Caught (up) in traffic

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Monthly Archives: February 2015

Enforcing bus lanes along Commonwealth Avenue

Commonwealth Avenue always seems to be the subject of road safety or traffic discipline initiatives every now and again. Quezon City together with partners in other government agencies like the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) have embarked on another program aimed at reducing the occurrence of road crashes and other incidents along this busy corridor. It actually reminds me of the “traffic discipline zone” designation of Commonwealth not a decade ago and before public transport lanes were physically allocated along the highway.

They are failing miserably if I am to base success on observations of the behavior of drivers of  public transport vehicles alone along this major highway. They get away with a lot of reckless driving including suddenly switching lanes, speeding, and tailgating. There are also cases where vehicles and pedestrians cross the wide highway at points that are prone to crashes. I am not aware of a lot of apprehensions being made of these reckless drivers along Commonwealth except perhaps at the foot of the Tandang Sora flyover where MMDA enforcers seem to be congregating on most days armed with one of two of the agency’s speed guns. But then it seems “business as usual” for the same drivers and riders along the rest of Commonwealth so the initiatives are not effective deterrents against irresponsible road use.

2015-02-01 09.39.02You can always see buses on the wrong side of the road along Commonwealth Avenue especially along the section between Fairview Market and Regalado. They do this to get ahead of other buses and then bully their way to make a stop or turn right at an intersection.

2015-02-01 09.39.15This bus in particular was weaving in traffic, bullying smaller vehicles to give way as it raced other buses along Commonwealth Avenue. Such behavior among public transport drivers is one of the major ingredients for road crashes.

It’s been a year now since the tragic crash involving an out of line provincial bus in the Cordillera. That was partly the result of poor monitoring and enforcement by the LTFRB. While the major reason for the crash was reckless driving (i.e., the driver was allegedly speeding at a critical section of the highway), this could have been avoided if the bus wasn’t operating in the first place. The very same policies along Commonwealth apply to these provincial buses and fatal crashes could’ve been avoided or minimised if the LTFRB can just exercise its mandate effectively.

On jaywalking, overpasses and informal terminals

I had some errands last December and decided to take public transport instead of taking our car and wasting time parking the vehicle. There was significantly less traffic at that time of the year because schools already on Christmas break and everyone else seemed to be on the slow side of the holiday mode (read: not in shopping mode). I needed to cross the wide road that is Quezon Avenue and there was a sign where I usually crossed that it was now prohibited to cross there. I had to take the overpass to get to the other side and to the jeepney stop to board one to get back to the university.

The overpass at the Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. intersection is under-utilized. I base this on the several times I’ve used the overpass. Most people prefer to cross at road level, taking advantage of the traffic signal cycle that allows for gaps in the traffic for pedestrians to cross safely. Of course, there are those who cross any time and seem to tempt fate by their behaviour. They seem to tempt also the MMDA traffic enforcers assigned in the area but from what I have observed, enforcement of the “no jaywalking” policy is usually lax or non-existent. People regularly cross at ground level in plain view of traffic enforcers.

IMG10030-20150115-0922A vendor set-up at the corner of the pedestrian overpass at the Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. intersection. Obviously, there are few pedestrians using this overpass as most prefer to cross at ground level.

IMG10033-20150115-0923More vendors on the overpass – fortunately, there were few pedestrians using the overpass at the time. Its not the same for other overpasses that are crowded due in part to vendors occupying much of the facility.

IMG10034-20150115-0923The stairs for many overpasses around Metro Manila are a bit on the steep side. That’s generally not okay with senior citizens, children or persons with disabilities.

There is an informal, on-street jeepney terminal right at the foot of the overpass. If you are in a hurry, its best to try to board a jeepney on the second lane as they are more likely to proceed when the approach is given a green light. From my experience, it takes about 2-3 cycles before the “queued” jeepneys finally cross the intersection. It takes that time to at least have several passengers for the jeepneys before it proceeds to cross the intersection. Most passengers here are transferring from jeepneys plying routes along Araneta Ave. There shouldn’t be an informal terminal here and jeepneys occupy 1-2 lanes of the road at a critical point – the intersection approach. This means intersection capacity is significantly affected and many vehicles could not proceed as they are blocked by the jeepneys. Special mention is made of vehicles wanting to make a right turn but have to go through this “gauntlet” of public utility vehicles. Again, there are MMDA enforcers in the area but it seems the jeepneys and the barkers hold sway and likely with the blessing of enforcers. Such situations are commonplace in Metro Manila and many other cities, and contribute to traffic congestion and other problems commuters regularly encounter.

Legit or kabit?

