Thursday, 5 November 2009

Manila’s light rail system

The View From Taft
Tristan H. Macapanpan
http://beta.bworldonline.com/main/content.php?id=900

In the past several months, I have been using the light rail systems in Manila to go to and from work. It was by choice. In the past, I resorted to the trains when I had to go to appointments in locations where traffic and parking are problems. However, commuting to work would be a daily struggle against traffic. Thus, I choose to travel by light rail.

As is my wont, I observed the various aspects of the light rail transport systems from a manager’s perspective. I evaluated the three lines, LRT1, LRT2, and MRT, from three dimensions: customer service, daily operations management, and customer behavior. Customer service was viewed from the way by which the systems cater to their different riding publics. Operations management was evaluated based on how the different organizations ran their daily operations on scheduling and capacity. Customer behavior was observed from the queuing and on-train manners of the train riders.

Customer Service: Two facets of customer service struck me as widely different among the three lines. Only LRT2 has a LED sign posting the approximate arrival of a train. The other lines do not have any regular means of advising passengers of arrivals. LRT1 informs train riders of special runs to accommodate an overflow of passengers at certain stations. Both LRT1 and LRT2 announce any delays, though the announcements come over speaker systems that are barely understandable.

For pregnant women, the elderly, and passengers with small children, LRT1 has allocated half of the front coach, where a security guard ensures that only those who are eligible do get on. The guard also tries to ensure that those who need most to be seated are given priority. All lines give senior citizen discounts, but MRT only gives single-trip vouchers while the other lines extend the discount to stored value cards. The only shortcoming is that it is inconvenient to get those vouchers.

Daily Operations Management: Scheduling and capacity management seem to be the weak link in the MRT line. The line often has to stop allowing entry of passengers due to overcrowding of train platforms. In fact, this has happened twice the past week. I noticed that the MRT only has three coaches in tandem. Given rush-hour demands, this is often not enough; thus the overcrowding of platforms and trains.

Customer Behavior: MRT passengers are the least considerate. There is often a lot of pushing and shoving getting on the train, and incoming riders often do not wait for outgoing passengers to get out before getting on. This behavior is probably brought about by the lack of capacity. This extreme conduct is not evident in the passengers of the other lines, where there is more capacity. There is some shoving, but none of the ill-mannered shoving and elbowing that is done in MRT. In the special section in LRT1, a lot of consideration is given to those in most need of seating. Could this be due to the presence of the senior citizens, who have been schooled in good manners and right conduct?

Management Challenges: The management teams of the light rail systems face two important challenges that need to be addressed if the light rail systems are to succeed as the alternative to the chaotic street-level transportation. These are scheduling and capacity management to respond to the daily demand patterns, and passenger behavior control.

The lines should have enough experience by now to project the different demand patterns throughout the day and the week. With this information, their management teams should be able to schedule and forecast capacity requirements to meet the increasing demand. The MRT, for one, should increase capacity, operating as it does in one of the most heavily traveled corridors. If it can improve its operations, it will increase passenger patronage and reduce the need for the buses that ply the same route.

There must also be some way of organizing the way passengers get on and off the trains. Although the MRT riders are the most undisciplined, passengers in all lines do not observe any queue discipline. The lines can spend more money delineating areas in the platform where passengers can line up. As it is, only the MRT has such spots. However, train doors often are not positioned in front of the designated areas, leading to a breakdown of any semblance of queuing as the passengers have to rush to the doors. Train drivers should learn to try to stop at the designated spots.

Tristan H. Macapanpan is a professor of Operations Management at the Ramon V. del Rosario Sr. Graduate School of Business of De La Salle University. He may be contacted at tristan.macapanpan@dlsu.edu.ph or macapanpant@yahoo.com.

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