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Working with big data on transportation

There have been a few initiatives working on big data from government agencies whose responsibilities are primarily on transportation. Among them are past projects implemented by the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) and current projects being implemented by UPD, Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and De La Salle University (DLSU) with support from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). While these projects are more oriented towards some specific objectives often linked to research & development (mandates of DOST and these academic institutions), there are still a lot of data out there that needs to be digitized, processed and analyzed. UPD has done this to some extent through its National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS), which had been a repository for data and reports from DOTC and DPWH. However, the center does not have a funded program to undertake that repository or archival function it is expected to do. Despite much lip service from DOTC, DPWH and NEDA, no support has been extend by these agencies in the past many years.

I recently came upon this excellent work from a private firm specializing in data science. Here’s a link to one of their recent ‘stories’ showing us relevant statistics on road safety in Metro Manila:

http://stories.thinkingmachin.es/road-danger-pedestrians/

Their website says the data set the stats and graphs are based from are from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which maintains the Metro Manila Accident Reporting and Analysis System (MMARAS). This is good work and something road safety experts can use to be able to come up with programs and projects to improve safety in Metro Manila. I hope they could also get a hand of the DPWH’s Traffic Accident Reporting and Analysis System (TARAS) data that covers national roads. Unfortunately, the DPWH has stopped encoding TARAS data recently (the PNP still collects data though) so I am not sure how recent their data set is.

We need more of such work on a lot of data our agencies are producing including data from the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Such information could be used to understand our transport systems including determining how to optimise supply and demand when combined with other data sets such as geographical information systems (GIS) and socio-economic data from the census.

 

Looking back at EST social marketing

With all that are happening today that are related to sustainable transport, I tend to pause and look back with a smile on how it was more many years ago when we were struggling to promote environmentally sustainable transport (EST). At that time, most local government units were not yet into sustainable transport and were unaware of the principles. There were a few who already had a project or program in place but didn’t know that these were classified as EST.

CAPACITY-BUILDING AND SOCIAL MARKETING FOR ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT

Under the project, we identified several local good practice examples for EST and invited representatives of those LGUs to spread the word to other LGUs. Those who regularly went with us to promote EST were representatives of the Marikina City Bikeways Office, and San Fernando, La Union’s City Planning Office who shared their experiences in phasing out 2-stroke motorcycle-run tricycles.

I recall that one major Visayan city wasn’t so receptive at the time as the City Planning Coordinator seemed more interested in international trainings and foreign assisted projects than the city actually developing sustainable programs and projects on its own. The irony now is that despite his being not so excited about sustainable transport that city now has good examples for EST including a bicycle corridor and pedestrian and bike-friendly riverside developments.

But there was the case of the very receptive and progressive City Planning Coordinator of another major Visayan city who helped us immensely in promoting EST. His eagerness, particularly for public transport options, paved the way for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to gain a foothold in the discussions paving the way for more efficient transit systems to be considered (and now planned and designed) for his city. That interest led to his city getting the attention of an international agency that brought in then former mayor and now the recently re-elected Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, to do talks about his city’s Trans Milenio BRT system. I remember a couple of visits of Mr. Penalosa including a series of dinner meetings sponsored by the private sector in Makati City who were interested in the Bogota’s transport success story.

We always wondered who, when and how EST would be advocated by others and particularly by a younger generation who would turn out to be more outspoken and aggressive in promoting EST. These include those calling for better public transport systems, those advocating for pedestrian and bicycle facilities, those pushing for safer roads, and those lobbying for clean air. With all that we are seeing now around us (Congratulations Firefly Brigade for a very successful Tour of the Fireflies last Sunday!) and on various media platforms, I strongly believe that we are on the right path towards achieving better quality, sustainable and equitable transport for everyone.

On data requirements and requests from the NCTS

The National Center for Transportation Studies of the University of the Philippines Diliman regularly gets a lot of requests for transport and traffic data. Most of these requests are quite specific for traffic counts along various roads. In many cases these are national roads but there are also requests for data on local roads. While the center has a library and laboratories where data and other information are available, most of those we can provide for public consumption may be quite dated and would need to be validated or updated. In certain cases, data were derived from our projects with private entities and we are not at liberty to share these without the permission of our clients. Many of these information are covered by non-disclosure agreements since these may be sensitive information or may lead to revealing projects that are still in the pipeline and which clients might prefer to keep to themselves at the time for one reason or another.

