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How to get rid of traffic jams using intelligent transport

I came across a few more online articles recently and this time one article featured mostly intelligent transport systems (ITS). ITS has been around for quite some time now and the big difference between now and a couple of decades ago is the cost for these systems. I would not delve into the details of ITS, and leave it up to the reader to perhaps google about this and all the different types of ITS.

The article “Here’s How to Get Rid of Traffic Jams” presents the various systems that have been implemented in other countries. Some have been implemented one way or the other in some parts of the Philippines, particularly the coordination of traffic signals (Manila, Cebu, Davao) but most have not even been attempted so there’s a lot of room for the improvement especially where congestion is becoming more serious and unmanageable due in part to limitations among agencies and the people themselves who are involved in transport and traffic management.

It also refers to a study on traffic congestion that was conducted for Los Angeles, CA. Reading through the document I couldn’t help but note that much of what LA has experienced and is still experiencing describes what we also try to deal with in Metro Manila and other major Philippine cities. Be sure to browse for the full document and not just the summary for the study. There are also a lot more materials on transport that you can find this website so be sure to bookmark Rand’s website.

The Philippines’ National EST Strategy – Final Report

Friends and some acquaintances have been asking about whether there is a master plan for sustainable transport in Philippines. There is none, but there is a national strategy that should serve as the basis for the development and implementation of a master plan, whether at the national or local level. This strategy was formulated with assistance of the United Nations Council for Regional Development (UNCRD) through the Philippines’ Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which served as the focal agencies for this endeavour. The formulation was conducted by the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman. For reference, you can go to the NCTS website for an electronic copy of the National Environmentally Sustainable Transport Strategy Final Report.

NESTS coverCover page for the National EST Strategy Final Report

 

 

Food for thought – a few articles on transport and traffic

This will just be a quick post for now and I just wanted to share a few recent articles on transport and traffic from a favourite magazine – Wired:

What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse

Why We’re Sad the Best Airport in the World Is Getting Even Better

The Hidden Genius and Influence of the Traffic Light

These are very well written, easy to understand articles on things we encounter everyday (traffic congestion, traffic signals at intersections) and when we travel long distance (airports). They show different perspectives of things we take for granted or assume we understand. An example of the latter includes notions that road widening or road construction will solve traffic congestion problems. Much of what goes around regarding road widening or road construction as solutions do not account for induced demand, which is basically additional traffic generated or encouraged by wider or new roads. The second article talks about Changi Airport, arguably the best in the world, and the high tech approaches they have employed or will employ in order to ensure efficient operations there. Such tools, I think, should be used in our airports especially NAIA where the long standing excuse is the limitations of the runway(s) and the airport terminals. Certainly, there are other issues that need to be addressed and going high tech and employing sophisticated methods for airport operations should alleviate problems until we ultimately build a new airport elsewhere. The third article takes a look into behaviour and mentions a “social contract” we have agreed to in order to reduce mayhem in our roads. This “social contract” as well as others related to it should be revisited and understood as they are very much a part of how we behave when we travel and have a significant effect on others around us.

IMG08800-20140617-1521Traffic congestion and traffic signals along the 4-lane C.P. Garcia Avenue in UP Diliman

 

 

In-vehicle tools for road safety

I recently came across a provincial bus operator who is promoting a device for limiting the speeds of vehicles. He states that all their buses are fitted with the device and together with an on-board camera and GPS, they are able to monitor their buses and ensure the safety and security of their passengers. It’s always good to know there are responsible and progressive bus operators like him. Unfortunately, his kind is a minority among many who appear to be after the proverbial quick buck rather than ensuring a high quality of service for travelers.

Devices limiting the speeds of vehicles are not new. These have been installed in many public transport and commercial vehicles like buses and trucks in order to regulate their speeds along highways and streets. Trucks from Japan are fitted with these devices and those second hand trucks being sold in the Philippines have these but are allegedly disabled by their new owners. They are not violating any laws here as there are no regulations requiring such devices to be installed in vehicles.

