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Transport and traffic purgatory, paradise and inferno
A lot of people have been referring to the traffic congestion and other derivative issues that will be the result of the construction of several transport projects around Metro Manila as “traffic armageddon.” Some friend have appropriately (I think) referred to it more as “car-mageddon.” This seems to be the case since it is perceived to have the most impact on car users than public transport users, cyclists or pedestrians. This is far from the truth as there are more people taking public transport, cycling or walking than those driving their own cars. In fact, estimates for Metro Manila indicate that 70-80% of travelers take public transport while 20-30% take private vehicles. These mode splits do not include bicycles or walking, which obviously will further decrease private car shares.
I would rather refer to this period of construction as a sort of “purgatory” though it has nothing to do with the cleansing that’s associated with it. There is still the suffering involved while improvements are being implemented. But, most importantly, there is hope at the end of this process. This “hope” is not necessarily the “light at the end of a dark tunnel” kind of thing as surely population and the number of vehicles will surely increase over time even as the transport projects are being implemented. By the time these are completed, there are sure to be more people, more vehicles, as well as more of other developments that will put our transport system to a stress test. We can only hope that the designs of these infrastructure we are building now are based on honest to goodness trip or traffic forecasts. Otherwise, we’ll end up with congested or saturated systems by the time they start operating.
Unfortunately, most projects mentioned and those we know have the green light and would likely be proceeding with construction in the near future are basically road projects. It’s ironic considering that what Metro Manila urgently, and maybe desperately, needs now are public transport systems including the much delayed MRT 7, LRT 2 Extension and LRT 1 Extension. The proposals for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) seem to be in a limbo, too, despite extensive studies and surveys to support BRT along corridors such as Ortigas Avenue and Circumferential Road 5. These are blamed on institutional and legal impediments including allegations of shortcomings among officials of agencies responsible for these infrastructure.
I am aware of an initiative led by an environmental lawyer seeking to effect the redistribution of road space in favor of public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians. I think such actions are useful from the perspective of getting the attention necessary to push government and private sector players to have a sense of urgency not just in words but also in actions in as far as transport infrastructure programs and projects are concerned. We are already lagging behind our ASEAN neighbors with regards to infrastructure and at this pace, it is likely that less developed countries like Cambodia and Myanmar might just overtake us in the foreseeable future. From another perspective, it is hard to push for sharing the road when people really don’t have better options for commuting. Walking and cycling are not for everyone and many people have turned to the motorcycle to solve their transport woes. In the latter case, motorcycles are perceived as a vehicle that’s fuel efficient and allows the users to zip through congested streets often at high risks of being involved in a crash or spill.
We can only achieve “paradise” in our highly urbanized cities if we build these mass transit systems along with the pedestrian and cycling facilities that will complement each other. Those for whom car travel is a necessity would also benefit from reduced road congestion so it will eventually (hopefully) play out well for most people. Meanwhile, we would have to endure transport and traffic hell (some more and longer than others) as the government and private sector embark on this round of infrastructure projects implementation. It helps to look back at our experiences with the last major batch of projects in the latter part of the 1990’s when the number coding scheme was first implemented. At the time, it was implemented as a temporary measure to alleviate congestion while projects where being implemented. What was a temporary measure is now still being implemented along with a truck ban that has also been evolving the past years with the latest being the one implemented by the City of Manila starting last February 24. Will these vehicle restraint schemes be modified to cope with the traffic congestion expected from projects like the Skyway connector? Will these be relaxed or removed after all these projects have been completed? Your guess is as good as mine.
Manila’s truck ban experiment
The City of Manila has announced that it will implement a truck ban from February 10, Monday. Trucks of at least 8-wheels and 4,500kg gross weight will not be allowed to travel in Manila’s roads from 5AM to 9PM. Manila’s City Ordinance No. 8336 calls for the daytime truck ban in the city in order to reduce traffic congestion that is perceived to be brought about by trucks. 8-wheelers are likely 3-axle trucks with a 4-wheel, 2-axle prime mover pulling a 1-axle, 4-wheel (double-tired) trailer. I am not aware of the technical basis for the ordinance. Perhaps the city has engaged consultants to help them determine the pros and cons of this daytime truck ban. I hope it is not all qualitative analysis that was applied here as logistics is quite a complicated topic. And such schemes in favor of passenger transport (and against goods movement) actually creates a big problem for commerce due to the challenges of scheduling that they have to deal with. To cope with this ordinance, companies would have to utilize smaller vehicles to transport goods during the daytime. This actually might lead to more vehicles on the streets as companies try to compensate for the capacity of the large trucks that will be banned from traveling during the restricted period by fielding smaller trucks.
