Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: August 2014

2014 Professorial Chair lectures on transport topics

The 2014 Professorial Chair Colloquium of UP Diliman’s College of Engineering was held from yesterday until today. Most of the lectures concerning transport were presented today. Here are some of the highlights of the lectures delivered this morning:

     IMG09188-20140829-0908Dr. Ric Sigua, Director of the Institute of Civil Engineering, making a point about the economics of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

IMG09189-20140829-0949Dr. Sean Palmiano, Director of the National Center for Transportation Studies, explaining the finer points of traffic impact assessment for high density residential developments.

IMG09190-20140829-1019Prof. Happy Denoga of the Department of Mechanical Engineering explaining on the advantages of hybrid systems for vehicles.

IMG09191-20140829-1038Dr. Karl Vergel of the Institute of Civil Engineering talking about the on-road tests for jeepneys using B5 or 5% CME-blended fuels in a project commissioned by the Philippine Coconut Authority.

IMG09192-20140829-1041Comparison of jeepney mileage using 2% and 5% blended fuels.

IMG09193-20140829-1049Dr. Edwin Quiros of the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Vehicle Research and Testing Laboratory (VRTL)  discussing the dynamometer tests conducted for jeepneys using B5 fuel.

There were other presentations but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend these as lectures were spread among various venues at the college. That’s often the hang-up of having parallel sessions during these colloquiums. Nevertheless, it is nice to know that transport remains a popular subject for these lectures.

On logistics in the Philippines

I am not a logistics expert and will not pretend to be one. I have, however, been involved in several projects that included logistics as a major study component. These include a nationwide study on inter-regional passenger and freight flow and another for freight forwarders affected by vehicle restraint policies in Metro Manila.  A more recent engagement has allowed me to take a look at logistics in the country from other perspectives including that of national agencies seeking to improve goods movement in the country and development agencies that have committed to help the country to do just that. There are local issues and there are regional ones. The regional ones often involve the need for infrastructure such as maritime ports and airports, highways and bridges, and other facilities such as those for storage and refrigeration.

For an archipelago like the Philippines, logistics is a bit more challenging than in countries whose territories are not separated by bodies of water. There is no lack for good practices though as there are other archipelagos that could provide good examples for connecting the islands such as Japan and the United Kingdom. Nearby, we share similar challenges with Indonesia and to a certain extent Malaysia. Of course, availability of resources is always an issue and particularly for the prioritization of infrastructure to be constructed aside from those that need to be maintained. The DOTC along with its attached agencies like the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are in the frontline when it comes to airports and ports planning, development, and maintenance are concerned. However, the DPWH plays a vital role for highways and bridges and the connections for these ports and airports including what is termed as “last-mile” connectivity that is often passed on as a responsibility of local governments. This is likely due to local roads often providing the connection between national roads (under the DPWH) and ports and airports. It is a good thing that the current DPWH has committed to a convergence program regarding national and local roads that has benefited a lot of sectors and industries like tourism and agriculture.

Rail transport is not mentioned here because there is practically none even for what remains of the once relatively extensive PNR main lines. The local issues are not simpler and can be a bit more complicated than the regional ones. The complications are usually due to more petty circumstances that may involve politics and local power plays. The basic ingredients though are related to traffic congestion and the damage to roads and bridges attributed to trucks.

Many cities and municipalities have implemented truck bans along their major roads. These are usually one or two routes in the smaller cities and towns, usually passing through the “bayan,” “poblacion” or central business district (CBD). These roads are usually national roads (e.g., McArthur Highway and the Pan Philippine Highway pass through many towns). As such, there are cases where bypass roads are constructed to alleviate congestion along these roads as well as to try to preserve the pavements in the town proper. Such traffic schemes targeting heavy vehicles are not new and are also a way to address the issue on overloading that is common in trucking in the Philippines. The bypass roads, however, generally invite development and unplanned development have often made these alternate routes more congested than the original ones.

Manila did a “power play” recently by implementing a more aggressive truck ban. This led to more severe congestion around the Port of Manila and a lot of delays that have cost a lot of money in part due to the limited alternative routes in the city and most roads are already constricted. The costs have repercussions on the economy in general as the movement of goods are affected by the impasse in Manila. Whether this was for more political or practical reasons is difficult to say because the mayor and vice mayor have invoked the very common issues of traffic congestion, road safety and pavement maintenance that got the attention, sentiment and agreement of a lot of people. Many of these people though do not understand the impacts of inefficient goods movement and likely are concerned only about passenger transportation.