Tracking devices that include GPS are more recent technologies being used mainly by logistics companies to track their vehicles. These are particularly important for trucks laden with high value cargo or for delivery vans who schedules and routes need to be managed to ensure timely delivery of packages consigned to them. Data from these devices would allow for the assessment of driving speeds and behavior such as lane changing that can be used to determine if drivers are, for example, reckless. The same data can also be used to evaluate fuel efficiency.

Such devices also have research applications because data can be used to determine real-time traffic conditions. In fact, there have been probe car studies conducted in other countries such as Japan, Thailand and Indonesia where taxis were employed to gather traffic information along urban road networks (e.g., Tokyo, Bangkok, Jakarta). Similar experiments can be implemented for Philippine cities to derive traffic information that can be used to guide travelers regarding travel times and route planning.

Perhaps the DOTC through the LTO and the LTFRB, should look into the mandatory installation and use of these devices to regulate vehicle speeds for public and freight transport and also monitor driver behavior. Mandatory speed regulation devices as well as tracking systems have a high potential for weeding out reckless, irresponsible drivers that will ultimately lead to a reduction in road crashes that have resulted in serious injuries and loss of lives. Definitely, there will be objections or opposition to such a requirement but these devices can be justified given the clamor for safer transport and safer roads. After all, everyone of us are vulnerable road users where even the safest driver can be involved in crashes. It takes only one reckless driver or rider to cause a crash.

Establishing an ITS society in the Philippines

The establishment of an ITS society in the Philippines is an idea that’s almost 2 decades old. I first learned about Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) while I was a graduate student at UP Diliman taking up transportation engineering in 1994. The interest was stoked by more exposure to ITS when I studied in Japan later and participated in the ITS World Congress held in Seoul, Korea in 1998. I presented a paper at the congress and was able to go around to look at the cutting edge in technology at the time that was applied to transportation. I also learned that there were three big ITS organizations at the time – one in the US (ITS America), in Europe (ERTICO) and in Asia (VERTIS).

I recall attending one meeting in 2002 when Dr. Ricardo Sigua, then on his second stint as Director of the National Center for Transportation Studies of the University of the Philippines Diliman presented the idea to a group that included then Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering Chair Rowena Guevarra. The latter is now Executive Director of the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research  & Development (PCIEERD). At the time, the conclusion was that it was still premature for the Philippines to establish a formal ITS society considering that there were few who were actively involved in ITS research. I thought privately that people still had little understanding or appreciation of ITS and, at UP at least, we were not yet in an environment that enabled collaborative work among departments who are supposed to have the expertise to undertake ITS related research and perhaps be the core group for a society.

Flash forward to the present, there is an ITS program currently being funded by the DOST-PCIEERD and under it are several research projects. One project is already underway and is being implemented through a collaboration among civil engineering (transport), electrical and electronics engineering and computer science faculty and students of UP Diliman. There are also several projects in the pipeline from Ateneo, DLSU and Mapua. These researches combined with various ITS applications with the private sector (e.g., electronic toll collection, variable messages, apps for commuting, etc.) means there is much more awareness nowadays for ITS and its benefits. This may also mean that the time is right and ripe for an ITS society to be established to further its applications.

2013-09-04 10.10.17Dr. Ricardo Sigua of the UP College of Engineering presenting on the proposal for the establishment of ITS Philippines.

On the forefront of the establishment of an ITS society in the Philippines is Dr. Ric Sigua, Professor at UP Diliman’s Institute of Civil Engineering and Fellow at the NCTS. He has been very active in ITS research and is currently project leader of the Philippines Manila Advanced Traffic Information System (PhilMATIS) project that is funded by the PCIEERD. Dr. Sigua has strong links with ITS Japan and is representing the country as observer in the regular ITS Congresses including the one to be held in Tokyo in October. During the ITS forum hosted by the NCTS in September 4, it was agreed that a core group will be established that will work towards forming a formal society. This will be led by the academe but will have the support of the private and government sectors. We look forward to what may be called ITS Pilipinas or ITS Philippines in the near future.

