Caught (up) in traffic

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Yearly Archives: 2010

New Year’s Message

I got a New Year’s greeting from a friend who states in his text: “Please take care of yourselves this coming New Year. A recent joint study conducted by both the DOH and LTO indicates that 23% of traffic accidents are alcohol-related. This means that the remaining 77% are caused by assholes, who just drink coffee, carbonated drinks, juices, milk, water and stuff like that. Therefore, beware of those who do not drink alcohol. They cause three times more accidents!”

It is a message to humor us in this holiday season when many road crashes are indeed alcohol-related. It is an alarming trend and we see reports on TV of motorcycle riders losing their balance and cars plowing into sidewalks and medians hurting if not killing people in the process. The truth is that there are so much more crashes that could have been prevented if we drove safely (even without the influence of alcohol or drugs) rather than aggressively as we see on the roads everyday in Metro Manila and other parts of the Philippines.

We look forward to further promoting road traffic safety in 2011 especially as we join other countries in ushering in a Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020). We hope to drastically curb the incidence of crashes for we are all vulnerable road users and there are lives at stake.

A Happy New Year to all and may we have a safe 2011 as we travel in this journey we call life.

Simplify

I still remember what our calculus teacher told us while discussing a problem in integration. At the time, I believe he was setting up the working equation for a problem involving trajectories. He was reminding us that in problem solving it was very important to remember how to “kiss.” As we were practically in awe of him, he followed up by asking us what “kiss” meant. He called on one of our classmates and then another, all the while smirking like a child who thought he alone knew the answer to his question. “Kiss,” he said, meant – keep it simple, stupid. Of course, the last word was intended to drive home the point with a little sarcastic humor to a class of sophomores, most of whom were engineering students. Years later, perhaps its time we realize and accept that we do indeed need to “kiss.” This time, we need to apply the same principle to public transport.

In the past few weeks as I and my colleagues pondered the development of public transport planning support system that would include, among others, a franchising module specifically for Mega Manila and generally for other Philippine cities, I came to the obvious conclusion – “kiss.” It seems that based on the secondary data we got from the LTFRB and the DOTC, and the primary data derived from field surveys validating routes and allowing us to estimate both supply and demand that Mega Manila public transport has become so complicated due to the overlaps and tangles that are the bus, jeepney and AUV routes in this mega city. Through the years and despite opportunities to untangle the mess of routes, there was no strong effort to do so and today, there seems to be little interest in rocking the boat that is the current state of public transport in this country.

It is often asked why, despite having EDSA-MRT, have the numbers of buses along EDSA seemed to have increased instead of the logical decrease as the rail system covered much of the demand along its corridor of operation. One answer seems to be related to provincial buses since continuously increasing populations outside Metro Manila coupled with better roads have led to more economic activity that translates into more travel (and person trips).

The same is true for origins and destinations within the National Capital Region and thereby affects the supply side for buses for city operation. Yet, there is always the specter of colorums or illegally operating buses that are often difficult to catch and to distinguish from the legitimate units. There are even allegations that some unscrupulous operators allow colorums among their ranks in order to generate more revenue.

However, such situations are not exclusive to EDSA. There are the similar questions pertaining primarily to jeepneys along corridors already served by LRT 1 (since 1984) and LRT 2 (since 2004). Why have authorities allowed most jeepneys to continue plying routes along these two lines? Why are there no strong efforts to rationalize (a word very much abused when referring to public transport in Philippines) routes to complement established mass transport systems rather than to compete with them? Is it really a matter of political will among our leaders especially those in-charge of our transport agencies? Are there conflicting interests, some probably vested, among politicians, transport groups and operators themselves? And are we dead serious about addressing, once and for all, the challenges of putting in place a public transport system that is both modern and sustainable?

Why is it that transport systems in cities such as Tokyo, Singapore, Hongkong and those in Europe and the US appeal to us? What is different about the transport systems in these countries especially those cities that have similar if not larger populations and sprawl? Is it their high tech attributes? Is it their fare systems? Or, if we look close enough, is it their simplicity? It should be noted and emphasized that these cities follow closely the ideal hierarchy of public transport services. In a nutshell, this is where high capacity modes form the backbone of the transport system while lower modes complement these, acting as feeders from the main lines. This is simplicity as applied to public transportation.