More recently, a lot of containers were shipped from the Port of Manila to Subic. These are supposedly “overstaying” shipments or those that have not been claimed for a long time or have some issues regarding their release. This should ease congestion somehow but there remain the problems of shipping or logistics companies regarding freight transport in general that needs to be addressed. Both Subic and Batangas ports have been mentioned in many formal studies over the past few years including a more recent one supported by JICA. Still, there is a lot of hesitation if not confusion or uncertainty on how to go about with shifting goods movement to these ports, which are regarded to be underutilized. There are good roads connecting these ports with cities and towns but these might not be enough in the long run.

Perhaps there is a need to reconsider regional rail transport again especially for the islands of Luzon and Mindanao where long distance rail may have a tremendous impact for transporting goods over long distances. Of course, there are also issues pertaining to other ports and airports in the country including those in Mindanao (e.g., Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Phividec, Gen. Santos, etc.) and Visayas (e.g., Cebu, Iloilo, Tacloban, etc.). The RORO ports are among those that need attention as they are directly involve road transport aside from the ferries that carry them over the waters. These nautical highways are vital for goods movement around the country and require both national agencies and local governments cooperating for these facilities and services to function efficiently.

Transport related topics at the 2014 Professorial Chair Colloquium

The 2014 Professorial Chair Colloquium of the College of Engineering of the University of the Philippines Diliman will be held from August 28 – 29, 2014 at five venues at the college. Following are the transport-related topics to be presented at the colloquium:

Dr. Nathaniel B. Diola, “Performance Standards for Concrete Roads,” Prof. Jose Ma. Diago de Castro Professorial Chair in Civil Engineering [0830-0850, GE Theater, 4F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

Asst. Prof. Adeline A. Pacia, “A Study on the Application and Impact of Eco-Driving Seminars Conducted by UP-NEC,” Cesar E.A. Virata-Daikin Industries Ltd. UP Centennial Professorial Chair Award [1030-1050, GE Theater, 4F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

Dr. Ricardo G. Sigua, “Identification of BRT Corridors in Metro Manila,” Dean Reynaldo B. Vea Professorial Chair [0830-0850, Maynilad Room, 3F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

Dr. Jose Regin F. Regidor, “Philippine Transport on a Diet: Low Carb Systems for the Future,” Cesar A. Buenaventura Professorial Chair [0850-0910, Maynilad Room, 3F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

Dr. Hilario Sean O. Palmiano, “Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) for Site Development in the Philippines,” Cesar Buenaventura UP Centennial Professorial Chair in Engineering [0910-0930, Maynilad Room, 3F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

Asst. Prof. Gerald Jo C. Denoga, “Development of a Parallel Hybrid Sprint Car,” Dean Ruben Garcia Professorial Chair Award [0930-0950, Maynilad Room, 3F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

Dr. Karl B.N. Vergel, On-Road Test of 5% CME Biodiesel in Public Utility Jeepneys,” DATEM & ACES Professorial Chair [0950-1010, Maynilad Room, 3F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

Dr. Edwin N. Quiros, “Comparative Drive Cycle Fuel Economy of In-Use Public Utility Jeepneys Using 2% and 5% CME-Diesel Blends,” Ariston Delos Reyes Professorial Chair in Energy Engineering [1010-1030, Maynilad Room, 3F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

Asst. Prof. Joseph Gerard T. Reyes, “Comparison of the Characteristics of Coco-Methyl Ester Biodiesel with other Biodiesels,” Quezon Power Philippines Professorial Chair in Engineering [1030-1050, Maynilad Room, 3F, Melchor Hall, August 29]

The colloquium is open to the public.

Re: traffic congestion along Katipunan

Yesterday was a holiday in Quezon City so most offices and schools were closed. It was not a holiday elsewhere so through traffic along Katipunan Avenue would have been “normal.” This is assumed especially for trucks that have been blamed as the cause of the severe congestion. I was curious about how traffic would be with the holiday in QC and through traffic could practically be “isolated.” There still was significant traffic generated by establishments like restaurants and cafes along Katipunan. It was a regular weekday and not like it was a Sunday. Following are photos that were taken around 2:00 PM when the truck ban is not enforced in the area.

