Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Risky business with motorcycling

I spotted what appeared to be a family of four riding the same motorcycle as I was traveling to work this morning. While they were traveling slowly, likely to be careful considering there were 4 riders, I could’t help but imagine (not really wonder) what was going on in the minds of the adults here. The children were obviously oblivious to the dangerous situation and I even saw one child smiling and apparently enjoying the ride. I am sure that the father is trying his best to be careful as he is surely aware that a mistake would likely doom his entire family.


2014-04-25 08.08.11A family of 4 with one child (the younger one) in front and another child sandwiched between the adults riding a single motorcycle. The children didn’t even have helmets so if an untoward incident happens, there is a very high likelihood that the children will be killed in a crash.


These are common sights in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country. Its worse in other places where there’s weak enforcement of road safety laws including the helmet law and the limitation in the number of passengers (yes, there is a law against passenger overloading for vehicles). I was actually wondering how these people in the photo were able to evade MMDA and LGU enforcers along major roads. And to think that there are many checkpoints to inspect those “riding in tandem.” Clearly, this is a violation of existing regulations and the only way to discourage such practices and effect behaviour change is for authorities to clamp down on such risky situations, even forcing them to discontinue travel in addition to issuing a ticket and fine for the violation. Are we really serious in promoting road safety and ensuring safety for everyone? If so, why the lax enforcement when it is perhaps, and arguably, the most important element in order to influence people’s mindsets regarding road safety.

More snippets of Manila streets

The City of Manila has always been fascinating from the perspective of transport and traffic due to the many peculiarities and contradictions you’ll find around the city. Here are a few more photos and some comments on the Manila’s transport and traffic.

2014-03-06 08.07.41Pedestrian overpass along Espana Avenue right after P. Campa Street and just before Morayta Street. Most overpasses in Metro Manila are roofless so this overpass is an exception. Most roofless overpasses were constructed when Bayani Fernando was MMDA Chair and were made so to discourage vendors from setting up on the overpass. The roof, however, makes sense considering the high pedestrian traffic (mainly students) in this area, which is dubbed the University Belt due to the many universities and colleges located here.

2014-03-06 08.13.16Another overpass in Manila, this time roofless, along Quezon Boulevard. Notice the large umbrellas in the photo? Under these are informal vendors who have set-up shop atop the overpass, effectively constricting pedestrian movement on the facility. Notice, too, the signboard bearing a message from the incumbent Mayor of Manila who happens to be a former Philippines President. The message in Filipino translates to “There’s hope for a New Manila.”

2014-03-06 08.17.05Non-motorized pedicabs proliferate in Manila and particularly in and around Intramuros, the historic walled city that was Manila during the Spanish period. There are just too many of these 3-wheelers in this city and most if not all drivers are oblivious to traffic rules and regulations. In Intramuros they have narrow streets and most destinations of interest don’t really require a vehicle. Walking is the most suitable transport within the walled city. These pedicabs are quite peculiar for a district that is supposed to be walkable and very accessible to public transport along its main streets. Manila has tolerated (some say spoiled) the operators of these vehicles and has made “livelihood” as the standard excuse for their existence and proliferation especially in low income areas of the city.

2014-03-06 08.24.37There are a lot of “tambays” or people just loitering around or spending (wasting?) time in the open spaces near and at the Liwasang Bonifacio just across from the Manila Central Post Office and Manila City Hall. Many of these are homeless people that the city as well as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) have not attended to. Their presence are just too obvious to passers by and mingling among them if not they themselves are snatchers, muggers and other unwelcome elements of our society. The tarpaulin is placed over a sign stating trucks are prohibited from using Roxas Boulevard. The new truck policies in Manila have been a hot topic since early this year but everything now seems to be back to “normal” after somewhat spirited reactions from truckers that again exposed issues pertaining to the traffic impacts of the Port of Manila.


NAIA Terminal 3 revisited

I was back at NAIA Terminal 3 to fetch someone who was flying in from Bacolod last Palm Sunday. Going around while waiting for the plane to arrive, I took some photos of the newer shops and restaurants in the terminal. Here they are with a few photos at the waiting area and outside the terminal.