Mathematicians, scientists and chess grandmasters then and now have often invoked the principle of simplification to solve problems of different magnitudes. It is quite a common approach for the most complex predicaments since it is also believed that a system that is too complex and requiring so many inputs is impractical and unmanageable – precisely the descriptions for public transport systems in this country. Perhaps one city should show the way in coming up with a proof of concept for simplicity. Maybe that will be Cebu once it builds what is touted as the country’s first BRT line. Maybe that will be Davao should it implement possible recommendations pertaining to sustainable transport from an ongoing study. But I hope it will be Metro Manila, not necessarily at a grand scale but something that will show signs of life in an otherwise deteriorating system.

Replicating success

In his inaugural speech, P-Noy stated his disdain for “wang-wang,” referring to the abusive of the sirens by certain people. “Wang-wang” then symbolized how these people practically claimed privilege over other people haplessly caught in traffic jams. The mere reference to “wang-wang” and the marching orders for the PNP-HPG and the LTO to crack down on the abuse led to an aggressive, fast and effective campaign that resulted in the confiscation of illegal sirens. In effect, the campaign brought back the sirens to its original purpose. And that is to get the attention of motorists for them to give way to emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks.

I’ve always wondered after that successful campaign why our agencies can’t replicate this for other traffic violations as well. Surely, a similar campaign will go along way in establishing firm enforcement of traffic rules and regulations – something that has been cited time and again as what needs to be done to bring order to the traffic mess we experience everyday.

Perhaps we can start off by listing something like a Top Ten rules that are violated and apply the “wang-wang” campaign to these. I nominate the following to be included in the Top Ten:
1. Counterflowing
2. Use of illegal license plates
3. Speeding
4. Jaywalking

These combined with another aggressive campaign but this time on the environment side (i.e., no-nonsense emission testing and anti-smoke belching) should help ease traffic in many major thoroughfares. These could all be under the banner of a Traffic Discipline Zone (TDZ) or corridor and if implemented properly may help bring respect back to our traffic enforcers. I am optimistic that enforcement will go beyond just being a motherhood statement and that its contributions would be very significant.

Interviews

A lot of people have asked me how it felt when one is interviewed by media. It is not an easy thing and certainly not a comfortable experience considering that I must be wary of the statements that I make considering my position at the University and my being head of a research and training center. I must be well informed about the topic and usually require whoever was requesting an interview to provide the topic and perhaps guide questions in advance. This is to allow for some preparations especially to get sufficient data on things I may be asked.

Data should be current and reliable such that it will be factual, informative. After all, interviews are also opportunities to promote the advocacies of the Center as well as the Center itself. And the best way to do so is to project the Center as an institution of honor and excellence, in the tradition of the University it represents. I must also be mindful that we are actually part of the government and that we have many linkages with government agencies including those that have often been under attack for the mess we have to deal with in Philippine transport and traffic. Yet being part of the University and the academe in general, one must also maintain objectivity while being fair, not resorting to uncalled for criticisms or government bashing that has been the signature of some so-called experts in transport and traffic. Thus, it is also a tough balancing act as one is being called upon to comment and provide opinion on a variety of topics, mainly those that are the talk of the town like a recent road crash or a controversial traffic scheme being proposed.

Interviews, however, despite the required preparations are definitely enjoyable and, after one is shown on TV or printed in the newspaper, something one would be proud. This is especially true if the interview went well and one is not quoted out of context. Colleagues at the Center including previous heads have always nixed interviews because of their experience on TV, radio and print where careless (and maybe even reckless) reporters have quoted them out of context. I have had my share of similar experiences despite my preparation and I guess it is something one should expect if one grants one too many an interview. Based on this experience I have enlisted the help of my staff to screen those who are requesting for interviews including setting up a system where they have to write to the office (an email would be enough).

I have turned down many requests and my staff have done so, too. Mostly, these are ones that obviously are in conflict with my schedule (lectures, meetings and other appointments) or those that violate time I have reserved for myself and my family (i.e., no interviews after 6:00PM and definitely none on weekends). I have made very rare exceptions to these rules and then only when the topic is a hot issue and one that requires expert opinion from a scholarly perspective.

In future posts, I will try to write about specific experiences and some of my favorite interviews and interview topics.

Gearing-up for a Decade of Action for Road Safety: 2011-2020

Today we are holding a Road Safety Conference with the theme “Gearing-up for a Decade of Action for Road Safety: 2011-2020.” The theme is consistent with a worldwide campaign led by the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) and its partners that aims to curb the sharp increase in the incidence of road crashes. The program was actually launched last year at the Road Safety Forum held in October in Singapore and formalized with the first Transport Ministers’ conference on road safety held in Moscow the following month of November.

