Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Microcosm of society

As me and my colleagues crossed the street at the corner of the College of Engineering towards the Main Library grounds, we heard the distant sound of whistles of security guards posted along the Academic Oval. At first, we didn’t pay much attention even stating among ourselves that the guards may be trying to catch the attention of certain people. There are still many litterbugs on campus and there are street children often going around and trying to collect material they could sell at some junk shop. In some cases, they take whatever they find even those that are not supposed to be taken by them like scrap materials from buildings that are being constructed or renovated. These, after all, are not fair game in as far as the contractors and the university are concerned.

After we had crossed, however, the guards continued to whistle and the frequency and manner seemed to indicate urgency and not just as if they were not just trying to accost someone but were also in pursuit of someone or something. Another guard posted near the library stood up from where he was taking his lunch on a bench under the trees near the road and also started whistling. We soon saw the cause for the alarm – a black BMW 5 series was speeding counterflow along the bicycle lane.

We stopped near the Main Library kiosks to see where the BMW was heading and made our bets that it would be turning left towards the Asian Center and probably towards the exit along Magsaysay Avenue. We were not surprised when the car indeed took a left (and without signals) but towards the driveway in front of Malcolm Hall – the College of Law. I say we were not surprised because there have been many instances before this one when similar vehicles and even those with SUV escorts who have blatantly violated traffic rules and regulations inside the campus. Often, the excuse mentioned is that they were in a hurry. But then aren’t we all?

We did not see who alighted from the car (it was too far to see) but it was parked in front of Malcolm Hall so I assumed it must be a faculty member, a lecturer or a guest of that College who drove or owned the vehicle. It would also be likely that the occupant was a lawyer. This begs the question of what kinds of lawyers are teaching at the College of Law. I know this is quite a generalization and perhaps unfair to many whom I know from that college. But this simple act of violating the one-way scheme along the oval and using a lane dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists despite all the signs and the guards shouting at you, which some people (like lawyers for example) would dismiss as petty are manifestations of more serious things. And I will restrain myself from alleging what those serious things are.

If he or she was a student, then the obvious question is what kind of students do the college have these days? What kinds of lawyers are being bred by the college? And may I dare ask what kind of lawyers have been produced in the past as there are evidences (from the UP Police, the MMDA and other traffic enforcers) that the same professionals are the one most likely to argue with enforcers even when they are guilty of violating traffic rules and regulations.

It is the arrogance of such motorists that is among the common causes of road crashes and the major cause for anarchy and chaos in our roads. The example in UP only shows how far we are from the objective of instilling discipline among our motorists. That same arrogance shows, too, how we regard everyone else including the joggers, walkers, and cyclists who had to give way to a motor vehicle that intruded into their right of way and practically bulldozed its way towards its destination. For these people, it is no matter that they put the lives of people in danger by their actions. After all, they were in a hurry. I believe the pedestrians and cyclists were in no hurry. they were in no hurry to get injured or, God forbid, to die because a motorist in a luxury car had to run against the one-way flow and use road space that is dedicated for pedestrians and cyclists – most of whom happen to be students who have yet to fulfill their potentials, and hopefully for the good of this country.

What irritates you?

Early this week, we realized that only one of the regular hosts of our weekly radio program, Wangwang ng Bayan, would be available for the live broadcast. Being the last week of regular classes didn’t help as we had to consider conflicting schedules that seemed to feature a lot of double and even triple booking of certain time slots. Wednesday proved to be a difficult day what with a mix including undergraduate research presentations, a college board meeting, field survey orientations and our radio program. Good thing that it didn’t become the nightmare we were anticipating as we were able to agree on how to divide ourselves and distribute our times and attentions to the various tasks at hand that day. I won’t delve into the details of what we did with the others but will just talk about how we were able to manage with our radio program.

