Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Capacity Building

We’ve been quite busy at the National Center for Transportation Studies during this month of September. So far, we’ve conducted 3 training programs in the during each week of the month. Each program was conducted over a period of 5 days. We held the 3rd offering of the Traffic Administration Course (TAC-3) from September 6-10, 2010. That was followed by a Road Safety Audit training course for sister companies the Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC) and the Tollways Management Corporation (TMC) from September 13-17, 2010. And only yesterday, we completed the first offering of the Advanced Traffic Administration Course (ATAC) for participants from the Metro Iloilo-Guimaras Economic Development Council (MIGEDC) and sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Also last week, I was among the a handful of participants for a special training on Eco-Driving conducted by Dr. Taniguchi of the Eco Drive Promotion Division of The Energy Conservation Center, Japan. Hopefully, the knowledge and experience gained from the training will allow me and my colleagues to share Eco-Driving to other drivers and enable the promotion and application of Eco-driving in the Philippines.

Next week, we will be resuming the Public Utility Vehicle Drivers’ Training Program, which is offered in cooperation with the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). This is a 3-day course that was formulated for PUV drivers in order for them to have a re-education of sorts. In the course, the fundamentals of traffic rules and regulations, road signs, ethics and customer service are taught by select lecturers from the DOTC, the PNP and UP. Such education is a necessity considering that most PUV drivers have not undergone any formal training considering how most of them were able to get their licenses. There is a tremendous amount of actual and anecdotal evidence out there pertaining to how most PUVs are driven. Hopefully, this course will benefit them and influence them to drive safely and prevent the loss of more lives as a result of crashes they may become involved in.

Fare hikes – MRT3

I was at a meeting this morning at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) when we heard what seemed like a rally in front of the building. The rallyists  claimed and appeared to be students though it was really difficult to determine based on our view from the 16th floor. The issue of the rally was the impending increase in the fares for the EDSA Mass Rapid Transit (MRT-3). The rallyists proclaimed their opposition to such an increase and laid out their reasons while calling for the DOTC to cease and desist from the fare hike.

Their arguments are designed to appeal to the masses, particularly those who have a basic understanding of what it takes to provide infrastructure such as the MRT. I say basic here because they get information from common sources such as popular TV, radio and newspapers (most probably tabloids rather than the dailies). In most cases, the kinds of information are likely commentaries by opinion writers or even opinionated  (but not necessarily knowledgeable and fair) personalities. Some of these may actually be misleading people regarding the circumstances leading to and surrounding the government’s intervention on MRT, particularly its take-over of a losing venture from a failed consortium.

One of those who were at the meeting with me joked that he be allowed to come down and face the rallyists. His argument against theirs will be based on the inconvenient truth that the main (and perhaps strongest) justification for the fare increase is that the government can no longer sustain its huge subsidies for the payments for the loans that covered the construction of the system. These subsidies are drawn from the national treasury, which in turn is derived from the taxes that we pay from our hard earned income.

However, the tax-base is the entire country (i.e., all taxpayers) and not just from Metro Manila and its adjacent areas. The latter area represents what could probably be assumed as the region that benefits the most from the operation of EDSA-MRT. Thus, it is safe to say that taxpayers in major cities like Cebu and Davao do not derive much, if any, benefit from the MRT. This last statement is an argument that is always challenged by those who prefer to imagine that the rest of the country actually benefits (indirectly?) from the operation of MRT, notwithstanding that the country is an archipelago and that the interconnections of these islands are unlike those in developed archipelagoes like Japan and the UK. But even for these countries it would be very difficult to attribute say Osaka’s development to the operation of Tokyo’s Yamanote Line. In numerical terms, why should 30 million taxpayers pay for something that effectively benefits about 3 million taxpayers? Note, too, that many people residing in Metro Manila aren’t paying taxes. Perhaps an eminent economist or two can shed light on this.

For sure, there are a lot of issues concerning the EDA-MRT. It has been hounded by controversies even during its planning when the flavor of the season was public-private partnership (PPP) in the form of BOTs. Incidentally, the current government has stated that it is encouraging PPP for the development of big ticket infrastructure projects. I just hope that the government has learned its lessons and can forge contracts that are advantageous to us taxpayers who will effectively be paying for the costs of development. And perhaps, I dare say, these projects will be in other regions where cities are rapidly developing without the benefit of much needed transport infrastructure.