2014-04-13 20.37.12The overnight parking spaces were not yet full. It was a Palm Sunday so I guess many people haven’t taken their vacations yet.  I remember fetching the wife one Maundy Thursday morning and the parking lot was just full of vehicles. I had to park at a slot that required some walking to get to the terminal building.

2014-04-13 20.37.55Taxi station at the arrival level of NAIA – only airport accredited taxis are allowed at this station and many, if not most, are not metered (i.e., do not have or use taxi meters). There is a dispatcher at the station and rates are basically higher than regular metered taxis.

2014-04-13 20.44.50There are more shops, restaurants and cafes at Terminal 3. The old ones are still there but noticeable are the newer shops and restaurants when you explore the 3rd level of the terminal.

2014-04-13 20.44.54The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf branch at Terminal 3.

2014-04-13 20.45.03Wendy’s fastfood restaurant.

2014-04-13 20.45.58Shoes on display at one of the older shops at the terminal that offers a lot of different merchandise like luggage and apparel and accessories.

2014-04-13 20.46.39Victoria’s Secret shop opening soon and likely before other international airlines move to Terminal 3 when renovations for Terminal 1 move to full gear.

2014-04-13 20.48.04This Seven Eleven store is relatively new. There’s a Mini Stop store near the escalator to the 3rd level of the terminal.

2014-04-13 20.50.25The Body Shop store.

2014-04-13 20.50.39Not so many people at the Cebu Pacific domestic check-in counters around 8 PM. At this time, most domestic airports in the country are already closed as they are not equipped for night time operations. Thus, there are few flights at this time likely from the handful of modern airports – Cebu, Davao, Iloilo and Bacolod.

2014-04-13 21.05.51Well-wishers meeting arriving passengers at the spacious arrival area concourse.

2014-04-13 21.28.32Signs provide directions to passengers and well-wishers.

2014-04-13 21.41.20Crowds form at the exits to check passengers filing out of the arrival area. International passengers come out from the left while domestic passengers from the right.

2014-04-13 22.02.27There are more foreign exchange counters now at Terminal 3 and this is likely due to the increased number of international flights served by the terminal.

2014-04-13 22.02.31People go out of the terminal at one of the many exits at ground level. However, there are only two entrances to the terminal at the arrival level where security checks are made.

Daang Bakal

The right of way for the old railroad line going up to Antipolo is still there and is now a regular road. Daang Bakal rises from what is now Valley Golf Subdivision (Celso Tuazon Ave. and Taktak Drive) in Cainta, Rizal through Victoria Valley Subdivision (Taktak Drive), Fairmount Hills Subdivision and Hinulugang Taktak (Daang Bakal though often referred to as Taktak Road, which is actually a different road and on the other side of the river), and until part of the Sumulong Memorial Circle in the vicinity of the Antipolo Church (Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage).  I took a few photos of Daang Bakal on our way to the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for Palm Sunday Mass. The photos have been modified as I took it at dusk. The originals were quite dark so I adjusted the brightness. Still, I can only imagine now how this route could have looked like back in the day when the Manila Rail Road line passed through this area. It could have been one of the most scenic rides as it is still a scenic route today.

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At right in the photos is a fenced property designating the Hinulugang Taktak National Park. Hinulugang Taktak refers to the water falls that used to be one of the more popular destinations in Antipolo. There is actually a popular folk song inviting people to come to Antipolo (“Tayo na sa Antipolo at doon maligo tayo…”) to enjoy the falls. The falls have deteriorated through the years as it has been affected mainly by the settlements around it. There seems to be an effort to rehabilitate the area but it is still closed to the public. The road though is in excellent condition and has low motor traffic volumes. It is popular among cyclists as well as joggers. This Holy Week, the area should have a lot of visitors because of the Parish church in the area, which has an impressive architecture and gardens. The church is perfect for those doing Visita Iglesia or perhaps people just wanting to go to a quiet place for some meditation and prayer.