The best we could do for data requests would be to refer them to the sources or those who are supposed to collect data first-hand. For traffic counts along national roads, for example, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) publishes data on Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) for sections of national roads throughout the country. Most if not all these counts are made through manual surveys. That is, a team of surveyors literally count the number of vehicles according to categories set by the DPWH as they pass along specific road sections. Complacency, however, coupled with varying degree of quality control or supervision for manual counts can lead to erroneous data. Also, in several cases, one colleague allegedly was able to spot some trending that led him to conclude that some counts are actually projections from previous years rather than those derived from actual counts that should have been performed! It is highly recommended for researchers to make representations to the DPWH District Engineering Office where their study area or site is located or perhaps contact the many bureaus under the department (e.g., Bureau of Construction, Bureau of Design, Bureau of Maintenance, etc.) for other types of information.

Another source for transport data is the Land Transportation Office (LTO), which has information on vehicle registration and licensing. Unfortunately, not all of these data are published or readily available to researchers. Also, specific data requests (e.g., vehicle engine age, fuels, demographics of licenses drivers, etc.) are not easily accessible and may require time to process. In the past, we have also had first hand experience of the private IT company under contract with the LTO suggesting a fee for data processing. For public transport, the primary source would be the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), which would have information on road transport routes, franchises, number of units of buses, jeepneys or taxis, etc. These agencies are under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), which also has several other agencies under it.

While most local transport and traffic data (e.g., number of tricycles and pedicabs, traffic along local roads, etc.) are with local governments, LGUs generally do not have up-to-date transport and traffic data. Only a few conduct regular data collection or will have recent data that would be useful for any meaningful analysis. Even big cities that have been recipients of transport studies have not been able to update basic data like traffic counts and travel speed along major roads. Perhaps the only updated information they would have are AADT for national roads (care of the DPWH District Engineering Office) and data on the number of public transport vehicles like buses, jeepneys and tricycles within their jurisdictions. AADT data from the DPWH are limited to few stations along national roads and there are none for intersections where counts per movement are important for analysis. Meanwhile, public transport operational characteristics are not generally measured so only the number of registered vehicles are known, basically from the LTO, LTFRB and the local tricycle franchising office. And so for very specific data on specific roads, for example, it is recommended that primary data collection (i.e., field surveys) be conducted.

Contrary to popular belief, the Center no longer has copies of reports of the more recent major studies or projects on transportation and traffic. The DPWH and the DOTC no longer furnish the NCTS library with copies of such reports and this limits the recent materials in our library that can be used by researchers for whatever purpose they may have. And so, the center will usually refer researchers to these and other agencies for data or reports that they need for the work they are doing. If the Center knows specific people from the agencies who are involved in the study or project or have worked on the data that’s subject of the inquiry/request then the researcher will be referred to those people.

Carbon footprint accounting tool development

The French Development Agency (AFD) is supporting the capacity and capability building for Greenhouse Gas accounting for transport projects in the Philippines through a project connected with the current initiatives on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Part of their engagement is the development of a tool for assessing carbon footprints of transport projects that can easily be used by officials and staff involved in evaluation work. Consultation seminars were conducted last July with various agencies and particularly the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). And technology transfer is being undertaken through the National Center for Transportation Studies of the University of the Philippines Diliman, which will also be tasked with sharing the knowledge and providing training for the use of the tool for other users as well. A series of trainings were recently conducted by the consultant, Carbone 4, a Paris-based firm that was engaged by AFD for the project.

Julien Blanc of Carbone 4, the firm appointed by AFD to develop the GHG accounting tool, explains the features of the software.

NCTS Fellows, staff and graduate students participated in Day 1 of the training. Days 2 and 3 involved participants from various government agencies invited for the 1 day training.

Everyone was required to have a computer to have hands-on experience on using the tool with exercises provided by Julien.

In certain cases, Julien had to help out when some features did not work on some of the computers or when some participants had different results from what was expected from the exercises.

The tool is MS Excel-based and employs macros for calculations and to produce the graphs illustrating outputs such as fuel efficiency profiles for vehicles.