Trucks parked along Bonifacio Drive near the DPWH Central Office in Manila’s Port Area.
The latest word is that Manila has postponed implementation of the ordinance to February 24. This was apparently due to the reaction they got from various sectors, especially truckers and logistics companies who would be most affected by the restrictions. It was only natural for them to show their opposition to the scheme. Reactions from the general public, however, indicated that private car users and those taking public transport welcomed the truck ban as they generally stated that they thought trucks were to blame for traffic congestion in Manila. The truck ban will definitely have impacts beyond Manila’s boundaries as freight/goods transport schedules will be affected for the rest of Metro Manila and beyond. The Port of Manila, after all, is critical to logistics for the National Capital Region, and its influence extends to adjacent provinces where industries are located. Such issues on congestion and travel demand management measures focused on trucks bring back talks about easing freight flow to and from the Port of Manila to major ports in Subic and Batangas. There have been studies conducted to assess the decongestion of the Port of Manila as Batangas and Subic are already very accessible with high standard highways connecting to these ports including the SLEX and STAR tollways to Batangas and the NLEX and SCTEX to Subic. Perhaps it would be good to revisit the recommendations of these studies while also balancing the treatment of logistics with efforts necessary to improve public transport. After all, trucks are not all to blame for Manila’s and other cities’ traffic woes as buses are repeatedly being blamed for congestion along EDSA. In truth, there are more cars than the numbers of buses, trucks, jeepneys and UV Express combined. And the only way to reduce private car traffic is to come up with an efficient and safe public transport system. –
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.
Truck weight limits in the Philippines
I noticed a lot of interest on the “truck ban” scheme from the statistics provided by WordPress on my dashboard. It seems there are very limited material available on the scheme especially in the Philippines where there have been variations of and misconceptions on this travel demand management (TDM) measure. Why do cities like Metro Manila implement a truck ban? Or better yet, why are there designated truck routes in cities? The answer can be quite simple if viewed from the perspective of asset preservation. That is, by restricting trucks to use specific roads, we are also limiting their impacts (read: damage) to the road infrastructure. Such impacts come in the way of damaged pavements and/or bridges that bear the brunt of the weights carried by heavy vehicles. But such argument begs the question of why, in the first place, shouldn’t we design our pavements and bridges so that they may be able to withstand the cumulative loads of heavy vehicle traffic over a prescribed period of time, say 20 years, give and take a few years for variability and reliability in design and construction methods? Such is a question that needs to be answered, and clearly, by our DPWH, at least for the case of our national roads and bridges. It is really not a simple matter and certainly not something that cannot be blamed solely on the fact that evidences in the Philippines point to truck overloading as one of the culprits for damaged pavements and bridges.
The website of the Department of Public Works and Highways provides information on the axle load and truck weight limits for national roads. The matrix of weights may easily be downloaded and is provided in the following document:
The maximum single axle loads for different countries around the world are provided below:
Max Permissible Truck Loads World
I found another table of values this time for European countries. Based on the table on weight limits in European Union Countries, France seems to have the heaviest single axle load limit.
Still, the question running in the minds of most people involved in policymaking, monitoring and enforcement, and research is “How did we come up with the 13.5-metric ton maximum single axle load value in the first place?” Surely, it wasn’t a number that was plucked out from the air?
The 13.5-metric ton was most probably derived from an axle load study conducted in the 1990’s. Such a study could have, among others, determined the appropriate maximum axle loads that could be adopted by the country in lieu of the limits at the time that were already deemed obsolete given the evolution of trucks over time (i.e., they’re bigger now compared to, say, 30 years ago). What is problematic is that it seems the study was only able to derive the maximum single axle load and was not able to estimate maximum loads for tandem and tridem axles. Tandem axles are two axles positioned one after the other while tridems are three axles grouped together. These tandems and tridems are typical configurations for the rear axles of large trucks and trailers, enabling them to support heavy loads that typically are distributed more towards the rear axles.
Another form of vehicle restraint focuses on freight and logistics vehicles, particularly trucks. These are commonly referred to as large vehicles having at least 6 tires (double-tired rear axle). The prevailing perception is that many if not most of these vehicles are overloaded and impede the flow of traffic due to their slow speeds as well as damage pavements not designed for heavy vehicles.