ITS Applications in the Philippines

The Seminar on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) Applications in the Philippines was held last March 28, 2012 at the Columbus Room of the Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center, Metro Manila. The seminar was organized by the Institute of Civil Engineering (ICE) and the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of the University of the Philippines Diliman and was supported by the Engineering Research and Development for Technology (ERDT) Program of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The main objective of the seminar was to bring together the academe, government agencies and industry to discuss the state of ITS in the country. The seminar was a venue for presentations and discussions where persons interested in ITS could interact with one another, hopefully forging future partnerships to promote ITS in the country.

Registration desk – participants from the ERDT universities attended the seminar including Ateneo De Manila University, Central Luzon State University, De La Salle University, Mapua Institute of Technology, Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology, and UP Diliman and UP Los Banos. Also in attendance were representatives of the Far Eastern University and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Master of ceremonies – Dr. Sean Palmiano of the ICE welcomed participants to the seminar. He is also a Fellow at the NCTS and part of its Road Safety Research Laboratory.

Opening Remarks – Dr. Alexis Acacio, ICE Director, opened the seminar, enjoining everyone to participate in the discussions and wishing a fruitful day.

Keynote presentation – Dr. Ricardo Sigua, Professor at the ICE and also a NCTS Fellow delivered a presentation entitled “State of ITS in the Philippines.” It provided an excellent intro about current applications of ITS in the country.

Full house – the seminar was well-attended with, in addition to the universities and DOST, participants from the DOTC, DPWH, MMDA and LTFRB, and the private sector particularly the MNTC.

Next generation – it was delightful to see a lot of younger people attending the seminar. In fact, participants from the universities did not come solely from the Civil Engineering programs but included those in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science.

Open forum – Dr. Tho Lidasan of UP’s School of Urban and Regional Planning commenting on the presentation by Dr. Sigua.

Open forum – Dr. Kardi Teknomo of Ateneo’s Computer Science also makes a point during the open forum.

Electronic Toll Collection – Engr. Raul Ignacio, Manila North Tollways Corporation Vice President presents on ITS applications in the tollways including issues regarding interoperability. Currently, tollways offering ETC have incompatible systems.

Q&A – former DPWH Usec. Ted Encarnacion making a comment on the MNTC presentation.

Q&A – Prof. Neneng Trinidad of the MSU-IIT asks a question about MNTC’s system.

Traveler Information Systems – Atty. Yves Gonzalez, Director of the MMDA’s Traffic Discipline Office, presents on the agency’s Traffic Navigator system.

Live demonstration – Atty. Gonzalez even made a live demonstration of how the Navigator works and how the MMDA could monitor and manage traffic using these tools. The presentation impressed the audience and this reflected in the lively Q&A after his presentation.

Q&A – Prof. Marloe Sundo of UPLB inquiring about the effectiveness of the MMDA’s Traffic Navigator.

Smart traffic control – Mr. Abratique presents on smart traffic signals including the experience in Davao City. Modern traffic signal control may be found in only a few cities in the country including Cebu, which employs an old version of the SCATS system.

i-Bus – Ms. Elma Arboleras presents her invention that is intended to improve public transport operations, which won an award in London in 2011.

ITS in Japan and Asia Pacific – the afternoon session started with a presentation from ITS Japan.

Panel discussion – the panel consisted of Ms. Cora Japson of the Road Transport Planning Division of the DOTC, Prof. Metodia Trinidad of MSU-IIT, Engr. Becky Garsuta of the DPWH’s PPP Office, and Engr. Glenn Campos of the MNTC.

Reactions and remarks – DOTC’s Cora Japson providing a reaction to the question regarding what ITS are needed in the country.

Reactions and remarks – Prof. Trinidad relating their experiences in Iligan City

Reactions and remarks – Engr. Garsuta relating DPWH initiatives and what she thinks are systems applicable in the local setting. Incidentally, the DPWH just recently received technical assistance from JICA for ITS.