The tool is not yet completed as there are still features to be included but it is already a working version that allowed us to input values and manipulate the tool for familiarity. The tool was developed using MS Excel and employs macros for calculations and the production of graphs to illustrate outputs such as comparative fuel efficiency profiles for vehicles having different engines. The tool should be compatible with computers running the Windows or OS-X (Mac) systems.

The Transport Training Center

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the founding of an institution that since 1976 has been dedicated towards providing capacity on transportation engineering and planning mainly for the government of the Philippines. The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines was founded as the Transport Training Center (TTC) in July 12, 1976 by virtue of Letter of Instructions No. 428 by then Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos. The center was established at the UP Diliman campus with assistance from the Government of Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

LETTER OF INSTRUCTIONS NO. 428

TO : The Secretary of Public Highways
The President, University of the Philippines System
The Director-General, National Economic and
Development Authority
The Secretary of Public Works,
Transportation and Communications
The Commander, Constabulary Highway Patrol Group

WHEREAS, the present accelerated development program of the country coupled with rapid urbanization growth due to migration and population increase, has further aggravated the already complex traffic problems;

WHEREAS, there is an urgent need for trained personnel with adequate background and skill in transport planning, more specifically in the fields of traffic engineering and management;

WHEREAS, such need cannot be fully met by limited programs for technical training here and abroad;

WHEREAS, a Transport Training Center geared to provide intensive and practical training in the fields of traffic engineering, planning and management can provide the means for upgrading the capability and potential of a significant number of personnel in government agencies concerned with transportation; and

WHEREAS, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has offered to donate equipment needed for such training and to provide, for a period of three (3) years, several experts who shall, together with local Instructors, conduct the training course;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, FERDINAND E. MARCOS, President of the Philippines, in order to establish an efficient transport system that will provide a fast, safe and convenient movement of people and goods on all streets and highways do hereby direct:

1. The Secretary of the Department of Public Highways and the President of the University of the Philippines System to jointly establish, manage and operate a Transport Training Center within the campus of the University of the Philippines System;

2. The Secretary of the Department of Public Highways to include in its budget the yearly operational expenses of the Transport Training Center, starting from Calendar Year 1976, and for the succeeding years;

3. The Secretary of the Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communications to include in its budget (C.Y. 1976) an amount to cover the construction of the Transport Training Center building at UP;

4. The Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority to create a Steering Committee to be chaired by the representative from the Department of Public Highways, being the lead agency, and to draw one member each from all the concerned agencies. This Committee shall promulgate rules and regulations as guide to management, and such other policies deemed necessary for the effective and successful operation of the Training Center;

5. That all agencies concerned shall assist in every way possible, and to closely coordinate and take such measures as may be necessary or appropriate to carry out the purpose and intent of these instructions.

Done in the City of Manila, this 12th day of July, in the year of Our Lord, nineteen hundred and seventy-six.

EST and Green Urbanism

I had the great opportunity of presenting excerpts of the National Environmentally Sustainable Transport Strategy (NESTS) and talk about its implementation at the local level at the recently concluded Green Urbanism Conference. The Conference was organized by the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) of the University of the Philippines Diliman in cooperation with the Faculty of Design of Kyushu University, with support from various partners including AusAID. It ran from October 18-20, 2011 at the Heritage Hotel Manila, featuring a variety of topics divided into 5 sessions namely:

  • Green Cities
  • Green Architecture and Ecological Landscapes
  • Green Infrastructure
  • Environmentally Sustainable Transport
  • Developing Climate and Disaster Resilient Urban Centers
More details on the conference are available from the SURP’s homepage. Meanwhile, I reproduce the concluding section of the paper below for a quick look at the paper’s content:

“This paper presented current and past efforts focusing on sustainable transport. Many of these are continuing especially the promotion of good practices in EST that emanate from the national strategy that was recently formulated. The national EST strategy identifies action plans and the corresponding responsible agencies or entities. The key competencies and skill sets that will enable cities to formulate and implement meaningful programs and projects were also presented. More importantly, the paper examined the capacities of cities for transportation planning and recommended for collaborative agreements with local universities with sustainability in mind.

The general observation has been that LGUs are often unaware that certain programs and projects they are implementing or planning actually fall under EST. As such, they are unable to package their programs and projects in a way that can be attractive to both local and foreign support. One main objective of social marketing for EST is to assist cities by capacitating them with the fundamentals they would need to undertake projects geared towards sustainable transport.