The Road Safety Conference in the Philippines is organized by the Automobile Association Philippines and the National Center for Transportation Studies of UP, and is mainly sponsored by Toyota Motor Philippines as a major part of the latter’s advocacy for road safety. Partners include SafeKids Philippines, Pilipinas Shell and 3M Philippines. This year, we are happy to have on board the fledgling GRSP Philippines (PGRSP) that is comprised of major companies dedicated in promoting road safety in the country.

The program includes 3 panel discussions with the first one tackling road safety legislation including the status of the Road Safety Bill filed in the last congress. The second panel discussion will feature the International Road Assessment Program (i-RAP) that will be implemented in the Philippines through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The assessment will involve an automated audit of more than 4,000 kilometers of roads throughout the country. These include roads classified under the Asian Highway (AH) network as well as the tollways of Luzon island. The third panel discussion will be on eco-safe driving. which is a practice that aims to promote both safety and energy efficiency by encouraging more relaxed driving while putting emphasis on regulating the driver’s use of the gas pedal. The latter, in effect, allows the driver to manage the engine revolution so that upon acceleration and during cruising, the engine will only reach around 2,000 r/min maximum.

These are but among the many topics that are part of the bigger picture that is road safety. They are surely among the most interesting ones that are oriented toward actions necessary if we are to succeed in cutting down the steady rise in road crashes and save lives. The topics are also a welcome departure from past conferences where many presentations showed statistics and sought to establish context for road safety initiatives. That context is already well established and if one is not aware or has a clear understanding of the state of road safety, then perhaps that person is disconnected with what is happening around him.

This year’s Road Safety Conference will be held at the GT Toyota Asian Center Auditorium at the University of the Philippines Diliman. It is a whole day event that starts at 9:00 AM and concludes at 5:00 PM.

“Wang-wang” of another kind

Ever since the current president of the Philippines mentioned his disapproval and disdain for the abusive use of sirens by unscrupulous individuals and organizations, there has noticeably been some “silence” in our streets. It used to be that vehicles with sirens muscled through heavy traffic to get ahead of everybody else, appearing as if their business was more important than all the rest. Never mind that those comprising the frustrated among those caught in the jam might be professionals like doctors, lawyers and engineers whose times were much more valuable compared to say, a relative or a staff of a congressman using a siren on their way to the shopping mall. Never mind that among those who were wallowing in traffic were students – the very future of this country – who might already be late for their classes. Never mind, too, that other people happen to be workers or laborers whose times were critical because they might be getting their pay based on an hourly rate. Now, you only hear the sound of engines, tailpipes and the occasional horns mainly from those who are in a hurry or public transportation drivers trying to catch the attention of commuters waiting for a ride along the street.

However, I would like to talk about a “wang-wang” of another kind. And this one is of the good type. “Wang-wang ng Bayan” is a radio program that went on air 5 weeks ago. It is a talk show hosted by two good friends, Sheilah and Dayo, who graciously accepted the invitation to host the show. Following are more info about the program taken from its Facebook page:

“The title of the program is a play on the local term for the sirens used by ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles that were abused by politicians and people who thought of themselves as being more important than the average citizen. “Wang-wang” was specifically pointed out by the current President Noynoy Aquino in his inaugural speech as it became associated with abusive behaviour especially in traffic. In truth, “wang-wang” is an instrument for catching attention. And in this case attention is needed for us to be aware of and understand the current and enduring issues on transportation and traffic.

The objectives of the program are as follows:
1) Advocate – environmentally sustainable transport (EST) including road traffic safety, social equity, clean air, and other elements of EST
2) Clarify – issues pertaining to transport and traffic, focusing on current concerns in Philippine cities particularly in but not limited to Metropolitan Manila
3) Teach – the general public by providing current, relevant information concerning transportation and traffic systems, and sharing knowledge concerning transport and traffic”

So far, the program has tackled topics like traffic rules and regulations, u-turns, the odd-even scheme, pedestrian facilities, and motorcycles. Guests included the like of former LTO Chief and LTFRB Chair Bert Suansing, Traffic Engineer and UP Professor Ric Sigua, former MMDA traffic chief Ernie Camarillo, motorcycle riding instructor and expert Jake Swann. In its upcoming 6th episode, the show will have as guest current LTFRB Board Member Julius Garcia who will talk about public transport including challenges and current programs of the government.