We figured that we had to have a topic that would be easy for one host and our assistant to tackle while the other host and the producer were out. I figured that an easy topic would be about what irritates us when we’re on the road whether as drivers/motorists, passengers or pedestrians. We would ask our listeners to pitch in on what they thought were their pet peeves on transport and traffic. The result was a very lively show with the host and her assistant fielding questions and comments on just about anything under the sun and on the street.

Prior to the show, we ran a simple survey among our center’s staff, some students and our trainees in our Traffic Administration Course. The survey outcomes allowed us to have a handle on what we can anticipate for responses to the question we would be posing on air. After all, there should be common pet peeves regardless of whether one is driving, riding, walking or cycling. I even volunteered my own top ten list of what irritates me when I’m on the road. These are:

1. Jaywalking/pedestrians crossing anywhere;

2. PUB or PUJ weaving at high speeds in traffic;

3. PUV’s loading/unloading in the middle of the road;

4. Vehicles especially private cars cutting into my lane;

5. Road signs featuring politicians’ names prominently;
6. Vehicles on opposing lane of undivided traffic using high beam (bright);
7. Vehicles with no license plates;
8. Vehicles using tinted license plate covers;
9. Smoke belching vehicles; and
10. Overloaded trucks

I can go on and identify more pet peeves but it is unnecessary and the top ten pretty much drives the point in as far as irritating things are concerned. When coming up with the list, I eventually felt a little frustration as I came to realize that many of these pet peeves have not been addressed despite many being glaring examples of how chaotic traffic and transport can be in this country. What irritates us the most is the collective chaos we experience everyday, and what seems to be our helplessness and the futility of authorities in addressing these manifestations of an inadequate transportation system.

But there is hope considering that my and other people’s list seem to have lost an entry – wangwangs, or the illegal/improper use of sirens. The success of a campaign enforcing against wangwangs last year showed many of us how it can be done and done right. Perhaps, as I’ve suggested in previous posts, the strategy could be to tackle these irritations one at a time. No MacArthur didn’t return to the Philippines direct from Australia. He liberated lands one island at a time, slowly but surely. Perhaps that should be the approach for us to eventually reduce the list until there are none at all that irritates us. And what a country we would be when we finally realize that progress requires discipline and a bit of soul searching that starts with simple questions like “what irritates you?”


Wangwang ng Bayan can be heard on AM radio. Just tune in to DZUP 1602, the last station on the dial. Livestreaming available over at

Airport parking

I’ve been to Metro Manila’s airport terminals quite frequently lately. It’s only March but I’ve traveled to Singapore twice, once using NAIA Terminal 2 for a Philippine Airlines flight in January, and again last February but using Terminal 3 for a Cebu Pacific flight. I’ve gone to Terminal 1 several times as I either dropped off or fetched the wife who flew in and out via either Singapore Airlines or Tiger Airways. Every time I went to any of the three airports, and especially when I was fetching someone, I couldn’t help but make some observations about the parking.

I’ve been to many airports including the huge modern ones in our neighboring countries. I must admit that I haven’t had the chance of using their parking facilities first hand. Most of the time I use public transportation from and to the terminals like when I use Changi or Suvarnabhumi. I have seen their parking buildings from the outside though. And I can say that my impression is that they are sufficient for their purpose whether their users be well wishers, people fetching relatives or friends, or travelers opting to leave their vehicles to return for them on their ways back.

I must say that the parking facilities of the three NAIA terminals can be viewed as a progressive case considering that there have been steady and obvious improvements when comparing features from Terminal 1 to 3. I won’t get into the technical aspects as qualitative assessment from fellow users like friends and colleagues point out that NAIA 1’s parking seem to be always full as with Terminal 2’s. The latter is quite unusual as it is used exclusively by PAL. Terminal 3 should have the largest capacity and this was expected for a terminal whose designers should have learned from the lessons of Terminals 1 and 2. However, in my recent trips to all three airports, my experiences have been quite the contrary in terms of finding a parking slot that is convenient enough; that is, not so far a walk from the respective terminal buildings.

