November 2014
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The numbers that matter – some thoughts on data

Too often we are bombarded with statistics, numbers that are supposed to describe the state of things. This is especially true in transportation and traffic where there seems to be a lot of information or data circulating about all kinds of stuff usually including numbers of vehicles, speeds, quantities of people and goods transported, and so on.

There is a tremendous amount of data collected by many government agencies. These include traffic counts by the DPWH, port and airport statistics by the PPA and CAAP, and socio-economic data from all over the country by the NSO. There is also wealth of information that can be derived from various project reports whether these be infrastructure master plans or evaluations of policies and programs related to transport and traffic. Local governments that require transport impact studies for developments within their jurisdictions are supposed to compile the data contained in these reports, which include traffic counts and projections at roads and intersections, transport facilities inventories, and travel time and delay data among others essential for impact analysis.

Origin-Destination (OD) data are important for planning transport from the national to local levels. Inter-regional, inter-provincial or inter-city OD data for people and freight are essential for planning infrastructure that would be able to adequately and efficiently handle the traffic between regions, provinces and cities/municipalities. As it is impractical (i.e., costly) to determine the exact numbers of traffic for all modes on a very frequent basis, sampling is very important and the determination of sample size as well as the sectors and areas to be sampled are essential aspects of any study. The current MMUTIS Update and Capacity Enhancement Project (MUCEP) that is the long-delayed follow-up to the Metro Manila Urban Transportation Integration Study (MMUTIS), for example, required household information surveys (HIS) for an area that is now referred to as Mega Manila, which is basically comprised of Metro Manila, Region 3 and Region 4A. Such a large study area necessitates careful sampling in order for assumptions regarding the data aggregation and disaggregation to hold.

Often, for many studies concerning cities and regions, person trip and freight volume data are more valuable than vehicle trip data. Though vehicle volumes are important, the number of people traveling or the amount of goods being transported are a better basis for planning transport. This is especially true for passengers as it is desirable to have the numbers as the basis for determining the frequencies (how often and with what schedule) and capacities (vehicle size/passenger capacity), which need to be balanced or optimized according to the demand. This demand is variable throughout the year and the day and will definitely have implications on revenues. There are desirable schedules for passengers as well as for goods. Moreover, it is important to determine also the trip distances that would allow for the estimation of the number of trips in terms of passenger-km and ton-km units. Such information are useful for travel demand modeling and forecasting including the evaluation of suitable transport modes and service characteristics for passengers and freight.

[to be continued]

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Inappropriate designs for pedestrian overpasses

There was a photo that circulated in social media the last two weeks showing electric and telephone cables coming out of the stairs of a steel pedestrian overpass. It was obvious that the people responsible for both the overpass (MMDA) and the cables (power and phone utilities) did not coordinate their work and so people had to risk electrocution to be able to cross the street at what is assumed to be a busy intersection. Such is an example of unsuitable designs and bad implementation of infrastructure projects; in this case, that of a pedestrian facility. There are many other examples of these flawed execution of projects including electric posts in the middle of lanes after road widening projects, short span pedestrian overpasses that are not utilised by people (preferring to cross at ground level) because the road was narrow in the first place. Many are a waste of resources considering they may not have been required in the first place if careful assessment were made about the situation.

The pedestrian overpass under construction at the Masinag junction (photo below) is a good example of what looks like flawed design. The elevated walkway is narrow and is located right at the corners of the intersection. The width is important here because there are many people usually crossing at Masinag and the overpass can become congested for users. The stairs have not yet been constructed but if past designs of overpasses like this is to be considered, the stairs will likely be steep and therefore difficult to use for senior citizens, PWDs and children. Note, too, in the photo that the bridge already obscures part of the traffic signals previously installed at the intersection. This means the lights would have to be reinstalled or transferred so motorists can clearly see the signals.

IMG09656-20141117-0840Pedestrian overpass under construction at the Masinag junction in Antipolo City

My friends at the DOTC tell me that it is only a matter of time before the Line 2 Extension project is bidded out an construction finally goes underway. Depending on the the final design of the line and end station, there might be a need to revisit the pedestrian overpasses along Marcos Highway. Hopefully, they don’t become like the overpasses along EDSA that had to be raised more due to the elevation of the Line 3 facilities including the catenary for the trains. I’m sure there is a suitable design for pedestrian facilities for crossing the wide Marcos Highway. It only requires careful thinking and creative minds to come together to come up with the appropriate facilities.