Traveling one morning from Antipolo, I spotted a bus with a familiar company name – EMBC. The last time I saw these buses operating as public transport was when I was in college, and I thought that the company folded up after losing money. However, I have seen some of their buses being used as shuttle services. It seems that the company has been revived but how is a bit unclear. EMBC stands for Eastern Metropolitan Bus Corporation, which was an old company that served the towns of Rizal along with the Antipolo Bus Co., G-Liner and CERT buses during the 1970’s and 1980’s. EMBC buses competed with the Antipolo Buses with their routes overlapping between Tikling Junction in Taytay, Rizal and Divisoria via Ortigas Avenue, E. Rodriguez Ave. (C-5), Pasig Blvd., Shaw Blvd., and Aurora Blvd. These two had overlapping routes with G-Liner and CERT, which plied the Taytay/Cainta to Quiapo route via the same Ortigas Ave. Extension.

IMG09778-20141210-0850The back of the EMBC bus states that it is run by RRCG Transport with a route connecting Siniloan, Laguna and Ayala Avenue-PICC (it probably turns around at the PICC, where Gil Puyat/Buendia Ave. terminates).

IMG09779-20141210-0854Closer inspection reveals that the bus is operated by Jasper Jean, another bus company that is better known for its Fairview-Alabang services.

EMBC is an old company and one that has been dormant if not extinct for quite some time. Was its franchise resurrected like what allegedly happened to another old bus company, BLTBCo. a few years ago? In this latter case, certain LTFRB officials were supposed to have been axed as they were allegedly behind the revival or “resurrection” of the franchise. I think it is not a “resurrection” case as I have also seen what looked like legitimate EMBC buses with information on the bus body showing EMBC as the operator of the bus unit. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to take a photo of such examples. Thus, it is likely that the bus in the photo above is a case of “kabit.”

The concept of “kabit” (literally “connect” in English) in public transportation is not a new one. It has been used (and abused) in many cases) where the existing franchise holder(s) along a specific route could not deploy the number of vehicles necessary to address the demand for transport. In such cases, the franchisee (an operator) enlists other entities to provide the vehicles. And so there is an agreement among the formal franchise holder/operator and the “kabit” entities outside the contract between the government and the franchisee.

This is one reason why it is not necessarily the main company (franchise holder) that can be the guilty party in an incident involving one bus. However, the penalties (e.g., suspension and fines) are imposed on the franchisee and not necessarily to the “kabit” operators. The latter’s vehicles in turn continue to operate despite the suspension being technically applicable to ALL vehicles bearing the company’s name. Such are among the many issues concerning “kabit” and perhaps also among the strongest arguments to put a stop to this practice that is detrimental to the interests of people taking these buses.

Mactan Cebu airport departure

The trip to Cebu would not be complete without taking new photos of Mactan Airport’s departure lounge. This was already expanded and improved a few years ago to accommodate the steady increase in the number of visitors to Cebu. It will soon be part of a major project to expand and upgrade the airport so perhaps this year will see the start of a transformation of sorts for the airport. Following are a few photos describing the departure area.

IMG09994-20150111-1221A crowded departure lounge greets travelers upon completing the final security check. The boxes at the right and near the garbage bins are containers for items prohibited from being hand carried to the aircraft.

IMG09995-20150111-1221Passengers tend to congregate near the eateries and shops even if their gates were a few minutes walk away.

IMG09996-20150111-1221Eateries and other concessionaires at the airport departure lounge include those offering Cebu lechon, dimsum, donuts, sandwiches and others.

IMG09997-20150111-1222There’s a small screen showing the status of flights. I think the airport should eventually have a bigger screen for such useful information.

IMG10001-20150111-1238The District Emporium specializes on locally made stuff including bags, accessories, crafts, footwear and other interesting items travelers can take home as souvenirs.

IMG10002-20150111-1243List of Cebu Pacific flights boarding at our gate and the one near it. These many flights meant a very crowded waiting area. You can see from the photo passengers standing and seated on the floor as they wait for their planes to arrive and be called for boarding.

IMG10003-20150111-1355Inside the departure area that was apparently all for CebPac flights, many seats are actually unoccupied by people. Many seats have bags or other stuff on them care of passengers who tend to hog seats for themselves.

IMG10004-20150111-1355Another look at the area for departing passengers.

I expect to be in Cebu at least one more time this year. We have a big conference coming up in September for the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies. This is a biannual international conference that is hosted by different Asian cities and which the Philippines will be hosting for a second time (The first conference was held in Manila in 1995.). We’ll see if there is a drastic change by then as the airport project is one that is tentatively listed as part of the technical tours for the conference.