Traffic consultants for Philippine cities?

I was driving to the office one morning, and as I was slowing down to stop at the Masinag junction I spotted a familiar face giving instructions to Antipolo traffic personnel. Robert Nacianceno was formerly the General Manager (Undersecretary level position) with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) when it was chaired by Bayani Fernando, the first MMDA Chair to gain a cabinet level post (previously the MMDA Chair was not a Secretary level position). He was in an office barong while leading Antipolo staff in positioning orange traffic cones to mark the lanes for turning traffic along the Sumulong Highway approach from Antipolo.

Nacianceno is a cyclist so I would like to think that he can take that perspective in transport planning and traffic management for Antipolo. Unfortunately, his track record at the MMDA does not provide strong evidence as to his competence in transport planning or traffic management. Insiders say most policies and schemes during BF’s time was the latter’s ideas (e.g., U-turns, bike lanes, etc.) and he had his own consultant (and reportedly an inner circle) for various matters including traffic. In fairness to the man, Nacianceno probably has tremendous experience on the job but one has to note that there were other people with the MMDA who also dabbled in transport and traffic. Also, as GM he had other things to attend to during his stint including waste management and flood control.

2014-03-26 08.52.27Remember this guy? He used to be the MMDA GM during BF’s stint at the agency.

I recall that the previous traffic consultant of Antipolo City was also a former MMDA official, Ernesto Camarillo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say that Antipolo traffic improved during the last few years. Based on what I have seen in my daily commute, transport and traffic conditions have degenerated. Antipolo is overrun by tricycles and people generally do not follow rules and regulations. Informal terminals dot the city and you don’t have to go far to find inappropriate terminals as these are in plain view and across from the Rizal Provincial Capitol. Antipolo has a new mayor in the former Rizal Governor and his mother now sits as governor of the province. I’m crossing my fingers as to how they will improve transport and traffic in Antipolo if there is really a desire to do so. For starters, is there a transport and traffic plan for this Highly Urbanized City (HUC)? There should be one as the city needs it badly together with a land use plan to bring some order in development.

Antipolo is rapidly developing but at the same time conditions (including traffic) are also rapidly deteriorating. Hopefully, the LGU will address these issues and eventually make this city a modern one and fit for its being an HUC as well as a popular pilgrimage site for decades if not centuries due to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (Is there some irony here?). Nacianceno’s work has just started and I hope he is up to the challenge of bringing order to Antipolo’s chaotic transport and traffic situation. I hope, too, that he will take note of good practices in other cities (Philippine or foreign) and won’t be relying purely on his experiences in Metro Manila. And hopefully, whatever improvements from the traffic schemes he will be introducing and implementing will be felt immediately by travellers. Good luck!

Quiapo traffic

Fridays in Manila are associated with Quiapo and the devotion to the Black Nazarene. People flock to Quiapo Church to hear Mass or pray at the Basilica, which is arguably among the most popular for Roman Catholics. Fridays are regarded as feast days dedicated to the Black Nazarene and since many people go to Quiapo Church throughout the day, there is almost always traffic congestion in the area. These days, however, any weekday is a congested day in that area what with more vehicles and more people coming to this area or just passing through.

IMG07908-20140321-1247Espana Avenue ends at its junction with Quezon Boulevard and turning left leads the traveler to the Quiapo District.  The photo shows heavy traffic along the underpass and the elevated LRT Line 2.

IMG07909-20140321-1251Quiapo Church is just beside Quezon Boulevard and jeepneys loading and unloading passengers occupy up to 3 lanes nearest to the church.

IMG07910-20140321-1251There is a door at the side of the church along Quezon Boulevard and people seem to be everywhere even the middle of the road as they walk or wait to ride a jeepney.

IMG07911-20140321-1252Historic Plaza Miranda in front of the church is witness not only to a lot of the frenzied processions during the feast day of the Black Nazarene every January. Plaza Miranda has also been a venue for many political rallies including the infamous one in the early 1970s that was among the triggers for Martial Law. On “normal” days, the plaza is home to vendors, fortune tellers and other denizens of this area.