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Compromising on the common station(s) for the Metro Manila rail lines

It seems that the issue regarding the common station for Line 1, Line 3 and the future Line 7 in the North EDSA area has not yet been resolved. The interested private sector parties, Ayala and SM, will not back down on their arguments support each’s proposal for the common station to be located at either of the giant malls that each corporation owns. Ayala’s claim is that the contract for the Line Extension to Cavite stipulates that the common station with Line 3 should be at Trinoma. Meanwhile, SM is claiming the validity of an agreement it made with DOTC on a grand central station to be located across their SM City North EDSA mall. The last one is consistent with an even earlier agreement with the proponents of the future Line 7 for an end station in front of SM.

A compromise solution to the impasse should be in the works and is the responsibility of the DOTC. What if instead of one common station, two stations are made into common ones? There will be no grand central station in the sense that all three lines will terminate as presented in SM’s version nor will there be a common station for Lines 1 and 3 at Trinoma that incorporates a very long walkway to a Line 7 station near Mindanao Avenue. Instead there can be two common stations – one at SM North for Line 1 and Line 7, and another at Trinoma for Line 1 and Line 3. Line 1 will still terminate at Trinoma but can have another stop at SM North where there can be a smooth transfer between Line 1 and Line 7, which terminates at this station. Perhaps there should still be a walkway connecting the two common stations in the interest of pedestrians although seamless fare collection systems and platform design can easily allow Line 7 or Line 3 passengers to ride Line 1 trains between stations to transfer to Line 3 or Line 7.

The common station or stations (depending on what will finally come out of this) should be designed thinking of the best interests of the public who will be using the transit systems and stations. Lost in the discussions are the plight of commuters. Parties claim that their designs are in the best interest of commuters (actually SM has the better set-up of all three lines terminating at one central station) and yet the bottomline for their arguments are very much revenue oriented – not for the transit lines but for their own commercial developments. Its basically one mall vs. another, leaving out the public as incidentals in the discussions. This is why government must intervene and this is where DOTC should show it has a spine after all and is promoting the public good and not favoring one private company over another. And so we’ll wait and see what will eventually come out of this although a lot of people continue to suffer with their inefficient commutes and are definitely becoming more impatient about mass transit systems that should have been constructed a long time ago.

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Congestion due to roadworks at Sumulong-Olalia

The Sumulong Highway sections emanating from its intersection with Olalia Road have been experiencing traffic congestion in the mornings the past few days due to road works being undertaken at the intersection, and along Olalia Road and the Masinag-bound side of Sumulong Highway. Some days, traffic has been bearable and its just like having an ill-set traffic signal at the intersection where it would take you several cycles before getting through. Recently, however, many motorists have lost patience (or probably are simply pasaway) and have been encroaching on the opposing traffic lanes, much to the dismay of those who opted to follow rules. This panggugulang or going ahead of others need to be lessened with those guilty being apprehended or turned back to discourage future transgressions of traffic rules.

IMG09642-20141112-0743Counter-flowing vehicles towards the Sumulong-Olalia intersection

IMG09641-20141112-0739Queue at the curve towards the direction of Olalia Road

IMG09640-20141112-0739A look at the side mirror shows a long line of vehicles along Sumulong. The queue sometimes reaches the strip of stalls selling cashew, suman, and other local delicacies.

There’s really very little one can do about traffic management in the area considering the limited space available for vehicles turning to/from Olalia Road. It’s basically one-way at the approach to Sumulong Highway so there will definitely be a queue along the outermost lane of Sumulong due to the constriction at Olalia. However, in the morning, there is an obvious difference in the directional distribution of traffic along Sumulong with most vehicles moving in the direction towards Masinag rather than to Antipolo Church. That means the Antipolo-bound traffic can fit along a single lane while opposing traffic can use three lanes – 2 bound for Masinag and 1 for Olalia. Enforcers may want to use traffic cones for this temporary traffic management scheme as without such tools, there is a tendency for a bit of confusion as impatient drivers resort to encroaching on the opposing lane (counter-flow) and resulting in more severe congestion (and unsafe conditions) as they attempt to merge with traffic at the intersection. Of course, that goes without saying that it only takes one idiot to counter-flow for others to follow.