IMG09162-20140819-1328Free-flowing traffic along the section across from the UP Town Center – There were no long queues at the approach to the Katipunan-C.P. Garcia intersection. 

IMG09163-20140819-1331Free-flowing traffic along Katipunan across from Ateneo – the two universities generated few private car traffic yesterday during a period when there’s usually a lot coming in and out of the campuses due to the dismissals in the early afternoon.

IMG09164-20140819-1332Free-flowing traffic along the Katipunan-Aurora overpass – in the early afternoons, the northbound side of Katipunan is usually full of vehicles mainly private cars and trucks. While there were many trucks yesterday, their numbers were not enough to cause traffic jams.

I think the traffic situation yesterday provided a clear picture that the major traffic generators along Katipunan are mainly the reason for traffic congestion along the stretch from Blue Ridge to Balara. These are mostly the schools (Ateneo, Miriam and UP) that generate so much private vehicle traffic on weekdays and Saturdays. Sundays are different because there’s no school nor work at offices on this day. With the QC holiday, the through traffic was still there owing to work and school in other cities (e.g., Residents of QC would still have to travel to Makati or Ortigas if their workplaces are located there. Similarly, students residing in QC whose schools are in the University Belt in Manila would have to travel.). This means there is really a need to understand why there is congestion and what causes it. A lot more effort is needed for this understanding and to ultimately reduce traffic congestion along this stretch of C5. Pointing fingers among agencies and simply putting the blame on one sector of traffic (e.g., trucks) will not get us anywhere. The solution will require strong cooperation among stakeholders and will definitely be not a painless undertaking for many.

Sound opinions on transport and traffic

One of my favorite reads is the column by former NEDA Director General Cielito Habito on the Philippine Daily Inquirer ( Regardless of whether he is writing about transport or any other topic, his articles are consistently clear and logical. Here are a couple of articles from his column “No Free Lunch” about the more recent transport and traffic issues.

Traffic dilemmas – which appeared August 12, 2014

More railways in our future – which appeared August 19, 2014

I’m not sure if those in-charge or responsible for planning and building our transportation system read his columns. They will learn a lot from these articles especially as the former NEDA DG is practically sharing his experience and wisdom – things badly needed these days especially at the DOTC.

Proof of concept

I recall a quote from the cold war era when Nikita Kruschev was supposed to have asked “how many divisions did the Pope had under his command?” This was basically a challenge to the Pope after the latter made some statements regarding the Soviet Union and its military action in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. A similar challenge could be made, albeit vastly reworded, for many advocates of various transport programs and projects to prove they had the numbers or the proof to support their calls for certain projects or programs to be implemented. Often, the proof comes in the form of examples or demonstrations of their proposals. Simplest perhaps would be to present examples of best or good practices in other countries (e.g., bicycle paths in Europe, transit in Singapore, walkways in Japan, etc.).

One that is still fresh in my mind is what has been said to be the “challenge” of Malacanan to the DOTC to present a “proof of concept” for BRT as a pre-requisite of the proposed project in Cebu to be approved. This “challenge” boggled the minds of many experts and advocates of public transportation as BRT is well established around the world and there are many cities with BRT systems worth emulating (To be accurate, there have also been failures but these were mainly due to compromises made that led to the systems not adhering to essential BRT requirements.). What’s stranger was the response from DOTC to do a demonstration via an experiment at Bonifacio Global City to simulate BRT operations. Obviously, this experiment could not be a really good approximation of BRT (something along Commonwealth would have been more suitable) given the conditions at the Fort.

With the recent approval of the Cebu BRT project, we now look forward to its construction and operation. I am aware of how much work was put into the non-technical aspects of this project (i.e., social and institutional) and so a lot of eyes will be on changes to Cebu City’s transport system once the BRT becomes operational and the expected rationalisation of the existing public transport routes and vehicles would take place. There will definitely be a transition period and it is not known how long this will be or how much opposition the change will encounter. Doing workshops and consultations, and getting commitments here and there is one thing. Having the BRT operational and actually affecting the operations (and revenues) of conventional road transport is another matter.

