Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: February 2014

On high definition cameras to improve traffic enforcement and management

Watching the news one evening, I saw a report that featured traffic enforcers being caught on camera extorting money from drivers caught violating traffic rules and regulations. Extortion, “kotong” or “pangongotong” is not a new thing. It is actually a given to many motorist, particularly those who spend a lot of time on the road like drivers of public utility vehicles and trucks. In many cases, the enforcer or police officer is already or automatically assumed to be an extortionist even without the subtle suggestions via talk or body language. Motorists simply slip a bill with their license or in the form of a handshake to the apprehending officer. This, of course, translates into bribery, which is also a crime for both parties involved.

Traffic violations carry penalties in the form of fines that vary in amount depending on the violation. Usually, the amount is commensurate to the bribe or the “suggested” amount being extorted by the apprehending enforcer(s). In other cases, a larger amount is “suggested,” often to remind the erring motorist Of course, this assumes that the motorist is indeed guilty or in any case (guilty or not) didn’t want to waste time and opts for the perceived easy way out. However, there have also been cases when corrupt enforcers/officers meet their match in motorists who are aware of their rights and are knowledgable of traffic laws (e.g., lawyers, etc.) or are well-connected and simply show business cards of influential people (e.g., politicians, high government officials, police or military officers, etc.) to get out of a traffic bind. These instances actually reveal that many enforcers/officers are not so familiar with traffic rules and regulations so are unable to justify their apprehensions beyond their very basic knowledge.

The MMDA has made a lot of effort in trying to simplify the process of paying the penalties with the guilty party now being allowed to take the ticket and pay the fine through accredited banks within a certain grace period. Traffic enforcers can no longer take your driver’s license (Note: Only Land Transportation Office officers and deputized personnel may confiscate licenses.) and this eliminated the long lines of drivers¬† at the MMDA offices to get back their confiscated licenses. This has also reduced the incidence of extortion as many private motorists can just opt to have tickets issued to by the apprehending officer. The latter is basically no longer allowed to collect money and contact time is also reduced. There is a grace period for the erring driver so he/she has to pay the fine within this period or else risk being flagged by the LTO itself.

The new camera system that the MMDA has in place is part of Phase 1 of its traffic signalization project. With this project, the MMDA hopes to upgrade the network of traffic signals in Metro Manila and have in place a dynamic, adaptive system to better address traffic circulation in the metropolis. This is actually a departure from a past program that was premised on the continuous traffic flow that was supposedly derived from U-turns masquerading as rotundas or roundabouts. Though the sensors and software for the traffic signal system are not yet in place, the MMDA already has a new traffic control center just across its building at the corner of EDSA and Orense Street in Makati City, from where they can now monitor traffic conditions using high definition cameras installed across the metro.

Davao has been in the forefront of using such high definition cameras for traffic management as well as for monitoring the behavior of traffic enforcers and motorists. Their traffic ¬†management center has been operational for the past few years and I’ve had the chance to have a look at how the city is able to monitor traffic conditions in that city. With this tool, they are able to address issues by deploying personnel on sight or by changing the setting of traffic signals. In certain cases, they can watch out for incidents like road crashes or monitor apprehensions to make sure both apprehending personnel and erring motorists are honest and no anomalies are encountered.

img03471-20120711-1415Davao’s cameras have been used to monitor not just erring motorists and pedestrians but also erring traffic enforcers and policemen who might be preying on road users. The city has also been able to use their system to record and evaluate incidences of road crashes.

Perhaps in the near future, many other cities would be able to acquire and apply such tools in traffic management. I think the larger and highly urbanized cities in the country already require sophisticated systems for traffic. Unfortunately, there is always the issue of having limited resources, which usually discourages a city from investing in expensive systems, often opting for basic signals for their intersections. Such basic systems, however, can be optimized if city personnel in-charge of these have the knowledge or capability for setting signals to be synchronized with each other. These are fundamentals necessary for whoever will be dealing with traffic engineering and management in these cities. Also, there are now ongoing researches at universities with some now sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging technology Research and Development (PCIEERD) seeking to produce traffic systems at lower costs. These should eventually be deployed in our cities to help alleviate traffic problems.

On commuting and jeepneys

There is an online petition calling for public officials to take public transportation instead of traveling in their own cars (with or without chauffeurs). The assumption seems to be that our so-called leaders, particularly those tasked to come up with solution to our transport and traffic problems, do not themselves used public transportation. As such, they are basically oblivious to the daily frustrations of many commuters who have to suffer the uncomfortable, inefficient and, in many cases, unsafe transport that we have in most if not all our cities and towns.

But who’s afraid of riding public transport and jeepneys in particular? I would like to think that many if not most or all Filipinos had to ride a jeepney at one point in their lives. After all, the jeepney is second only to the motor tricycle in terms of being the most widespread mode of transport in the country. [Yes, that’s right. The jeepney is not really the king of the road in the Philippines. That title is perhaps more suitable to the tricycle, and I’ve explained this in past posts about the tricycle.] Why do people continue to ride the jeepney despite it being perceived as unsafe and not an environment-friendly mode of transport? Why are these aspects not being corrected by the responsible agencies? These are questions that are difficult to answer only because of the social implications that the government does not want to deal with head-on.