It is through such a program that the academe could hopefully reach out (extend) to discuss and explain, or as their objectives state – ACT – about the relevant topics on transport and traffic in our country today. Truly, these are matters many of us need to be aware of and rightfully informed rather than misinformed. “Wang-wang ng Bayan” airs on DZUP 1602 AM radio every Wednesday from 1-2 PM (Philippine time). It is also available online via livestreaming.

Odd-Even Now? (Conclusion)

From the previous posts, it is clear that vehicle restraint measures can very effective in reducing congestion. However, there are also obvious limitations to the effectiveness of these schemes. In the case of the UVVRP, this limitation has been reached considering that the Philippines and Metro Manila in particular continues to experience a high rate of motorization. This is partly explained by a general increase in car ownerships that have resulted in increased traffic volumes in our roads. It is not surprising that people who can afford more than one vehicle often choose vehicles with license plates ending in numbers that will ensure they can take at least one car everyday. In many other cases, motorists have adjusted their schedules so that they can take their cars during days when the vehicles are prohibited during “coding” hours. Given such circumstances, the Odd-Even scheme will ultimately reach its limit and will be most effective for the short -term, especially since it is expected to take a lot of flak if not examined and implemented properly.

In conclusion, I reproduce below excerpts of my letter to one Metro Manila mayor prior to his attendance of the Metro Manila Council meeting where Metro Manila mayors took up the proposal by the MMDA to implement the Odd-Even scheme along EDSA.


“The papers tackle various traffic schemes implemented in Metro Manila and focuses on the impacts and effectiveness of the UVVRP (Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program or number coding) in particular. Unfortunately, at the time the studies did not include evaluation of the Odd-Even scheme although such is mentioned in the first paper as the precursor of the UVVRP. Please note that these schemes are classified among vehicle restraint options that include the truck ban. Color-coding, number coding and the odd-even schemes were originally implemented as short term measures intended to be modified or lifted once the infrastructure projects that were then being implemented (overpasses and underpasses, coordinated and adaptive traffic signals, etc.) were completed. The UVVRP was indeed modified to include a window from 10:00AM – 3:00PM. Meanwhile, some LGUs in the periphery of Metro Manila no longer implement the UVVRP since they do not have much congestion unlike those LGUs where traffic converge along major thoroughfares such as EDSA, C5, C3, Gil Puyat, Espans and Quezon Ave. and Commonwealth. Incidentally, many of these roads are found in Quezon City.

The perceptions on the potential negative impacts of an Odd-Even scheme for EDSA are well founded since vehicles displaced will naturally be diverted to other roads. We have to be careful though not to call such roads simply as side streets or alternate routes since C5 (Katipunan (in QC)-E. Rodriquez (Pasig)-CP Garcia (Makati-Taguig), C3 (Araneta Ave.), Shaw Boulevard, Quezon Avenue and others are major arterials and form part of the circumferential and radial road system of Metro Manila. We are to expect more congestion along these roads that will, in effect, marginalize potential gains along EDSA.

The recommendation therefore, is for the MMDA not to experiment on EDSA from November 2010 to January 2011 but instead undertake in-depth analysis of the implementation of an Odd-Even scheme. Direct experimentation while effective in some cases will without doubt place much of the burden on the people using EDSA and other major roads. It is known that MMDA has acquired the capacity to simulate traffic based on their recent presentations. Perhaps this should be done for the entire stretch of EDSA and include all major roads affected considering that they will bear traffic diverted from EDSA. Such traffic simulation should, however, be properly calibrated and validated to reflect real world conditions. This is because it is also easy to come up with simulations whose results are partial or biased on what the simulator wants to show.”


Should the MMDA choose to go the way of vehicle restraint and examine the benefits and costs of implementing the Odd-Even scheme as well as revisit the UVVRP and truck ban, it is recommended that they also study other vehicle restraint measures in combination with schemes favoring public over private transport. In fact, government should take the lead in encouraging a shift to public transport use in parallel with efforts to improve the quality of service of public transportation in Metro Manila. Perhaps it is time to revive discussions on congestion pricing and take the cue from the example provided by Singapore. It is worthwhile to learn from their experiences that we so often dismiss as exceptions yet are actually textbook applications that met with success due to a mix of political will and a citizenry who cooperated because they understood they had no choice if they were to improve transport and traffic conditions in their city-state. Perhaps we should realize the same while lobbying our government and public transport service providers for the transport system that we deserve in order for us to move forward in progress.