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On being constructively skeptical on transport and traffic

August 2016
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Social media is full of news or what is being passed off as news about various transport projects or initiatives. These include a proposed subway line for Metro Manila, road sharing initiatives, inter-island bridges, gateway airports and others major infrastructure projects that are being conceptualized, planned, studied or designed. Too often, people who support the projects/initiatives brand those who do not share their enthusiasm and interest as skeptics and even simply “nega” or negative people. These supporters and their opposites are most likely those who fall under one or more of the following categories:

  • Overly optimistic
  • Unaware of the process towards a project’s realization
  • Troll
  • Naive

Hopefully, he/she is not of the third kind who basically are posting against anyone and don’t really have any valuable opinion or constructive comment to offer. There are many groups and individuals out there including those who claim to be fanatics of urban planning, railways and other things on transport. Some even get to write in mainstream media. Unfortunately, to the untrained minds their opinions passed on as expert advise appear to be legit and that can be especially true to people who are more inclined to believe them such as very fanatics and trolls I mentioned. It is very important that proper research is undertaken before any article is written. Otherwise, there will always be bias. Of course, some articles are written with bias a given and with the objective of misleading people.

When government officials (or candidates) claim something and offer nothing as concrete proof (e.g., numbers to support a claim of improving traffic), one has to think twice about believing them. One has to be critical of such claims. Promises are often just that – promises. It is important to ask how certain programs or projects will be delivered, how infrastructure will be implemented (i.e., through what mode of financing, timelines, etc.), and what would be its impacts (i.e., social, environmental, traffic). Of course, it should be expected that officials provide suitable answers to these queries.

It should also be expected for officials to understand that institutions such as the academic ones are there to provide objective criticism. Unfortunately, there are those in the academe who themselves have some agenda they are pushing and can be deliberately misleading and misinforming with their flawed assessments and statements. Then there are experts who offer nothing but negative comments. To these people, any idea not coming from them are essentially wrong and it is often difficult to deal with such people among whom are experienced engineers and planners. Being a skeptic is one thing but being a constructive skeptic. That is, one who offers solutions and also willing to tread the middle ground or some reasonable compromise based on the situation and conditions at hand.

This is why an evidence-based approach is needed and should be mainstreamed in many government agencies, particularly those that are involved in evaluations.  National agencies like the NEDA, DOTr and the DPWH have the capacity and capability to perform quantitative analysis using recent, valid data. The quality of data tells a lot about the evidence to back up analyses, evaluations and recommendations. One must not forget that with quantitative analysis it is always “garbage in, garbage out”. That is, if you have crappy data, then you will have flawed analysis, evaluations and recommendations.


2 Comments

  1. Maybe it is high time for the academe to become more involved with not just the government but also with the general public as well. Because to be blunt, without considerable support from the latter, considerable support from the former would probably be also hard to get because the academe can’t really seem to exert much pressure on these people in government as most of the people there really can’t seem to care less other than their own current views.

    Given the above, these researched Ideas will still then just stay as only ideas and that is probably something that should really change. Because for some of these ideas, I guess a call for a move to actual experimentation from simulations and projections would surely be very fruitful and beneficial. Since many people can’t seem to grasp the theoretical aspects of things like these, concrete and practical applications of these things will surely be appreciated by the general public as they will be able to see for themselves the possible improvements given the said ideas. Also not to mention that the academe can also then gather valuable feedback and data that, which from what I can see, is something severely lacking with regards to the problems that we have now. Nevertheless, if all goes well, the general public would probably take it into their own hands to put pressure on government to implement and scale up the said ideas. If not, well, there is still the new data and feedback so constant re-improvement is still probably bound to happen.

    Lastly, as a general observation with regards to many people in the country: Jumping in head-first would probably be the best course of action. Improvising and improving ideas as things go along is something that people do really well here. Though as a systems person, it may indeed suck. But it is probably better than nothing, no?

    • d0ctrine says:

      Many in the academe are actually already very much involved in trying to alleviate transport and traffic problems. Only, they are involved as consultants with contracts from government, private sector or agencies like the WB or ADB. As such, they are not recognised as academics but rather as consultants. Ideal would be a set-up much like that in developed countries were the academe are engaged and involved as partners and universities are immersed in doing R&D and real-world tinkering of transport issues. The Transport Centre and Institute of Transport Studies model in the US comes to mind where government and private sector allocate funding for R&D not just for scholarly work but for practical applications that allow government to tap universities as their think tanks to evaluate and validate transport policies, programs and projects.

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