There are other popular churches around Metro Manila that attract a lot of people throughout the year and not just during feast days. Among these are Baclaran in Pasay City (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), St. Jude in Manila, Sto. Domingo in Quezon City, San Agustin and the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Manila. Nearby in Antipolo is the Shrine to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. These churches are among the busiest especially on certain days of the week (e.g., Wednesdays are for Baclaran, etc.) and with the coming Holy Week, a lot of people are again expected to flock to these churches for the Visita Iglesia tradition. Hopefully, these devotions are really a manifestation of faith rather than the pretentious kind where the road trip is more touristy than religious or prayerful.

Future fare collection for jeepneys and other modes?

In the last Electric Vehicle Summit held in late February this year, I noticed a conspicuous device installed in the electric jeepney unit that was on display at the venue. The device is for electronic payment of fares; using a card much like the ones being used in other countries like Singapore and Japan, and soon, hopefully, for the LRT and MRT in Metro Manila. Such a capability has a lot of potential including a very convenient way to pay fares for public transport in Metro Manila. Other potential uses would be for payments of items bought at stores or shops (or vending machines) like Japan’s Suica card. Users would just have to “top up” or load their cards for these to be used in their commutes or purchases.

2014-02-28 09.09.26The latest e-jeepney model features a side door instead of one at the rear.

2014-02-28 12.30.07Boarding passengers will encounter device upon entering the vehicle. The current technology available should soon enable passengers to use “tap” cards to pay for their fares.

2014-02-28 12.30.13Such a device will leas to a more efficient fare collection and eliminate the need for “conductors” or persons assisting the driver in taking passengers’ fares. These should also allow the driver to focus on driving rather than be distracted by fare collection including trying to keep track of who has paid and who has change due. This would likely translate into safer travel for most people.

2014-02-28 12.30.33Electronic boards at the top behind the driver can provide travel information such as the next stop or traffic conditions along the transit route. Such information can be derived from various sources including the MMDA or local governments as well as from crowd-sourcing. 

Driver’s personal insurance?

A friend of my father-in-law approached me to ask if there have been studies on requiring Philippine drivers to get personal insurance before being issued a driver’s license. I replied that I am unaware of any study or studies on this topic. I told him, though, that there have been discussions to require bus and trucks drivers to get certification from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to drive these large vehicles. The certification is the same required in other countries for foreign drivers seeking working in those countries. And so, prospective OFW drivers would have to take up the certification course at TESDA in order to qualify as drivers in other countries. These discussions were made at DOTC together with the LTO and the TESDA prior to 2010. Since then, I have no knowledge if such discussions were continued or if someone or some group pursued this. Based on what we see now on our roads where buses and trucks have been involved in many road crashes, I can only conclude that the certification initiative was not pursued for one reason or another.

The reason I was asked whether there were studies on the topic of driver insurance is that the person is part of a group (he didn’t reveal it to me and I didn’t ask him about the name) seeking for a bill to be filed for this insurance to be required prior to being given a license to drive. He told me that this is based on the system in the US, where prospective drivers are required to get insurance as a prerequisite to being issued a license to drive. The premium for the insurance is dependent on the record of the driver and increases significantly with the person’s involvement in a road crash where he or she is proven as the guilty party. The premium also increases when drivers are found to have violated traffic rules and regulations, and the data based on citations or tickets issued by apprehending officers are transmitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which is the equivalent of our Land Transportation Office (LTO). The idea is for drivers involved in crashes or frequently violated traffic rules and regulations to be charged a higher premium until a point when there will be no legitimate companies willing to insure the driver because of his record. Alternatively, the driver might be forced to give up on driving because he or she could no longer afford the steep premium resulting from his/her own actions on the road.