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The Metro Manila Urban Transportation Strategy and Planning Project (MMUTSTRAP, 1983)

I continue on my feature on past studies on transport in Metro Manila. The Metro Manila Urban Transportation Strategy and Planning Project (MMUTSTRAP) was conducted from November 1982 to April 1983, with support from the Australian Development Assistance Bureau – the precursor of AusAID. The study was conceptualized by a Metro Manila Transportation Policy Committee that consisted of the Ministers of the then Ministry of Transportation and Communications (now DOTC) and Ministry of Public Works and Highways (now DPWH), the Vice Governor of what was the Metro Manila Commission (now MMDA), and the Chief of the Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police (now PNP). The Philippine Government-funded study examined alternative futures on Metro Manila’s development and used these as the basis for formulating alternative futures for public transport modes. These futures did not mention UTSMMA and its the recommendations for an RTR but presented pessimistic, most likely and optimistic scenarios for PNR, LRT bus and jeepneys.

The study examined recommendations of past studies, most specifically the more recent MMETROPLAN and MMUTIP. MMUTSTRAP seem to contradict MMETROPLAN’s recommendations to encourage the entry of new bus and jeepney operators rather than restricting or controlling these as it (MMUTSTRAP) concluded that “deregulation is not a viable alternative for urban public transportation in Metro Manila.” It further explained that deregulation is justified on the assumption that the main objective in urban public transport is simply to make it a profitable business. To the contrary, the study pointed out that there are other objectives such as adequate service to the public and safety, which should be placed above profitability. This last statement reverberates over the decades to the present when it seems to many that the objective of urban public transport is more on the “profit side” rather than the “adequate and safe aspect” of something that it supposed to be a public service.

The study explored strategies for traffic management and various travel demand management (TDM) measures including area traffic restraint similar to what Singapore had already implemented at the time. A significant output of MMUTSTRAP was a prioritization plan for transport projects and policies for Metro Manila. This included the ranking of projects for implementation in Metro Manila such as:

  • Pending road projects
  • Potential road projects
  • Urgent traffic signals
  • Potential pedestrian projects
  • Potential transit projects
  • Terminal projects

Examples of the transport projects ranked by MMUTSTRAP are shown in Tables A and B for pending road projects, and potential transit projects. An index was developed based on perceived importance of the project and the associated costs.

Table A – Ranking of pending road projects identified in MMUTSTRAP (1983)

Brief description Rank Index
Visayas Avenue extension: Elliptical Road to C-6 1 66.4
Mindanao Avenue Extension: North Avenue to C-6 2 66.1
C-5 construction: MacArthur Highway to North Expressway 3 64.0
Makati-Mandaluyong Link Road 4 61.4
Loop Road: from Bicutan to Alabang 5 61.2
C-6 construction: North Expressway to M. Marcos Avenue 6 61.1
Widen R-10: C-1 to Dagat-dagatan Spine 7 60.7
C-3 construction: Rizal Avenue to G. Araneta Extension 8 60.5
C-3 improvement: G. Araneta to Aurora Boulevard 9 59.5
Widen South Superhighway 10 58.7
C-4 interchange with Boni Avenue 11 58.6
C-5 construction: R-4 to Pasig Boulevard to Aurora Boulevard 12 58.5
R-4 construction: EDSA to Pasig/Pateros 13 57.9
R-5 construction: Kapasigan to Taytay Diversion 14 57.7
C-5 construction: North Expressway to Aurora Boulevard 15 56.2
C-3 works: Ayala Avenue to Tripa de Gallina 16 55.9
C-3 construction: N. Domingo to Ayala Avenue 17 55.7
Widen Domestic Road: MIA Road to Airport Road 18 55.5
C-4 extension: Taft Avenue to Roxas Boulevard 19 55.3
C-4 interchange with Roosevelt Avenue 20 55.2
C-4 interchange with Ortigas Avenue 21 54.7
C-4 interchanges with Ayala Avenue and Pasay Road 22 54.1
C-4 interchange with Santolan Road 23 53.7
C-4 interchange with Kamias/East Avenue 24 53.2
C-4 interchange with Buendia Avenue 25 52.2
C-5 construction: R-4 to South Superhighway 26 52.1
Widen Parañaque to Sucat Road 27 51.8
Re-align western 1.6 km of Zapote-Alabang Road 28 49.3
R-10 Construction 29 49.1

Notes: The codes C and R stand for Circumferential and Radial, respectively, and refer to the main road network of Metro Manila. These roads are more commonly known by other names such as, for example, EDSA (C-4), Aurora Boulevard (R-6) and España Boulevard (R-7).