Conclusion – Dr. Regin Regidor, NCTS Director, delivered the concluding remarks on behalf of the UP Diliman Chancellor.

Group photo – participants to the Seminar on ITS Applications in the Philippines pose for a group photo.

iBus – bus system reinvented?

In the recent British Invention Show, a Filipina won a gold medal for something that is probably much needed to solve the transport woes of this country – the iBus. It is of course initially conspicuously like your regular bus system but upon closer look at the slideshow from the news article, there are many things about the system that’s high tech. The high tech aspects of the iBus are actually example applications of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) as implemented for public transport.

I am not privy to the details for the iBus but I did see part of its progress after meeting a few times with its proponents since last year. With the award, I hope that perhaps our DOTC, LTFRB or MMDA will become interested in the system and perhaps that interest will translate into the deployment of the system in a test corridor as a proof of concept. I would even dare propose that should the demo be successful that it be applied immediately in Philippine cities requiring modern transit systems.

Intelligent Transport for the Philippines

The development of an App by the MMDA for use by travelers in Metro Manila is definitely a step in the right direction and represents a breathe of fresh air for the otherwise stale and irritating smog derived from the traffic. Such tools allow for travelers to be informed of the traffic conditions The app is in a sense actually quite crude considering that it is dependent on the observations of MMDA personnel from live feeds from cameras installed along roads throughout Metro Manila, as well as inputs from motorists including Tweets or Facebook messages. The results are often subjective because of the interpretation though quite accurate due to verification made via CCTV. Thus, it employs a more basic approach than what is already being used in other countries such as Japan, the UK and Germany, where traffic conditions are determined using probe cars or systems that are no longer subject to human observation or interpretation.

Vehicles equipped with GPS and communications systems much like the ones already used by the leading logistics companies to track their vehicles now routinely send information about location and such data can be used to construct real-time maps that, if compiled for 24 hours and all throughout the year, may provide a more automated and objective approach to providing travel information. Only incidents like road crashes would then require special treatment. A variation of this type of application of ITS would have been implemented for the MMDA’s bus dispatching for EDSA a couple of years ago using RFID technology to monitor the progression of bus travel along the highway. Unfortunately, after meeting opposition from the transport sector and experiencing some glitches, the project never went underway. Sayang!

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) has been available for quite some time now with the 1st World Congress held in1994 in Paris, France. Since then, the developments in ICT have been quite rapid though costs seem to have only reduced significantly in the past 5 years. One reason why ITS has not been able to grab a foothold in many countries is the prohibitive costs of many systems that are supposed to have more significant impacts on transport and traffic in their cities. With more resources and tools becoming available, and with many people able to acquire or access some form of tech (e.g., cell phone, internet), ITS has become available to many people though it is not necessarily cheap (how much is an iPhone?). While Metro Manila could probably afford to make investments for ITS, other cities will not have the resources for such, opting instead to put their money where it is more needed (or so we hope and assume).

Wikipedia provides a pretty decent description of ITS as derived from several sources. Depending on the reference, ITS typically has four functional components:

• Advanced Traffic Management Systems (ATMS)
• Advanced Public Transport Systems (APTS)
• Advanced Vehicle Control Systems (AVCS)
• Commercial Vehicle Operations Systems (CVO)

A fifth one, Advanced Traffic Information Systems (ATIS), is supposed to be embedded or integrated with the four. The MMDA app falls under ATIS and has applications for ATMS and potentially APTS. Leading logistics companies including local ones already employ ATIS for CVO.

I had an opportunity last year to talk about ITS when I was invited to present at the Smarter Cities Summit sponsored by IBM Philippines in December. A pdf of the presentation is found below:

SmarterCities – Transport and Traffic

ITS applications in the Philippines include the very basic ones like the parking management systems now used by shopping malls to inform about the availability of parking spaces to the more comprehensive ones like the electronic toll collection systems of NLEX and SLEX, and the SCATS traffic signal control system of Cebu City. Vehicle manufacturers now routinely use ITS in many vehicles including those sold in the Philippines. These include information on fuel consumption displayed on the dashboard, proximity alarms, and many already have navigation systems as options when purchasing the vehicle.