“The truck ban is a scheme first applied in the late 1970’s to address the perception that freight vehicles are the main culprits in congesting Metro Manila roads. Trucks were prohibited from traveling along major arterials including the primary circumferential and radial road network for most of the day. Exemptions from the daytime ban were applied to roads in the vicinity of the port area where truck traffic was practically inevitable.”
The coverage area of the truck ban included all of Metro Manila’s major circumferential and radial roads – C1 to C5 refer to Metro Manila’s circumferential roads while R1 to R10 refer to the radial roads. These comprise the main arterials of the Metro Manila road network. For reference, C3 refers to Araneta Avenue and related roads, C4 is EDSA, Letre and Samson Roads, and C5 refers to Katipunan, E. Rodriguez and C.P. Garcia Avenues. R1 refers to Roxas Boulevard, R5 is Shaw Boulevard, R6 is Aurora Boulevard, and R7 is España and Quezon Avenues.
“There are the different versions of the truck ban being implemented in Metro Manila. Truck Ban 1 is enforced along EDSA, Metro Manila’s busiest arterial and often its most congested road. Designated as Circumferential Road 4 (C4) it has a 10- to 12-lane carriageway with a mass rapid transit line running along its median. Truck Ban 2 practically covers all other roads except sections of arterial roads that have been designated as truck routes.”
Truck Ban 1 is enforced from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM everyday except Sundays and Holidays. Meanwhile, Truck Ban 2 is implemented from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM everyday except Sundays and Holidays. The second version attempts to minimize trucks during the morning and afternoon/evening peak periods.
“The chronology of the truck ban scheme started in 1978. In recognition of the critical situation of traffic congestion in Metro Manila, the then Metropolitan Manila Authority (MMA) issued Ordinance No. 78-04, which prohibited cargo trucks, with gross vehicular weight (GVW) of more than 4,000 kilogram, from plying along eleven major thoroughfares in Metro Manila during peak traffic hours – from 6:00 A.M. to 9:00 A.M. and from 4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M., daily except on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
In 1990, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) issued Memorandum Circulars No. 90-367 and 90-375, changing truck ban hours to: between 7:00 A.M. and 10:00 A.M. on weekdays; 4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. for Monday to Thursday; and from 4:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. on Fridays. In response to the appeal of the members and officers of the various truckers’ associations for an alternate route and a 2-hour reduction of truck ban, the MMA issued Ordinance No. 19, Series of 1991, amending MMC Ordinance No. 78-04. This issuance provided alternate routes to the truck ban routes and effected a 2-hour reduction of the truck ban period, thereby prohibiting trucks on the road from 7:00 A.M. to 9:00 A.M. and from 5:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M.
In 1994 the MMA issued Ordinance No. 5, Series of 1994, further amending Ordinance No. 78-04 as amended by Ordinance No. 19 Series 1991. The Ordinance restricts trucks from traveling or passing along 10 major routes from 6:00 A.M. to 9:00 A.M. and from 5:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. daily, except on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The Ordinance also provided for an “all-day” truck ban along Metro Manila’s major arterial road, the Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA), from 6:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. daily, except Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
In 1996, the MMDA, in its desire to further reduce traffic congestion even on Saturdays, issued Regulation No. 96-008 amending MMA Ordinance No. 94-05, imposing truck ban from Monday to Saturday, except Sunday and holidays. An MMDA Regulation No. 99-002, amended Ordinance No. 5, Series of 1994, wherein the “gross capacity weight” was amended from 4,000 to 4,500 kilograms.”
In the last few years, the MMDA has implemented adjustments to the truck ban scheme in coordination with Metro Manila local government units. Certain truck routes were identified to address the issues raised by the private sector, particularly industries and commercial establishments, regarding the transport and delivery of goods. Other cities in the Philippines have adopted the truck ban in one form or another, often directing trucks to use alternate roads in order to decongest the roads in the central business districts as well as to prevent their early deterioration as a result of truck overloading practices.
[Source of italicized text: Regidor, J.R.F. and Tiglao, N.C.C. (2007) “Alternative Solutions to Traffic Problems: Metro Manila in Retrospect,” Proceedings of the 11th World Conference on Transport Research (WCTR 2007), 24-28 June 2007, University of California Transportation Center, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA, DVD.]