Table B – Ranking of potential transit projects identified in MMUTSTRAP (1983)

Brief description Ranking based on assessment by project team Ranking based on evaluation from selected MOTC panel Index
Bus replacementa 1 1 55.6
PNR Commuter additional coaches and upgrade 2 2 50.8
LRT Line #2 – EDSA 3 3 44.4
Surface tramway – Radial road along Españab - 4 43.9
LRT Line #3 – Radial along España 4 5 43.0

aAssumed that additional bus units will not be needed in the next 5 years with replacements likely after 1987.

bProject proposed by one of the members of the MOTC panel. This was treated as an alternative (on a mutually exclusive basis) to LRT Line #3, rather than an independent project for ranking.

[Reference: MMUTSTRAP, 1983 - NCTS Library]

Earlier studies recommended projects but did not show lists ranking projects in terms of an objective index or criteria. MMUTSTRAP did a good job in coming up with this idea or basis that was transparent and objective in evaluating projects. The criteria, however, is based mainly on perception of those involved in the study and, arguably, such perceptions may vary according to the knowledge and experiences of those involved in the evaluation. This is where the biases lie in as far as project prioritisation was concerned for this project. Perhaps a more participatory approach could have been conducted? Of course, it can be argued that at this time, both capacity and capability of local governments and national agencies were quite limited and so these have to be dependent on consultants (i.e., the study team) for their assessment and recommendations.

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To regulate or not to regulate: Uber vs taxis

To regulate or not to regulate. That seems to be the issue here in the case of Uber. One respected former top government official, offered his opinion on the matter through his newspaper column where he mentions a “regulatory overreach” by the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Perhaps the agency did not exert all efforts or go the extra mile to assess the situation regarding Uber? Perhaps the agency acted in favor of taxi operators who have complained about Uber services? The information available states the affirmative. The LTFRB itself confirmed that it acted on the complaint filed by a group of taxi operators but they memo alone is unclear of how the board ended up with their decision. Maybe they did not really have a more exhaustive deliberation, looking at the Uber case from other (more progressive) perspectives.

One lawyer friend of ours gave an opinion that Uber should not be treated as a regular taxi whose services are available to everyone and therefore requires a franchise being a public utility. Rather, Uber can be seen instead as an exclusive club with members providing and/or availing of services. Membership in the club is not automatic but has to go through an application process with certain criteria to be satisfied by applicants just like any other exclusive organizations. In Uber’s case, the application process as well as the means to avail of services are facilitated by an app, a software available now through smartphones or tablets. Being an exclusive club, it can also charge for services rendered and fees can be agreed upon by members just like what is done in other clubs. This is an acceptable interpretation of how Uber can be seen though it still does not address liability issues in case a vehicle and its occupants are involved in a crash. However, this last concern is precisely what the LTFRB should be discussing with Uber and perhaps insisting for the service to address immediately. This would be the more progressive and proactive approach in handling this case.

I agree that there is a need to review many of our laws, not just on transport, in order to address the many changes that has happened over the years and especially in light of the rapid developments enabled by technological advances and innovations. Many years ago, we have worked with the DOTC to come up with an initiative to review road transport laws and regulations in order to determine, for example, which are outdated and which are conflicting with others. Unfortunately, this initiative seems to have evaporated with the change in the administrations of involved transport agencies back in 2010. So far, what we have read and heard are calls for reviewing laws and regulations specifically related to public utility vehicles in relation to taxis and consequently, Uber.