The 18th ITS World Congress will be held in Orlando, Florida, USA later this month. It promises to again provide participants with a taste of what has been deployed so far and how effective these systems are in addressing traffic problems. Companies participating in the congress would also be displaying products under development and perhaps postulate what can be done in the near future using technology for leverage in solving issues on transport and traffic. It should be noted, however, that ITS remains a tool that would be effective only if both authorities and stakeholders also address the roots of the transport and traffic problems in this country. Dependence on ITS alone will have very limited impacts compared to more comprehensive programs for managing transport demand and supply. Nevertheless, ITS presents a powerful tool that can tremendously enhance traditional solutions. In fact, the “full potential” for ITS combined with traditional TDM and TSM is regularly on display in Singapore with its Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) scheme. But that’s another story.

Buses tagged…now what?

The MMDA issued a memo requiring all Metro Manila buses to paint their license plates at strategic areas of the bus exterior. These include standard sizes for “tags” to be placed on the roof, front, sides and back of the bus that are supposed to clearly show consistency with the license plate. Needless to say, if the license plate and the painted tags do not match, then the bus will be labeled colorum or illegally operating. Tags are also colored according to the general routes of the buses, with the yellow background applicable to buses plying routes along EDSA while an orange background applies to non-EDSA routes like those along Ortigas Ave. and Quezon Ave.

The tagging seems to be the latest in a long list of schemes that have been implemented to address the issue of colorum public transportation. While this is generally a matter for the LTFRB, the agency with the mandate to regulate road public transportation, the enforcement aspect is really quite demanding for an agency with few personnel to do this. As such, the LTFRB is usually assisted by other agencies like the MMDA or local government units. Franchise enforcement, however, is generally not the province of the MMDA or LGUs unlike their being deputized by the LTO in enforcing traffic rules and regulations (thus allowing the MMDA and LGUs to issue traffic tickets). The deputized MMDA and LGU enforcers may apprehend public utility vehicle drivers for traffic violations and in an ideal set-up, such violations should be considered when evaluating franchises for renewals. The propensity for violating traffic rules and regulations is a manifestation of poor driving habits and unsafe behavior on the road. Again ideally, such should be taken against operators who have the responsibility for hiring and training their staff. Operators should be held accountable should there be a high incidence of traffic violations and especially when there are incidences of crashes.

I am curious as to how the MMDA will be taking advantage of the bus tags in managing not only public transport but overall traffic as well. The tags present an opportunity where data collection may be facilitated and for various purposes. Such include a variation of the license plate surveys that are usually conducted to trace the movement of vehicles and determine whether they are speeding or travelling too slowly. An application of the outcomes of such surveys is the estimation of travel time along particular routes. For enforcement purposes, one can determine the reasonable turnaround time for public transport vehicles and allow for the checking of trip-cutting and the verification of the incidence of multiple plates. With the video cameras located at strategic points along Metro Manila’s major thoroughfares, sophisticated software employing image processing may be able to expedite the process, an example of an intelligent transport systems (ITS) as applied to public transportation.

The MMDA could even go further by consolidating travel time/speed data from public transport vehicles in order to derive real-time road network statistics. These could easily be visualized using digital maps that can be made online and shared to motorists and commuters alike to allow for better travel planning around the metropolis. Travel time/speed data have been used by researchers and agencies in other countries to estimate road traffic performance throughout the day and may be employed in modeling traffic in order to predict travel characteristics given typical factors affecting the traffic stream. Private vehicle characteristics are approximated by taxis that operate pretty much like private vehicles given that they do not have fixed routes and are not confined to lanes normally assigned to buses and jeepneys.