The way jeepneys are designed all over the country, drivers have to deal with the cramped space of the front seat that have implications personal health as well as road safety. The cramped space and overall design of the vehicle affects the driver’s posture as he is forced to stoop in order to have a good view through the windshield. In some cases, those with longer legs would have to orient their seated bodies in a position that is not ergonomic. Such practices or positions may contribute to injury over the long term as well as affect the way the driver operates the vehicle.

IMG07567-20131227-1537I’m not into taking photos inside jeepneys (quite risky as it invites attention to you and to your phone) so there’s few (and not so good) photos of my commutes. This one is a good one inside a jeepney bound for Quiapo, Manila from Philcoa, Quezon City.

I think that for visitors from other countries, a trip to the Philippines would not be complete without experiencing a jeepney ride. When we do have visitors at the university and if they have the time, we take them around the campus on a jeepney. Of course, this is an easy and relatively safe ride for them considering the “Ikot” and “Toki” jeepneys have routes within the campus and do not pass through busy streets or wide highways that tend to invite speeding.

It’s a different thing and quite an experience when you ride the “patok” jeepneys usually plying the longer distance routes like Cubao-Montalban or Cubao-Antipolo. The drivers of these jeepneys are generally risk takers and many are reckless to the point that a slight mistake in driving would likely lead to a serious if not fatal crash. It’s a wonder that they don’t make mistakes often enough for authorities to clamp down on them. Despite this, many people take such jeepneys because they have no choice or if they did, they opt for the aggressive drivers because of the perception that these will get you to your destination faster (Jokingly, it is said that hopefully your destination is not the afterlife.).

Habal-habal ambulance

I came across a documentary one late night after watching the news on GMA’s Channel 11. Motorcycle Diaries featured an episode on Surigao and a segment was devoted to habal-habal, those ubiquitous motorcycle taxis that are popular in the rural areas but are also found in many cities around the country. What caught my attention was not really the habal-habal itself (I’ve seen many other features in the past about these taxis.) but the use of the same for a purpose other than public transport. A habal-habal was fitted for use as an ambulance by a community in Surigao to transport people needing medical treatment to the nearest hospital. All photos below were taken from the television screen.

2014-01-23 22.14.07Unlike other habal-habal, this one has a roof and two planks on either side where patients lie down for transport. While I’ve seen habal-habals in Leyte and Samar that have roofs, the planks are more “skylab” than the typical habal-habal. “Skylab” is a term coined for the shape of motorcycle taxis with a plank installed perpendicular to its body. Passengers seated on the plank have to be balanced by the rider/driver.

2014-01-23 22.13.56All terrain – the habal-habal is popular in rural areas as it can operate on bad roads, trails, no roads and even cross rivers and streams.

2014-01-23 22.12.14The documentary also had interviews with the owner and driver of the motorcycle ambulance.

2014-01-23 22.12.05Rough roads, typical of municipal and farm to market roads, do not deter haba-habal operations.

2014-01-23 22.11.30Rural roads are a big challenge given the conditions like these huge holes filled with water. I’ve seen roads like this that are like rivers or streams during the rainy season.

2014-01-23 22.11.35Travel is quite treacherous along these roads and I can only imagine how difficult it would be to transport a patient on a motorcycle ambulance. The risks are quite high that there can be a mishap along the way that could result in not only serious injuries but death.

2014-01-23 22.11.39The sign makes it unmistakable for what the vehicle is for.

2014-01-23 22.12.01The ride is a balancing act and the driver should be highly skilled for the task.

2014-01-23 22.11.27Patients or people needing medical attention are made to lie down on one of these cots on either side of the habal-habal. There are what looks like straps to secure the person. I assume that another person or weight should be placed on the other cot for balance. Likely, another person will ride behind the driver to care for the patient(s).

Such vehicles used for emergency are fitted out of necessity for these communities. As shown in the photos, the roads connecting these communities to the municipal or city centers are unpaved and conditions can be quite bad during the rainy season. It is clear that many such roads need to be paved so that they can be used under all weather conditions. Paving the roads also makes them usable by regular vehicles such as your typical ambulances. It makes me angry to see many such ambulances in Metro Manila being used for personal travel while communities in dire need of emergency vehicles can only improvise with the habal-habal to get people to hospitals.

It’s a shame that our government can spend a lot or engage the private sector in major projects while hundreds or even thousands of communities remain under-served for basic needs including access to schools, hospitals and workplaces. These are not even the typical farm-to-market roads but appears to be municipal, city or provincial roads. The fruits of economic development will not trickle down or cannot be felt in these areas if transport facilities cannot be upgraded. These are requirements for inclusive growth that government should address¬† – and with urgency.