Meanwhile, taxi services in the country and especially in Metro Manila continue to be found wanting in terms of quality of service. Many continue to be shunned or turned down by taxi cab drivers who tend to be selective of their passengers’ destinations. The most common reason for this is perceived (or imagined) traffic congestion along streets leading to the destination. Then there are the more serious cases of swindling, holdups, abductions, and even murder. Modus operandi include taxi drivers collaborating with criminals to rob or kidnap passengers. News and social media are full of these horror stories that make one think twice about riding a cab, especially at night. Of course, not all taxi services are like this and  there are examples of good taxi services in Metro Manila and other cities. On top of my very short list is a certain taxi company that’s popular in Iloilo City, Light of Glory. However, these examples are not enough to convince many that they should not have a more comfortable, more secure and perhaps safer option for transport, which is what Uber is claiming it provides. Ultimately, though, public transport services in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country need to be improved and fast in the interest of most people who take public transportation everyday. That way, many people won’t really need to avail of other, more exclusive services, for their transport needs.

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Sabang Port – Puerto Princesa

The jump-off point for visitors to the St. Paul Subterranean River (Underground River) is the Sabang Port at the northwest part of Puerto Princesa. Following are photos taken at Sabang including some showing information on transport and procedures for visitors.

IMG09422-20140927-0829Map of the national park showing some of its features and the transport services to/from the port.

IMG09423-20140927-0829Information on the management of the national park

IMG09424-20140927-0829Greetings for visitors

IMG09425-20140927-0829Puerto Princesa limits the number of visitors to the Underground River and there are procedures for visitors and their accredited guides to follow.

IMG09426-20140927-0830I caught this scene of children playing football on the sands during low-tide.

IMG09427-20140927-0830While most boats seem to be for ferrying tourists to the Subterranean River, there are also many fishing boats at Sabang.

IMG09428-20140927-0830Fishermen fixing up their boat likely before going on a sortie. I could imagine Sabang was like other fishing villages in the Philippines until authorities started promoting attractions like the Underground River. The influx of tourists transformed what was probably a sleepy village into a tourist destination complete with commercial developments like resorts, restaurants and shops.

IMG09429-20140927-0831Outriggers dot the waters around Sabang Port, their boatmen waiting for their turn to ferry visitors to the Underground River.

IMG09430-20140927-0831The concrete pier provides a basic but better facility compared to other similar ports around the country. The dispatching of boats is organised and passengers queue in an orderly manner to board the boats assigned to them.

IMG09431-20140927-0832A boat (left) approaches as another (right) just left, bound for the Underground River.

IMG09432-20140927-0832Clean restrooms /toilets are a must for tourist destinations. Sayang Port has well-maintained toilets.

IMG09433-20140927-0832Tourism office at Sabang Port – note the basketball goal post in the photo? The area is also used for other purposes including sports activities. Also noticeable in the photo are street lamps powered by solar energy. We saw some solar-wind power lamps around Puerto Princesa and Sabang’s main road has these for night-time illumination.

IMG09434-20140927-0833A close-up of the small box showing schedule and cost of transport services to/from Sabang from/to Puerto Princesa city proper. Note that there are only 4 trips per day for public transport (bus or jeepney). 

IMG09435-20140927-0835Boatmen manoeuvre their vessels in the crowded waters of Sabang Port.

IMG09436-20140927-0836Another photo of boats lined up at the port.

IMG09437-20140927-0837Portable or collapsible sheds or tents at the port often bear the name of the company sponsoring or providing these for port users. Under one, there was a group facilitating the tour of a group of senior citizens from around Puerto Princesa. We got it from our guide that they are given free rides and visits to the Underground River as part of their benefits as senior citizens.

IMG09490-20140927-1030Visitors get-off from their boats as other vessels queue to unload their passengers. It takes some skill from boatmen to manoeuvre and make sure they don’t collide with other vessels.

IMG09492-20140927-1033People get off a boat via a makeshift floating jetty

IMG09493-20140927-1034Scene of the port and boats from the shop and eatery-lined road along the coast.

Advice to tourists: tip your boatmen generously. They serve as your lifeguards and do their best to maintain the boats and the equipment. They don’t get much from ferrying visitors to and from the Underground River and they do have families to feed. Make this tip your contribution to ensuring sustainable tourism in this heritage site that is also considered one of the top natural wonders of the world.

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