines has 216,016 kilometers (as of 2015, DPWH) of roads. Metro Manila itself accounts for 1,100 kilometers of the total road network. The total length of the non-toll road network is 202,860 kilometers.



Perhaps the clearest picture of the vehicle density of the Philippines can be glimpsed from the vehicle registration figures gleamed from the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the nation’s authority on land vehicles. Annual vehicle registration figures released by the agency show how many vehicles are legally plying Philippine roads based on various classifications. According to its latest tally, as of 2016, there are 9,251,565 registered vehicles in the Philippines. The LTO’s latest breakdown of vehicle registrations shows the kinds of vehicles that have been registered. According to LTO records, the number of vehicles registered in Metro Manila shot up by 91.85 percent in less than 20 years.

In 2016, there were about 2.4 million vehicles in Metro Manila, ballooning from the 1.3 million vehicles recorded in 1997. Registration of vehicles of various types also saw an 18 percent increase from the years 2012 to 2016. That largest increase, at about 28 percent, was during the years 2007 to 2012 when vehicle registrations were tallied at about 1.6 million to two million. Further analysis on the LTO data provided to the Manila Bulletin showed that the number of motor vehicle registration rose by an average of about five percent every year.


26% of vehicles in Metro Manila

The 2.4 million registered Metro Manila vehicles in 2016 represented 26 percent of the 9.3 million vehicles registered in the Philippines. In 1997 record, 40 percent of the total 3.2 million registered vehicles in the whole country were in Metro Manila.

LTO records showed new car registrations make up 15 to 20 percent of the annual vehicle registration. These increased by an average of around eight percent every year. But from 197,884 in 1997, new motor vehicle registrations reached to 479,559 in 2016, translating to a 142 percent increase. It reached its peak between 2001 to 2002, when new registrations rose by 31,019, or about 24 percent, from 131,724 to 162,743.

Other years saw an increase on first-time registrations by around five to 20 percent. In terms of period, the years 2002 to 2007 had the largest surge in new vehicle registrations with 52 percent, followed by years 2007-2012 with a rise of about 30 percent. While short of one year, it may be pointed out that there was a 49-percent increase on new registrations in later years from 2012 to 2016.



The LTO divides vehicle registration into five categories: Passengers cars, utility vehicles, trucks, buses and motorcycles (both with and without sidecars). The Passenger Cars category includes various passenger vehicles be they in sedan, hatchback, MPV, or sportscar form. The Utility Vehicle segment, sometimes called the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) segment encompasses a wide array of vehicles, like pickups, SUVs and vans, which are built upon a pickup/ truck chassis, and may be used for private or commercial purposes. This segment also includes the Public Utility Jeepney (PUJ). Besides the PUJ, utility vehicles may also include UV Express vehicles. The Trucks segment encompasses a variety of trucks from light, medium to heavy duty classes. The Buses segment also spans a small and large bus segments. Finally, motorcycles take up the bulk of vehicle registrations: spanning from the very popular small scooters, standard motorcycles be they for private or commercial use, motorcycles with sidecars both private and public, as well as larger sport and leisure motorcycles. This segment also includes three-wheeled motorcycles used by small businesses.


For Hire

Many of these registered vehicles are for private use. This figure can be subdivided between the number of private vehicles and those that are for hire. Unfortunately, the LTO only has 21.5 million vehicle trips a day figures from years 2005 to 2013. A study conducted in 2015 by then Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) said there are about 21.5 million vehicle trips in Metro Manila’s thoroughfares every day. The bulk of these travels are made by public utility vehicles (PUVs) in the urban region despite their numbers, another JICA study said.


Vehicles for Hire

There are a variety of forms of vehicles for hire in the Philippines.

Jeepney. Easily the easiest to identify is the Public Utility Jeepney, which is a form of transportation unique to the Philippines. Jeepneys are the most popular PUVs and account for 44 percent of the more than 400,000 registered PUVs in the Philippines. LTFRB data as of April 2017 said there are 179,663 registered jeepneys in the country, with 55,771, or 31 percent, plying NCR routes. Metro Manila jeepneys also account for about 31 percent of the total PUVs in the region.

Over the years, jeepneys remained to offer the cheapest fare among the other PUV denominations. UV Express. A more recent form of transportation is the UV Express. The UV Express was originally conceived to bridge terminal to terminal, providing the riding public with a more direct means to connect from one transport terminal to another. It typically travels from one transport hub to another, allowing the passenger to shift from a tricycle or jeepney, into a UV express, and then into a light rail train or city bus. UV Express vehicles typically take the form of vans or MPVs. They can accommodate anywhere from 10 to 16 passengers.