Such a comprehensive and sophisticated system for traffic management would require that all public transport vehicles be tagged including jeepneys and taxis. This also requires both hardware and software, and most importantly, capacity and on the part of Perhaps this is an alternative to requiring all to have GPS or RFID installed. Of course, the latter devices have more applications due to their potential for data storage (e.g., vehicle registration, franchise, location, etc.) but unfortunately, there are issues that still need to be addressed and questions left unanswered that are associated with these devices. Sayang! But even so, the bus tags (and maybe jeepney and taxi tags in the future) already present a lot of opportunities for monitoring, evaluation and improvement of traffic in Metro Manila. If only such potential can be realized and maximized by the MMDA and other agencies…

Countdown

Among the things you get to observe at signalized intersections are the behavior of drivers given the setting of the traffic lights. While the cyclic transition from red to green to amber and then to red again seems routine and possibly trivial to many, it is an opportunity for traffic engineers to examine how drivers react to the lights. Among the most notable behavior are common violations like beating the red light and occupying the area within the yellow box despite full awareness that the exit is already full.

Then there are the not so obvious but risky habit of some drivers to beat the green light. That’s when a driver anticipates the green light and proceeds to move prior to the signal and before the intersection is clear of any vehicles or pedestrians that may have been caught in the change in signals. It is a practice that increases the probability of a road crash occurring as the clearance interval for vehicles whose paths may be in conflict is drastically reduced. This is a habit of many drivers who are familiar with the sequence of signals at an intersection and who know when its their turn for the green light.

In most cases, drivers and pedestrians are unaware of the length of time available for them to cross the street or intersection. There are no indications for when the lights will change and only familiarity would allow for drivers or pedestrians to estimate when it would be their turn to proceed. In Japan, many intersections play music during that tends to speed up when the signal will be changing. This audible indicator allows for both the blind and the busy to know whether it is safe to cross the street and if there is enough time to do so. It is also something that is probably taught to children for them to more easily know when it is safe for them to cross the street.

There is another innovation to traffic signals that is surely welcome to pedestrians and motorists alike but which may also have its disadvantages. I am referring to the countdown timer, which provides road users the information about the lengths of green and red signals (Note: Amber or yellow is usually fixed at 3 seconds.).  From the perspective of energy efficiency, such information may allow motorists to turn off their engines, usually done when one practices eco-driving, resulting in fuel savings. Meanwhile, drivers of vehicles approaching an intersection may be able to tell if there is enough time for them to do so, and if there isn’t enough time they may be able to slow down their vehicles to stop at the next red light. Countdown timers may also be a helpful tool for enforcement as the timers establish that a driver should be aware of the time. Thus, a driver can no longer reason with the apprehending officer that he/she was not aware of the remaining time for movement.

Pedestrians may also benefit from the knowledge of available time to make a safe crossing. This information should ultimately reduce the need for running in order to completely cross the street. The photo below shows the new countdown timer installed for the southbound through movement at the Katipunan Avenue (C5) – C.P. Garcia Avenue intersection.

One possible disadvantage would be that aggressive drivers may still try to beat the red light by speeding up upon knowing what amount of time is available for them. Another disadvantage relates to beating the green light as even those unfamiliar with the signal sequence will have the information of how much time remains before they can proceed. Thus, many driver and riders start revving up their engines and push on their gears to anticipate the green signal. You can even imagine the countdown timer being used as if it were ticking towards to start of a race.

Despite the disadvantages mentioned, countdown timers should prove to be more beneficial than detrimental in most situations. In fact, countdown timers like the ones already installed at intersections in Bonifacio Global City should enhance traffic safety provided that these devices are fully complemented by enforcers who would flag down motorists and pedestrians who would attempt risky actions in relation to the timing device. Of course, from the research perspective there needs to be a scientific assessment of the actual impacts of countdown timers much like the studies already conducted elsewhere to determine and even measure the effects of these devices on both motorists and pedestrians. Only then can we truly say if they do enhance safety and promote more efficient operations at a signalized intersection.