This is actually a good idea and one that probably is worth looking into in more detail by our LTO if it is to use this as a way to reduce errant drivers on the road. I would propose that higher premiums should be required of public transport drivers who would be responsible for a lot of lives. Truck drivers can have their premiums dependent on what kind of trucks they drive. Perhaps higher premiums are for those driving tankers or lorries carrying sensitive or high value freight. The bottom line, of course, is how such a system can be operationalised or implemented. There is also that thing about enforcement and the sharing of information between apprehending entities (e.g., PNP, local police or local government staff) and the LTO for the data required to assess a driver’s record whenever he or she renews his or her license. There will always be loopholes and/or fixers somewhere but these should not deter the authorities from seeking a better system than what we have now where drivers can “get away with murder” sometimes quite literally.

120-passenger capacity AGT prototype

The DOST-MIRDC has built another prototype vehicle for its Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) project. The vehicle is larger than the one at the University of the Philippines Diliman as each vehicle would have a capacity of 120 passengers (seated and standing). They are also building another elevated test track at the MIRDC compound across from the main DOST compound in Bicutan, Taguig City, and along Gen. Santos Avenue. This is a significant upgrade from the 30-passenger capacity vehicles at UP Diliman (60 for a 2-car train) as a 2-car train with 240 passengers means much more capacity for a real line using such vehicles. To compare, 5-minute headways along one direction could carry 720 passengers per hour for the UP Diliman prototype while the Bicutan model can carry 2,880 passengers per hour.

2014-03-14 15.57.30Two prototype AGT vehicles with maximum capacity of 120 passengers at the MIRDC compound in Bicutan, Taguig City.

2014-03-14 15.58.07The design is very much the same as the first prototype vehicle, with its distinctive look including the snout, headlights and skirt.

2014-03-14 15.57.05The vehicle looks like it was inspired by the large provincial buses that, if seats are configured as benches and the body is stretched to be longer, can accommodate more passengers.

2014-03-14 15.58.16The MIRDC is also building a test track in Bicutan within their compound and parallel to Gen. Santos Avenue.

I don’t know how long this elevated test track will be but to be able to have substantial tests for the new vehicles this should be longer and would need to be extended beyond the MIRDC compound. That means the tracks would pass through land occupied by the Polytechnical University of the Philippines (PUP), which is a state university, and Camp Bagong Diwa, which is under the Philippine National Police. Can this line serve the areas along Gen. Santos Avenue? I think so but it will be competing with tricycles and jeepneys. Tricycles are the dominant public transport mode here despite Gen. Santos being a national road. Taguig City would have to find a way to address issues pertaining to a reduction or phase-out of tricycles as the communities in the area might be dependent (unfortunately) on these for their livelihood.

DPWH and DOTC merger

I had posted on one of my social media accounts about the idea of a merger of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) to become the Department of Land Use, Public Works, Transportation and Communication or DLUPWTC (that’s definintely a mouthful). While it was April Fool’s, I got a lot of comments agreeing with the idea. One friend even gave a short history review noting that DOTC used to be DPWTC and what is now DPWH used to be DPH.

The idea of a merger of agencies is not a new idea nor is it a novel one if you look at the potential more closely. In fact, the Japanese already did such mergers many years ago when they created “super ministries” in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. These would be like merging the NEDA, DTI into one agency, the DPWH, DOTC, HUDCC, HLURB into another agency, the DepEd, CHED and DOST into a single entity. Such was undertaken in order to promote efficiency in government services in Japan by streamlining the bureaucracy among agencies that are supposed to have strong linkages if not overlapping responsibilities.

This idea makes sense for the DPWH and DOTC, and more so now that there seems to be a dearth in leadership over at the transport department while the public works and highways department is enjoying a resurgence, revitalized by a strong secretary. While these two agencies have cooperated for the longest time, much is still desired for a seamless collaboration where DOTC might serve as The Planning Agency while DPWH might be The Implementing Agency. They would probably work best under the guidance of a single strong leadership who would have a vision for a much improved future transport for the country and a knack for how to realize this vision.

Think about it and suddenly its not a joke worthy of April Fool’s Day.