Motorcycle lanes

There have been proposals to have exclusive lanes for motorcycles along major roads. The rationale for such proposals is the increasing number of road crashes involving motorcycles. It is assumed that having exclusive lanes will result in a significant decrease in motorcycle involvement in crashes since it is further assumed that with exclusive lanes, there will be fewer interactions among motorcycles and other motor vehicles. There are evidences to support these assumptions.

Anyone observing traffic along our roads can easily see that the biggest reason for the rapidly increasing number of road crashes involving motorcycles is the behavior of motorcyclists. Motorcyclists have the propensity to weave in traffic, heavy or not, often splitting lanes and catching drivers unaware. This behavior frequently results in crashes, most of which involve only damage to property and thus are usually relegated as minor incidents that are not newsworthy. However, crash statistics with both the MMDA (for Metro Manila) and the DPWH (for national roads) indicate that motorcycle crashes with fatalities are alarmingly increasing, and therefore require intervention. Motorcycles’ notoriety are now the among the pet peeves of many drivers, regardless of whether they drive cars, public transport or even trucks.

There are still many riders who do not wear helmets. And not a few bring their gear but choose not to wear these; a habit that has led to jokes about helmets being for elbows or shoulders rather than for heads. This is despite a Helmet Law stipulating penalties that are supposed to discourage non-compliance. The practice significantly increases the chances of having fatalities in crashes, especially considering that there are no restraints for riders or other protective devices for motorcycles like seatbelts and airbags that are already standard features for many other motor vehicles.

There is a bill filed before the Senate, SB 871, which stipulates the delineation of one-meter wide lanes for exclusive use of motorcycles. The bill has a provision directing the DPWH and local government units to designate motorcycle lanes, presumably for both national and local roads. SB 871 proposes fines (i.e., not more than six (6) years of imprisonment or a fine of not less than Five Thousand Pesos (PHP 5,000.00) but not more than Twenty Thousand Pesos (PHP 20,000.00), or both, at the discretion of the court) for motorcyclists using other lanes. There is no mention of penalties for drivers of vehicles encroaching on lanes designated for motorcycles.

While the bill is well meaning, it begs the question of whether its provisions are enforceable once the bill becomes a law given the extent of our national road system. After all, there are many laws that are not effectively enforced but were also designed to instill road discipline among drivers and riders, and to ultimately make roads safer for all users. And motorcycle riders are among those commonly seen as violators of road traffic rules and regulations.

In urban areas, for example, where many roads have multiple lanes, space for motorcycles may be derived from existing lanes but may lead to congestion due to the decrease in road capacities. In some cases, motorcycle lanes of at least one meter may be constructed by taking part of medians (e.g., islands) or shoulders. However, along roads where there are no medians, motorcycle lanes from shoulders may lead to conflicts with public transport vehicles that operate along the outer lanes of the road. Further, it is noticeable that there are no shoulders in most urban roads in the Philippines and there are also many instances where roadside parking is allowed or tolerated. And deriving motorcycle lanes from pedestrian rights of way such as sidewalks is definitely not recommended.

In the case of most national roads including rural highways, there are only 2 lanes and shoulders on either side that are most likely unpaved. Road rights of way are often unsecured, with structures such as houses and shops encroaching within the RROW and leading to shoulders being utilized for parking or other purposes. The DPWH Highway Planning Manual does not stipulate motorcycle lanes or even pedestrian walkways as standard specifications for typical national roads. And it is supposed that a law emanating from bills such as SB 871, should encourage if not mandate a review of road design standards to include provisions for motorcycles, and perhaps more importantly, for pedestrians and non-motorized transport (NMT) as well.

Other countries such as Malaysia have already incorporated in their road design manuals lanes that are for the exclusive use of motorcycles, bicycles and other NMTs. These have reportedly improved safety so much that their governments approved the budgets for implementing the provisions for roads where there is significant motorcycle traffic. Perhaps the Malaysian example is proof of the concept that having motorcycle lanes will indeed improve road safety. It should only be emphasized that road design improvements can go only so far if a key element, enforcement, is lax or nonexistent. Without this key element, motorcycle lanes in this country will just be destined for the ningas cogon hall of shame.

For more information about motorcycle lanes and road safety, one may refer to the website of the International Road Assessment Program. They also have a Flickr account showing their activities in Southeast Asia.