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On interviews and propaganda

A colleague once mentioned that he didn’t want to grant interviews to the media because of a then recent experience of one channel splicing up his interview and making it appear as if he were arguing with a government official. True enough, these productions can be made like that in order to generate more interest on the subject. People watching that channel’s programs on news are hooked to the latter because of their sensationalised style of reporting.

When I was Director of our transport center at the University of the Philippines, I maintained a generally media-friendly policy but was selective of those I would grant interviews to or whom I would refer to colleagues whom I had to assure about the interviews not becoming similar to those a former colleague referred to. After all, we knew which programs tended to be on the sensational side. For one, you can base the “media filter” on the personalities behind these programs. At the very least, you’ve done some damage control by pre-empting

Fast forward to the present and a close friend pointed to what first appeared as propaganda material made by online supporters of the current administration (i.e., the troll army). However, upon closer review we determined to be an official production of the government. It included a lengthy part of an interview one of our former directors granted to the government station a while back when the government was embarking on its “Build, Build, Build” program. To be fair, if taken without the tags and labels attached by what people would call fanatics or die-hard supporters of the current administration, then the production is simply a information material. Sure, it can be used as propaganda material but then taken as is, it is certainly not “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view” as the term “propaganda” is defined in dictionaries. In fact, a major part of the interview specifically mentioned failures of an authoritarian regime in building transport infrastructure that could have averted a lot of the problems we now experience. Context is very important and I thought that the labels attached to the video that made it look like it was something being peddled by the troll army definitely made it look bad.

I think this should be another lesson with our dealings with mainstream media and perhaps with social media, too. You cannot be too careful or meticulous about these interviews but then it is still a responsibility that should be taken on. Otherwise, we commit a sin of omission by not engaging in such activities. While we should not let our guard down in selecting which interviews to grant, there will be times when we just have to assume good faith and trust that the end product will not be fake news.

Emphasising safety during these holidays

Here are a couple of articles that I thought should reiterate the importance of safety whenever we travel. This is especially true during this holiday season when a lot of people are going around – shopping, heading to their hometowns or simply vacationing.

Rey, A. (2017) “Holiday rush can lead to road crashes – expert”. Rappler.com. December 28, 2017. https://www.rappler.com/move-ph/issues/road-safety/192411-holiday-rush-road-crash-incident-expert?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=move-ph (Last accessed: 12/29/2017).

Merez, A. (2017) “Holidays heighten road accident risks: analysts”. ABS CBN News. December 28, 2017. http://news.abs-cbn.com/focus/12/28/17/holidays-heighten-road-accident-risks-analysts (Last accessed: 12/29/2017).

On distracted driving vs. other, more urgent, traffic issues

Much has been written and said about the new law against distracted driving. The people who crafted the law, Senators and Congressmen, are in agreement that their intention was mainly to address the rampant use of gadgets including cell phones by motorists. Yet, when the agencies in-charge of implementation drew up the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), their interpretation was the subject of a lot of complaints. Many opined that the IRR didn’t take into consideration actual vehicle dashboard designs or that the definition of the term “line of sight” was open to interpretation. This necessitated another round of consultations with stakeholders leading to the infographic below:

Frankly, I am more concerned about speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving in traffic. These are equally if not more dangerous than many aspects of the distracted driving law. Quite serious would be the combination of distractions with any of the three behaviors mentioned. More disturbing would be the deliberate (definitely not distracted) or conscious acts of speeding, counter flowing and reckless weaving that are often the cases if one observes the incidence of these three driving behavior. We can only wonder about the likelihood of crashes due to these behaviors.

MMDA statement on the odd-even scheme

The MMDA released a statement today about the much criticized Odd-Even scheme for EDSA that was floated on mainstream and social media. I will not comment on the statement but instead just reproduce  the post on Facebook here:

What do you think?

Crowdsourcing solutions to traffic problems?

Some government agencies seems to have resorted to crowdsourcing via social media to either find or assess solutions for the worsening transport and traffic problems in Philippine cities, more specifically Metro Manila. This includes posts by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) about various topics ranging from public transport reform to travel demand management (TDM) schemes. From one perspective, the approach can be seen as something like a participatory approach towards finding a solution that is acceptable to most. I say so since the proposals or ideas come from what are supposed to be official accounts of these agencies and thus can be claimed as something that aims to engage the public in discourse towards finding solutions.

Following are screenshots from a public social media account and examples of the responses/comments he got for the post:

What do you think? Did MMDA do its part in analyzing or evaluating their proposal? I suspect that they did not perform an in-depth analysis despite the resources available to them. They do have technical staff and tools to do the analysis. Note that the agency acquired simulation software during the time of Bayani Fernando that they used to justify projects like the elevated U-turns at Kalayaan and the widening of Commonwealth Avenue. Their technical staff have also been training locally and abroad on transportation planning. A crowdsourcing exercise such as this seems more like a “trial and error” approach where those monitoring the responses/comments may opt instead to summarize the responses for the analyses and then determine whether to refine, push through or withdraw the proposal that was floated. I think the MMDA should do its part first (i.e., evaluate the proposal at both macro and micro levels) and then present the pros and cons of their proposal in both quantitative (e.g., improvement in travel speeds and travel times) and qualitative terms (i.e., improved productivity or quality of life for commuters).

On being constructively skeptical on transport and traffic

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.

Progress in promoting and realizing sustainable transport in the Philippines

There is a very good article that came out of Rappler last March 28, 2016:

Creating sustainable transport systems: PH’s progress so far

The article caught my attention as I have lost track of what should be the monitoring of sustainable transport initiatives anchored on the pillars of EST as described in the National EST Strategy and the article. The formulation of the national EST strategy started under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza) and was completed under President Benigno C. Aquino III (DOTC Secretary Jose Dela Cruz). The formulation was initiated and supported by the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) and is unique partly because it is the only one to be completed among similar projects across ASEAN. The other countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia were only able to get to the baseline and consultations stages of their own national EST strategy formulations. The Philippines National EST Strategy document eventually became an input for the formulation of the National Transport Policy Framework (supported by AusAID) as well as the National Transport Infrastructure Framework (supported by the WB).