The strategies developed for each EST thematic area are collectively called the national strategy and implies responsibility of a national agency for its implementation. Upon closer scrutiny, however, it must be realized that significant impacts will only be attained if EST is successfully implemented at the local level. The role of national agencies such as the DOTC and the DENR is to provide guidance and capacity to cities for the latter to be able to come up with meaningful programs and projects. After all, while big ticket EST projects may be initiated by national agencies, their success will be determined by how these are implemented at the local level. In the Philippines, cities have been empowered for such purposes and localizing national programs and strategies would be essential in addressing enduring and emerging problems concerning transport and traffic.”

The full paper may be downloaded from the link below:

Is there a need for a transport infra master plan? – responses to comments and questions

Immediately following the delivery of the issue paper in the DPWH-BL Fair last August 1 was an open forum where the audience had a chance to pose questions and comments on what was presented. Our technical staff shared these and following each question/comment is a response.
1. Are you eyeing for an agency or organization to champion the promotion of creating a national master plan?
(Response) The creation and/or integration of a National Transport Master Plan should be an initiative of the DOTC with the DPWH providing firm support (DPWH can co-chair or co-lead an inter-agency group.) This master plan is part of the mandate of DOTC. While highway planning, construction and maintenance is under DPWH, it should still refer to the DOTC which covers a larger scope in terms of transport planning. Most plans are usually submitted by these agencies to the NEDA for integration with plans from other agencies. Among the outputs of NEDA’s work is the Philippines’ Medium Term Development Plan, which is a 6-year plan designed for the term of the President.
2. Ano ang magagawa ng Bantay Lansangan para makaiwas sa “U-TURN” sa susunod na term?
[Note: We though that this question was minimally related to the paper and probably comes from a  person who just asked questions for the sake of asking.]
(R) The DPWH has to make a firm stand on these matters especially where design standards are concerned. While the MMDA is in-charge of traffic management in Metro Manila, they should still comply with standards for signs, markings and geometry, which happen to be under the DPWH.
3. No one was able to point out who will spearhead the creation of a national master plan, down to the details of budgeting etc.. With respect to Bantay Lansangan, who do you think is really capable of lobbying the creation of a transport master plan?
(R) DOTC should have the capacity for master planning for the entire country including integration of all existing plans to come up with a clear “road map” for transportation infrastructure. The DOTC should be supported by agencies such as the DPWH, NEDA, DENR, DOE, DOF, etc. in coming up with this. There is no need to start from scratch since there are many studies and documents that could serve as references. Progressive and responsible NGOs, civil society and the private sector should be able to lobby for a national master plan that will be clear in identifying priority infra and services.
4. [REACTION] A national road plan is based on HDM 4, which is actually under the premise of asset preservation. 
(R) HDM-4 is mainly for pavement management and is a tool for planning for the maintenance (i.e., preservation) of roads/highways. It is not a tool that will allow for the determination of what new highways or expressways need to be built and where. For this purpose capacity is required to be able to to travel demand forecasting including the use of tools that are more appropriate for this purpose such as CUBE, VISSUM and STRADA.
5. [REACTION] I think we should not concentrate on the creation of a national master plan alone but on which project budget has to be prioritized.
(R) It is not suggested that we stop working on programs and projects and concentrate on coming up with a master plan. In fact, work on a transport infrastructure master plan may be undertaken in parallel with other endeavors. One reason why we stray from the straight path (daang matuwid) is because we don’t have a firm grip on the bigger picture that is supposed to guide us in prioritizing projects. True that we shouldn’t concentrate on the creation of a master plan but it is also true is that we should prioritize based on what the “roadmap” requires and not which project seems attractive at present. This is why basic infra like certain bridges and roads are not built because funds are diverted elsewhere.
I would like to believe that the private sector is looking for a reference as they formulate project proposals. Without a reference, they will continue to come up with projects that are attractive to them but may not necessarily fit the whole scheme of things in terms of prioritization. As such, the government is usually at a loss on how to situate projects within a supposed framework when one, the framework may be outdated or two, there is no framework at all. Consequently, government technical staff are reduced to evaluating project proposals without the benefit of checking whether it is appropriate. The ideal situation is that the government should be able to guide the private sector and donor agencies for where investments should be placed. Ultimately, it is government’s responsibility to the people to build the required infrastructure while minimizing the wastage of resources.