It was surprising for me to find good parking slots in my most recent trips to NAIA 1 and 2. Meanwhile, parking at Terminal 3 seemed to be laborious especially considering the linear layout of the open parking facility. In that last sentence, allow me to emphasize open and add to it “outdoor” since Terminal 3 is supposed to have a multi-level parking building. This was supposed to be one of its features distinguishing it from 1 and 2. The problem is that airport officials have not given the go signal for this multi-level facility to be operational. This causes problems to airport users considering that there is a significant number of vehicles left by their owners for their return trips. These include overnight parkers who probably took a local trip with a schedule that prevented them from returning the same day. All these vehicles are parked along what should be a lane dedicated for traffic circulation. In fact, the line of parked vehicles extend all the way to the ramp leading to the entrance to the parking building.

Perhaps it is already time to open the parking building to the general public. It doesn’t take a genius to see that parking at NAIA 3 is already insufficient given the travel characteristics of its users. Operational costs including maintenance and security should not be a problem since users will be charged fees according to their parking durations. Also, a variety of services may be offered to users including cleaning like the ones offered in shopping malls and even quick repairs for those encountering some trouble with their engines or tires. It shouldn’t be so difficult to come up with a system for parking management that would enhance NAIA 3’s services. And it should be done now and not later.

I have other impressions of parking in the other terminals I have had the opportunity to use across the country including those of international airport in Mactan, Cebu and Davao. But these terminals do not generally serve as many people as Manila’s three terminals do so their assessments would have to be tempered against this backdrop.

Tools for traffic enforcement

The MMDA recently acquired speed guns to enable them to measure vehicle speeds and catch violators of speeding regulations. A case in point is the ongoing efforts to reduce road crashes along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. Part of the effort is the enforcement of the 60 kilometer per hour speed limit that is applied to all vehicles. This, of course, is a simplification considering that ideally there are different speed limits for different types of vehicles if Philippine laws are to be reviewed. One problem with Commonwealth is that it is a very wide road with 8 to 10 lanes per direction depending on the section from Fairview to the Elliptical Road. All types of vehicles seem to be guilty of “over-speeding” but of particular concern were and are the buses that also have tended to change lanes quite frequently despite the maneuver being unnecessary.

Most private vehicles are also probably guilty of speeding at many points along the avenue. The wide road is indeed very tempting for cruising at high speeds much like what a driver may routinely do along expressways. The problem, of course, is that the avenue is not an expressway where access is restricted and there are practically no chance or instances of conflicts with pedestrians, vendors or typical public transport operations. And then there are also the ubiquitous median openings that have replaced at-grade intersections. These facilities have encouraged weaving and, arguably, aggressive driving in order to be able to maneuver to the nearest practical U-turn slot.

But going back to the speed guns; these are very handy tools for traffic enforcement. Based on what I saw on TV, the speed guns allow the operator to take a photograph of the guilty party’s vehicle and save this for downloading later at the office. The downloaded photos are then processed into a form (summons) that is sent to the owner of the vehicle who is assumed to be the driver of the vehicle caught by the speed gun’s camera. The person is given 7 days to pay the penalty/fine (PhP 7,500 accroding to the news reports) at the MMDA or at an accredited bank. If the person is unable to pay the fine, the MMDA will forward the violation to the LTO for flagging or tagging of the vehicle used. This tag will serve as an alarm for traffic law enforcers in case the vehicle is involved in another incident.

The speed gun is not an inexpensive tool and yet it is a very useful one if only to instill discipline to drivers in the form of speed management. Speeding is one manifestation of irresponsible or reckless driving, especially when combined with other maneuvers like frequent lane changing. It is also one of the most difficult to enforce since measurements are required and evidence must be strongly tied to a particular vehicle so that the match is “beyond reasonable doubt,” as lawyers may say.

