Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Mass Transit System in Metro Manila: From Tranvia to MRT, 1879-2014

“Rosario Street  Manila, P.I.; 1588; 1926.” University of Michigan Library Digital Collections.

The Third World Studies Center, in collaboration with the National Center for Transportation Studies and the Geography Department of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy of the University of the Philippines, has been awarded by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs an Emerging Interdisciplinary Research Grant (2015-2017).

The Mass Transit System in Metro Manila: 
From Tranvia to MRT, 1879-2014
Program leader: Dr. Ricardo T. Jose

Executive Summary

The proposed study, though largely historical in approach and structure, draws on the disciplines of geography, transportation studies, and political economy to put together a comprehensive and critical survey of mass transit plans for (Metro) Manila, focusing in particular for this research phase on the rail network that services the metropolis. This is evidenced by the institutions and academics that have come together to draw up this proposal, namely those from the Third World Studies Center, the National Center for Transportation Studies, and the Department of Geography. The core group may still expand as the project commences.

On a theoretical note, reading these varying configurations across time will be informed by a particular understanding of the political economy of ideas and institutions. This particular strand of political economy relies on the critical examination of the idea versus interest continuum and how this contrasting, yet linked, understanding on what drives economic, technocratic, and public policymaking shape the interpretation and implementation of select ideas regarding mass transit planning (Campbell 1998; Steinmo 2008).

The immediate focus on plans and its eventual (non-)execution aims to highlight the varied contexts (social, economic, cultural, political, and even technological) that configured the present-day mass transit system in Metro Manila.

The proposed study will inevitably include other public transport modes but would be focused on mass transit including rail and bus. While jeepneys are not formally classified and recognized as a mass transport mode these will be included in the analysis and discussions as they provide services along corridors that are supposed to be served by traditional mass transit. Upon conclusion of the project, these can serve as the next phase/new research proposal.

Hence for this study, the first priority is to identify, locate, and evaluate all plans related to mass transit—from the tranvia in cosmopolitan Manila at the end of the nineteenth century to the present light rail transits of Metropolitan Manila. Next is a genealogy of contexts: Who proposed what to whom? What did these proposals lead to? How were these plans evaluated by those in positions to make them possible? Why were those built, built the way they were? How were they built and by whom? What sections of the plans were relegated to the dustbin of history? What and who influenced those who made the plans? Those with the power and finances to make them possible, what were in their minds when they decided to build the mass transit systems in Metro Manila? Was it all a question of money and influence, of market efficiency, and not of public service? These questions have not fully been explored before and answering it, as is the intent of the project, will give a deeper context to the present-day problem in mass transit in Metro Manila.

The study, however, does not want to end its close scrutiny of mass transit plans and its contexts with a plan to end all plans. Instead, it will be a tightly-knit series of academic critiques of the current mass transit predicament in Metro Manila drawn from the disciplines of history, transport studies, geography, and political economy. This is what makes it a pioneering study. This is a study that questions both the received wisdom and the supposed alternatives.

Four core projects and their proponents:

Project 1. A history (both text and audiovisual documentary) of the railway systems from the colonial Manila (1879) up to the present Metropolitan Manila (2014) as gleaned from plans and the built infrastructures

Co-project leader: Prof. Marco Lagman, Department of Geography, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, UP Diliman

Project 2: A GIS rendering of the evolution of the railway system in Metro Manila as well as those which were put into plan but remains unexecuted

Co-project leader: Dr. Dan Mabazza, Department of Geography,  College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, UP Diliman

Project 3: A critical transportation engineering review of the of the mass transit system in Metro Manila, focusing on railways

Co-project leader: Dr. Jose Regin Regidor, National Center for Transportation Studies, UP Diliman

Project 4: An oral history on the politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, and academics who were involved in planning, designing, funding, and building the Metropolitan Manila mass transit system

Co-project leader: Dr. Ricardo T. Jose, Third World Studies Center, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, UP Diliman

For any inquiries, please send your correspondence to the Program Manager Elinor May Cruz at

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I read the content of this Research Project and am wondering what impact does the Team want have at the end of the research and how you intend to publish the results? We at Bayanihan Central - a community dedicated to ideas on solving problems of the Filipino Nation - are very interested in this subject. In fact we wrote about this in our blog (link below). If you need help in any way, do reach out to us because we are passionate about this and very much eager to contribute!