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Buses tagged…now what?

August 2011
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The MMDA issued a memo requiring all Metro Manila buses to paint their license plates at strategic areas of the bus exterior. These include standard sizes for “tags” to be placed on the roof, front, sides and back of the bus that are supposed to clearly show consistency with the license plate. Needless to say, if the license plate and the painted tags do not match, then the bus will be labeled colorum or illegally operating. Tags are also colored according to the general routes of the buses, with the yellow background applicable to buses plying routes along EDSA while an orange background applies to non-EDSA routes like those along Ortigas Ave. and Quezon Ave.

The tagging seems to be the latest in a long list of schemes that have been implemented to address the issue of colorum public transportation. While this is generally a matter for the LTFRB, the agency with the mandate to regulate road public transportation, the enforcement aspect is really quite demanding for an agency with few personnel to do this. As such, the LTFRB is usually assisted by other agencies like the MMDA or local government units. Franchise enforcement, however, is generally not the province of the MMDA or LGUs unlike their being deputized by the LTO in enforcing traffic rules and regulations (thus allowing the MMDA and LGUs to issue traffic tickets). The deputized MMDA and LGU enforcers may apprehend public utility vehicle drivers for traffic violations and in an ideal set-up, such violations should be considered when evaluating franchises for renewals. The propensity for violating traffic rules and regulations is a manifestation of poor driving habits and unsafe behavior on the road. Again ideally, such should be taken against operators who have the responsibility for hiring and training their staff. Operators should be held accountable should there be a high incidence of traffic violations and especially when there are incidences of crashes.

I am curious as to how the MMDA will be taking advantage of the bus tags in managing not only public transport but overall traffic as well. The tags present an opportunity where data collection may be facilitated and for various purposes. Such include a variation of the license plate surveys that are usually conducted to trace the movement of vehicles and determine whether they are speeding or travelling too slowly. An application of the outcomes of such surveys is the estimation of travel time along particular routes. For enforcement purposes, one can determine the reasonable turnaround time for public transport vehicles and allow for the checking of trip-cutting and the verification of the incidence of multiple plates. With the video cameras located at strategic points along Metro Manila’s major thoroughfares, sophisticated software employing image processing may be able to expedite the process, an example of an intelligent transport systems (ITS) as applied to public transportation.

The MMDA could even go further by consolidating travel time/speed data from public transport vehicles in order to derive real-time road network statistics. These could easily be visualized using digital maps that can be made online and shared to motorists and commuters alike to allow for better travel planning around the metropolis. Travel time/speed data have been used by researchers and agencies in other countries to estimate road traffic performance throughout the day and may be employed in modeling traffic in order to predict travel characteristics given typical factors affecting the traffic stream. Private vehicle characteristics are approximated by taxis that operate pretty much like private vehicles given that they do not have fixed routes and are not confined to lanes normally assigned to buses and jeepneys.

Such a comprehensive and sophisticated system for traffic management would require that all public transport vehicles be tagged including jeepneys and taxis. This also requires both hardware and software, and most importantly, capacity and on the part of Perhaps this is an alternative to requiring all to have GPS or RFID installed. Of course, the latter devices have more applications due to their potential for data storage (e.g., vehicle registration, franchise, location, etc.) but unfortunately, there are issues that still need to be addressed and questions left unanswered that are associated with these devices. Sayang! But even so, the bus tags (and maybe jeepney and taxi tags in the future) already present a lot of opportunities for monitoring, evaluation and improvement of traffic in Metro Manila. If only such potential can be realized and maximized by the MMDA and other agencies…


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