Speed guns like the ones acquired by the MMDA will surely contribute to curbing speeding violations and reducing the incidence of crashes. However, this is currently limited to Commonwealth and there is definitely a need to acquire more instruments to enable the agency to enforce speed limits along other roads including perhaps EDSA and C5. At the very least, speed limits should be enforced along all the radial and circumferential roads. This is particularly important during the night time and probably the early mornings when many road crashes are associated with speeding violations that are obvious for the characteristic loss of control by the driver. The acquisition and proper use of additional units will go a long way into putting order to traffic along our roads and this order can be equated to ensuring that our travel ways will be safe for all users.

Upgrades: the Ayala BRT

The Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) has been issuing press releases about their plan to put up a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for the Makati CBD and the Bonifacio Global City. The system will serve both the old financial center in Makati and the rapidly emerging one in Taguig, connecting the two via Ayala Avenue-McKinley Road and Gil Puyat (Buendia) Avenue-Kalayaan Avenue corridors. It is a project that is long overdue although the buses serving the Fort have shown us at least what a higher capacity mode of transport can do if managed properly.

The Fort Buses load and unload passengers at designated stops. They follow traffic rules and regulations enforced more strictly inside the Global City. Many of the newer bus units also happen to have layouts that are more appropriate for city operations. The Mercedes Benz coaches are designed such that they can accommodate more passengers as they have ample standing space and there are only enough seats for passengers who may actually need them like the elderly, pregnant women, persons with disabilities, and perhaps those who are burdened with heavy bags or packages. The doors of these units are also designed for more efficient fare collection and discharging of passengers, with the narrower front door accommodating boarding commuters who are already queued at bus stops and the wide two door rear egress allowing for efficient alighting. Surely, an automated fare collection system such as those using smart cards or other machines will be in place in the near future and greatly improve the operations of these buses. But the most significant feature, it seems, of the Fort Bus is the compensation scheme for its employees, particularly its drivers. Unlike most bus companies, Fort Bus drivers are given a regular monthly salary and reportedly enjoy benefits much like regular employees in typical companies or offices. This feature, I believe, is what makes it work in the first place and what is required for a transformation in public transport services as it does away with the rabid competition that is the derivative of a commission-based or “boundary” system compensation scheme that is used for both buses and jeepneys.

Considering the calls for more efficient as well as more safer public transport systems, let this Ayala BRT be a test case for what to do with transport systems that should have been phased out a long time ago (jeepneys) along corridors or routes that demand higher capacity vehicles. Public utility vehicles with low capacities and perhaps low quality of service should be replaced by more efficient modes especially along arterials. Also, all the elements are there for a potentially successful PPP in transport. You have a major player from the private sector (Ayala) offering to put up a system that it has studied and designed over the past few years. You have two CBDs in Makati and Taguig that currently serve as the present and future financial centers. And you have the challenge of doing away with an inefficient transport system. Though there sure will be compromises that are not necessarily palatable (e.g., re-routing PUJ and PUB lines) the government should start realizing that it should be more deliberate and even unforgiving when it deals with the issue on PUJ and PUB franchises here.

The local governments of Makati and Taguig should cooperate with Ayala to make this work for these LGUS should put aside certain interests including those pertaining to PUJ and PUB operators and drivers, many of whom may be their constituents and comprise a significant part of their voting populations. The LGUs should facilitate discussions including those dealing with livelihood and othe social issues that are the province of local governments. The Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) should get out of its shell and make a stand now considering the opportunity for public transport transformation. And its mother agency, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) should support this stand, all out, if only to show that it is indeed committed to reforming and modernizing public transport systems in this country.

A BRT finally being realized for Makati and Global City will indeed be a showcase. We just hope that it will be a showcase of an efficient transformation of a public transport system from an outdated to a modern and efficient one rather than a showcase of futility and ineptness on the side of those in government. As they say, something has to start somewhere. A modern, efficient public transport system that is deserved by Filipinos may just start in Makati and Taguig, and with a BRT that may actually mean “better rapid transit.”

Clarifying some issues on truck overloading

Following is a Position Paper prepared by the Institute of Civil Engineering and the National Center for Transportation Studies to clarify some issues pertaining to truck overloading. The position paper was presented to the Technical Working Group under the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation, which is handling the issue.

