Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: December 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.


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.


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.