Many cities will look to Cebu’s experience and probably emulate it should the BRT be a success. Metro Manila is too complicated for other cities to identify with unlike Cebu, which likely has similar transport and traffic issues to cities like, for example, Iloilo, Bacolod, Cagayan De Oro or Legazpi. Of course, there will be exceptions and unique problems for each but density-wise, Cebu compares well with more cities in the country than Metro Manila. Here’s hoping that the BRT would finally have its true and actual “proof of concept” in Cebu and that this can demonstrate the benefits of such a system to other Philippine cities along with a necessary rationalisation of existing public transport modes.

Airport taxi at NAIA?

I have been hearing and reading a lot about horrible experiences of various people including friends on airport taxis. All the stories seem to be about getting a taxi at NAIA where airport management has “accredited” one or a few companies to provide airport taxi services. This exclusiveness has clearly become disadvantageous to many passengers who have not previously arranged for someone to pick them up at the airport (e.g., a relative, a friend, his/her company vehicle, or maybe transport service from the hotel where they will be staying). The coupon taxi services, however, is usually the safer bet for those unfamiliar with Metro Manila as regular meter taxis often “prey” on travellers who are not knowledgeable about fares and traffic conditions. Often, one would have to negotiate for fares though there are honest cab drivers who would do their jobs without haggling or demanding for tips.

Allow me to cite a number of examples in international airport terminals abroad and in other Philippine cities where getting a taxi at the airport is relatively straightforward and stress-free:

1. In Singapore’s Changi Airport, you can easily get a cab at any of the terminals. You just get into the queue (if there is any) and get the next available taxi. The drivers do not discriminate among potential passengers and the only question asked is about the destination of the passenger. Sometimes, the driver will ask about a passenger’s preferred route as there are toll roads between Changi and the destination. There are bus and rail services connecting the airport to the rest of the city-state and many passengers also choose these options.

2. In Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, you can also get a taxi at the queue at the basement level. There are airport taxi counters at the lobby as passengers come out of the arrivals but these are the more “exclusive” companies and charge more per vehicle. However, if you are a group comprised of at least 4 people, then it would be cost effective to engage these companies as they can provide a larger vehicle (e.g., van) that can be more comfortable than a regular taxi. This is particularly recommended for people who have a lot of luggage like families. Otherwise, you can take a regular cab at the basement level queue. These are metered taxi but some may negotiate a fixed (and therefore higher) rate. Transfer to another if you don’t agree with the driver.

3. In Cebu’s Mactan Airport, the taxi bay is a just a few minutes walk from the arrival area. There is a queue and a security guard issues a ticket with information on the taxi (license plate number and company) that he gives to the passengers as reference should there be complaints on the driver as well as in cases where some belongings are left in the taxi.

4. In Iloilo, there are many taxis to choose from once you get out of the airport terminal. There are many taxi service counters just outside the arrival area and passengers can engage any of these companies for a ride to the city or other destinations. My Ilonggo friends will definitely recommend Light of Glory as their taxi company of choice. This company is highly regarded for their quality of service that includes honesty among its drivers. You can also contact them to make arrangements for transport between your hotel/accommodations and the airport.

5. In Davao, there is a regular taxis queue just outside the terminal building and the city has a transport enforcement unit that is stricter than most LGUs. This ensures that taxis will likely comply with traffic rules and regulations including the safe conveyance of passengers to/from the airport. These are metered taxis though there will always be taxi drivers who will attempt to negotiate fares or tips with the passengers. This will not be done at the airport as airport or city staff will be on watch at the terminal. Instead, the negotiations are done once the passenger is inside the taxi and leaving the airport.

Of course, in the international airports I mentioned, there is the option of taking the airport express train instead of taking a cab. Both Changi and Suvarnabhumi, for example, have excellent rail connections, and more experienced travelers would probably take these train services over taxis as they are less expensive and allow for shorter travel times (i.e., taxis can be caught in congested roads especially during peak periods).

NAIA desperately needs good options for public transport such as airport limousines or more dependable taxi services. Sadly, getting a taxi in Metro Manila is basically a “hit or miss” affair. There is a 50/50 chance that you will get a good taxi driver so there is an equal chance that you will get a bad one. At the airport, there might be a higher likelihood that one can get a bad taxi if we assume that taxi drivers might be  deliberately taking advantage of potential passengers who are not familiar with Metro Manila and its taxis. As mentioned earlier, more experienced travellers would likely have pre-arranged transport between the airport and their destinations. So the coupon taxis would have to do for now and until there are better options for transport including more reliable regular metered taxi services.