1. Background

This position paper was crafted to clarify some issues pertaining to truck overloading and the implementation of the national law (R.A. 8794) from a technical standpoint, and based on an independent assessment of the concerns put forward recently.

Among the issues raised were on the maximum axle load of 13.5 tons, the computed maximum gross vehicle weight (GVW), and the implications of their enforcement on the transport of goods and the trucking industry.

In the absence of extensive data from measurements on actual roads and bridges in the Philippines, reference is frequently made to tests and studies by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which are adopted by many other countries.

2. Maximum axle load

For benchmarking purposes, an 8.2-ton axle is referred to as the equivalent single axle load or ESAL. One (1) ESAL is equivalent to a damage potential of 1.0 based on road tests conducted by AASHTO.  Damage potential increases very rapidly as the axle load increases.  The maximum axle load of 13.5 tons is equivalent to 60 times the damaging potential of an ESAL or 8.2-ton axle load.

The designation of a 13.5-ton maximum already takes into consideration the practice of overloading. (Note that the original maximum single axle load was 8.0 or 8.2 tons.) The 13.5 tons is based on studies conducted by the DPWH back in the 1990s (Philippine Axle Load Study or PALS), which determined the maximum single axle load that may be allowed without compromising the integrity of structures such as bridges. The study measured the weights of trucks throughout the country to establish typical weights for different types of trucks.

For tandem axles, a different maximum load is prescribed due to established findings by AASHTO that two closely spaced axles have a much greater combined damaging potential than two single axles that are far apart. To keep the damaging potential in check, AASHTO has established that in the case of tandem axles, each axle in the tandem should have a maximum load that is 20% less than the maximum allowed for single axles. Thus, the maximum axle load for tandem axles in the Philippines is 10.8 tons, for a total of 21.6 tons for the tandem.

A similar process of reduction is applied to tridem axles and so on, where the damaging potential changes as a function of the proximity of the axles to each other.

3. Maximum gross vehicle weight

The maximum gross vehicle weight (GVW) computation is partly based on the maximum single axle load. Thus, it is clear that a higher maximum single axle load leads to higher maximum GVW.

The GVW is computed based on the optimum distribution of loads for different types of vehicles. This optimum distribution considers the maximum allowable axle loads as discussed above (AASHTO, 1987) as well as the loading characteristics of bridges, for example as as detailed in the AASHTO LRFD Bridge Design Specifications (2004).

Further, the optimum loads also take into account the stability of the vehicle as it travels along highways and bridges.

The experience in the U.S. where a compromise was reached between government and the private sector concerning maximum GVW is possible because the weights are based on a maximum single axle load of 9.1 tons and the optimum distribution of load for different types of trucks.

4. Consequences of overloaded vehicles

In the previous sections, the impacts of overloading on road infrastructure such as pavements and bridges were taken into consideration. Overloaded vehicles, particularly trucks, can have detrimental effects on highway safety and traffic operations, too.

Highway safety and traffic operations

Overloading would particularly have impacts on the following handling and stability aspects for trucks, affecting safety in highways:

  • Rollover threshold
  • Braking
  • Steering sensitivity
  • Low-speed off-tracking
  • High-speed off-tracking

Meanwhile, impacts on traffic operations include:

  • Speed on upgrades
  • Expressway/highway merging, weaving, and lane changing
  • Downhill operations
  • Intersection operations
  • Traction ability
  • Longitudinal barriers

The above factors have been analyzed and are the subject of a special report by the Transportation Research Board of the U.S. (TRB, 1990). It has been established, for example, that involvement in fatal road crashes increases as the GVW range increases. Also, it has been established that increased truck weights lead to greater reductions in speed and difficulties in merging, weaving and lane changing, and require greater sight distances for safe stopping.