Taxi. With the exception of trucks-for-hire, following the ranks of jeepneys in Metro Manila are 29,961 taxi cabs. Under LTFRB regulations, regular taxis, which were required to be white, have no fixed routes and are allowed to cruise and ferry passengers to any destination. A taxi may also be dispatched from terminals to respond to on-call requests of passengers. In most parts of the country, a taxi rider would have to pay a P40 flag-down rate, which increases by P3.50 per succeeding 500 meters, and P3.50 for each waiting time of 90 seconds.

Tricycle. Tricycles operate in secondary streets in the city or rural environment. They are typically found in smaller streets that jeepneys do not ply. Tricycles can typically accommodate two to four passengers. Tricycles operate much like taxis, though may converge in a terminal and terminate wherever a passenger desires. They usually operate within a five-kilometer radius of a terminal. They cannot operate on major roads or highways.

Bus. Buses operate both in and out of major cities in the country. There are two kinds: City and Provincial buses, which can be distinguished by ‘C’ and ‘P’ markings on their bodies. City buses can only operate within city limits and pick up passengers at designated stops. They can range from ‘Aircon’ and ‘Non-aircon’ variety with fares reflecting the difference.

The last kind is the P2P bus. This was recently commissioned by the government to serve as point-to-point transport buses, taking passengers from one commercial center to another with no stops in between. There is a fixed fair and very few routes.

TNVS. The most recent transport is called the transport network vehicle services. Such examples are app-based for hire services like those of Grab or Uber. Grab and Uber are not the only TNVS in the Philippines but are easily the most popular.

There is also another service called Angkas, which lets app users book a motorcycle, however its validity is still under question. With this system, passengers book a vehicle much like a taxi, set a meeting point and are taken to any destination they desire.

Payments are made either in cash or electronically. Because the Land Transportation Franchise and Regulator Board (LTFRB), which oversees public conveyance franchises in the country, is still in the process of regulating this modern mobility solution, they are typically registered under private vehicles, yet some of which may operate similar to For Hire vehicles. TNVS vehicles may range from passenger cars to large luxury sedans or SUVs. The fares also adjust depending on the kind of vehicle, availability of vehicles, and distance to destination.


66,000 Uber, 52,398 Grab

Currently, Uber vehicles are estimated to number at 66,000 while Grab vehicles are at 52,398 units. There are no exact figures for the other TNVS. There is also a possibility that some vehicles registered under Uber may also serve under Grab, though this percentage is believed to be quite low. The LTFRB last year accredited TNCs Uber, Grab, and UHop to operate in Metro Manila and some urban areas in the country. But the agency is currently being confronted by issues on its regulation on TNVS under these companies.

The mounting demand for TNVS resulted to an oversupply of Grab and Uber vehicles and the volumes of permit applications piled up before the LTFRB. It was also blamed to have worsened traffic congestion in the infamous Metro Manila. To address the issue, the regulatory body in July 2016 decided to suspend its acceptance of new applications from interested TNVS operators.

While official records showed that only more than 2,000 TNVS are given the CPCs to operate, the LTFRB recently learned that number of TNVS has ballooned to about 125,000. Hence, majority were undocumented, or “colorum.” Ride-sharing companies Grab and Uber last July 11 continued accepting new TNVS despite the existing order, citing public demand and the government’s failure to address immediately the pending applications for TNVS permits.

Seeing the clamor for such transport service, the LTFRB has agreed to allow some 13,000 more TNVS to operate while it reviews the number of TNVS under Grab and Uber’s platforms. LTFRB officials said they aim to come up with a formal decision – particularly on the number of TNVS they will allow and their minimum hours to operate – by the end of 2017. A technical working group was formed to regularly meet to address the issue.

Meanwhile, there are also 12,484 buses; 12,071 UV Express units; 5,124 tourist vehicles; 4,249 school service units; 2,787 TNVS; and 1,400 shuttle services authorized to operate within and outside Metro Manila, LTFRB record said. Trucks-for-hire, which were authorized to deliver cargo or goods, now stand at 55,884.



Rail transport in the Philippines only plays a role in transporting passengers within Metro Manila. This area is served by three rapid transit lines: LRT-1, LRT-2, and MRT-3. LRT-1. The LRT-1 is the country’s first light rail system, spanning a 19.65 km long route that covers 20 stations. It has 95 cars in service. It currently serves a daily ridership average of 470,700 though has been recorded to have taken on 658,627 at one point. LRT-2.

The LRT-2 is the newest light rail system, spanning 13.8 km across 11 stations. It has 72 cars and accommodates a daily ridership average of 195,700 passengers. It has taken on 269,271 at its peak. MRT-3. The MRT-3 currently operates a route 16.9 km long with 13 stations. It has 117 cars in service. The system was designed to handle an original capacity of 450,000 daily riders. However, it has been known to take on as much as 650,000 passengers on occasion.



With the figures on the number of vehicles that are driving around the roads of Metro Manila, one can understand why Filipinos experience this severe traffic problem now.

Next week: To complete the picture of the traffic situation, Focus Feature will write about the enforcement and traffic discipline, and the road infrastructure for land transportation.