Modification of trucks

The modification of trucks here pertains to the addition of at least one axle with the objective of increasing the GVW while also decreasing the loads of the axles, in order to comply with maximum axle limits.

Any modifications on trucks, especially the addition of axles, should comply with traffic safety standards including those pertaining to handling and stability. Thus, modified trucks should comply with the specifications of the manufacturer or with established standards, if any, for the modification in question.

Any modifications should also be subject to inspections. Problems will arise if there are no standards. In such cases, the manufacturer or experts in the industry should be consulted. The LTO should defer to the recommendations and disapprove any modifications that are not complying with standards or recommendations by qualified persons especially the manufacturer.

In the absence of comprehensive studies on such modifications, data on road crashes or breakdowns (e.g., flat tires, broken axles) need to be collected in order to establish their frequency, determine how serious these tend to be, and ascertain what the crashes or breakdowns are attributed to. This would require detailed information on crashes and breakdowns over a period of, say, 2 to 5 years for statistical significance.

5. Conclusions and Recommendations

The 13.5 tons designated as the maximum single axle load in the Philippines already incorporated the practice of overloading and thus becomes non-negotiable considering that the DPWH has already taken into consideration the maximum loads that can be withstood by highway structures especially bridges in the country.  This maximum single axle load is notably higher than the allowance in the US and most other countries.

The following are recommended for further consideration:

  • State the allowable maximum axle loads in terms of single axle, tandem axles, tridem axles and so on, in order not to create confusion on the interpretation of the allowable maximum loads.
  • Establish standards, type approval system, and monitoring system for truck modifications, in order to ascertain compliance with safety and stability standards.
  • Conduct studies on actual axle loads and GVWs on a more regular basis, say every 5 years, by the DPWH, in order to establish a database from which allowable maximum axle loads and GVWs may be updated in aid of legislation.
  • Conduct impact assessments.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (2000) recommendations that may be relevant in the impact assessments include:

  1. Infrastructure costs – including implications on road pavements, bridges and geometrics
  2. Safety impacts – including crash/accident rates, public perception, vehicle stability and control, and vehicle comparisons
  3. Traffic operations – impacts on road capacity and speeds
  4. Energy and environment – impacts on fuel consumption and vehicle emissions
  5. Shipper costs – impacts on cost of transporting goods

Impact assessments are essential in order to establish directions for determining the benefits and costs attributed to various scenarios that are currently being discussed at the TWG level.  Such benefits and costs will serve as inputs in aid of legislation to improve on the provisions of R.A. 8794 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations.

Design standards particularly for road pavements and bridges in the Philippines are mainly based on AASHTO standards and specifications. The AASHTO standards and specifications are based on AASHTO design vehicles along with their prescribed weight/load distributions. It follows, therefore, that anyone adopting the AASHTO design standards and specifications like the DPWH should also adopt the AASHTO design vehicle specifications. Otherwise, the application of standards and specifications for design will be flawed, resulting in sub-standard infrastructure.

As a general rule, if the Philippines is to adopt a different set of load distributions, maximum axle loads, and gross vehicle weights for its trucks, the country should likewise develop or revise its design standards and specifications to match local experience or setting. This would require comprehensive studies to be led by civil engineering experts in the Philippines and patterned after similar studies conducted elsewhere including the United States.

6. References

AASHTO (1987) Guide for Maximum Dimensions and Weights of Motor Vehicles and for the Operation of Non-Divisible Load Oversize and Overweight Vehicles, Washington, D.C.

AASHTO (2004) LRFD Bridge Design Specifications, 3rd Edition, Washington, D.C.

Department of Transportation, U.S. (2000) Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Study, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, D.C.

Transportation Research Board (2007) Legal Truck Loads and AASHTO Legal Loads for Posting, NCHRP Report 575, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Washington, D.C.

York, J. and Maze, T.H. (1996) Applicability of Performance-Based Standards for U.S. Truck Size and Weight Regulations, Semisequicentennial Transportation Conference Proceedings, May 1996, Iowa State University Institute for Transportation.