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On school bus services and the return to face-to-face classes

I did an interview last August with a major business daily but I couldn’t find it as published as part of an article. The topic was a very timely one as children return to schools for face-to-face (F2F) classes. Here are the questions sent to me and my responses as I remember them:

1. How will the transport sector cope with the expected increase in demand as more schools resume face-to-face classes?

For schools located in the cities, what we see is people opting to take private transportation in the form of cars or motorcycles to take their children to school. This is because public transportation supply is still not back to pre-pandemic levels while at the same time, parents and guardians and even students who commute by themselves (e.g., high school and college levels) may be hesitant to take public transportation as well as school service vehicles. The latter may be attributed to concerns about the safety particularly with regards to health (i.e., getting infected or exposed to Covid-19 if they take public transport or a vehicle where they share the ride with many other people). We need more public transportation capacity to be able to address the increased demand brought about by students coming back for face-to-face classes. We also need to have other options or alternatives for their safe journeys including walking and cycling for their commutes.

For schools in the rural areas, there may be little adjustment concerning transport since most schoolchildren walk or take motorcycles or tricycles to school. This is perhaps because most schoolchildren reside within the school district and do not have long commutes like what we have in many cities (e.g., most schoolchildren who study at schools like Ateneo, LaSalle, etc. likely live in another city or town rather than near the schools).

2. How many school buses are expected to resume operations? How many of them have permanently closed?

I currently don’t have the data on that but LTFRB should have reference or baseline data. School service vehicles are required to register with the LTFRB and perhaps a look at the number registered before and during the pandemic could show how many can be expected to resume operations nationwide and per region. LTO doesn’t have these numbers as they only register by vehicle type. We will not know from LTO data which jeepneys, vans or buses are used for school service. Most school service are tied to the schools the student of which they provide transport services to. If the school closed, then chances are that the school service may apply to other schools. That said, the last two years where schools operated online were a backbreaker to many school service and only the registered numbers with LTFRB can tell us just how many are not returning at least for this school year.

3. How does the surge in fuel prices affect the operations of those involved in school transportation? Will this affect the ability of teachers, schools staff and students to travel on-site?

School services might increase their rates, which are usually monthly or semi-monthly. This is to make up for the increase in fuel prices and vehicle maintenance as well. This will likely only affect students’ travel rather than those of their teachers or school staff. The latter group will likely take public transport or their own vehicles for their commutes. In their case, their travel may be affected by transport fare increase or their own fuel expenses if they use their own vehicles. They have little choice though because they have to travel to work. Student though may still enjoy some respite as many schools are adopting blended or flexible schedules that will only require students to do face-to-face classes on certain days of the week.

4. What’s the long term impact of the pandemic on the school bus industry?

People will remain to be apprehensive in letting their children share a school van or bus ride due to the pandemic. We can only promote vaccination and compliance with health protocols to ensure that schoolchildren will have safe journeys as far as Covid-19 is concerned. The return to face-to-face classes this school year will perhaps help determine if the pandemic will have a long term effect on the industry or if people’s (parents and guardians) trust to school bus services will return within the short term.

5. How can school bus drivers and operators cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic and rising fuel prices?

LTFRB issued Memorandum Circular 2022-066, which adds health protocols for school service:
• Regular examination of the drivers and conductors’ fitness to work by checking their body temperature and screening for symptoms related to COVID-19.
• Regular disinfection of frequently-touched surfaces, such as but not limited to seats, armrests, and handles.
• Mandatory wearing of face masks at all times by drivers and conductors, including passengers.

School transport services must comply with these protocols and demonstrate the safety of their mode to convince people to return to using or subscribing to school service vehicles. Meanwhile, there is really no escaping rising fuel prices but collective transport in the form of school service vehicles are still more efficient and cheaper per passenger compared to using private vehicles; not to mention contribute to reducing traffic congestion along school routes. This must also be promoted (i.e., people made aware of the advantages) vs. private vehicle use.

On gender and transportation safety

There was a nice discussion among colleagues about which among male or female drivers were the safer motorists. My take based mainly on observations is that female drivers were safer or practiced safe driving and riding more than males. Road crash data should be able to validate (and perhaps support) this observation. My colleagues were also in agreement with this view. Here is an article providing some statistics from the US that clearly show female to be safer drivers and riders:

Egan, L. (August 17, 2022) “Road To Zero Fatalities: Male vs. female drivers,”  KSLTV.com, https://ksltv.com/503038/road-to-zero-fatalities-male-versus-female-drivers/ [Last accessed: 9/2/2022]

Some quotables from the article/report:

“The girls are more teachable, they want to learn how to be a good driver,” he explained. “The boys really do think they already know how.”

In 2020, males accounted for 72% of all motor vehicle crash deaths and 92% of motorcyclist deaths, according to the institute’s analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In Utah, crash data from 2017 to 2021 showed that 85% of motorcycle crashes involved males, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

“Males are more prone to make riskier decisions and tend to be a little more thrill seeking,”

Again, we need to get the data and present these in a meaningful way. You can take the cue from the article above how data can easily be presented to provide insights to driver and rider behavior. More information or details (e.g., age, years of experience in driving/riding, etc.) can lead to even deeper analysis that will allow us to draw or formulate suitable measures to improve safety for everyone.

Opinions on the current transportation situation?

Some people were asking me about what I thought about certain issues and reports on transportation. To be honest, while I am involved in some projects including one on road safety, I have been busy (or swamped is probably a more suitable term) with administrative duties at the university. While I take a peek from time to time, as is my habit, to see what’s happening, I have much less time to really engage or get involved in discussions. Whereas before, I easily get myself into typing comments and engaging in some discussions about transport issues particularly in social media, I now quite easily turn away and let it be. There are, after all, a lot of people experts, pundits, advocates, even trolls who are “slugging it out” with their opinions on just about anything on transport.

While I am amused at many discussions or posts, I now find myself not at all wanting to get involved unlike before. I think perhaps I have done my part and continue to do so in ways and avenues where I am more effective and where my time and effort is not wasted and more appreciated. I have never been the loud person in a room and have always tried to have my work speak for myself.

The indifference is the product of many factors and circumstances including becoming tired of doing interviews with conventional media. Nowadays especially, when media seems engrossed on having content by the minute; never mind the substance. Basta may ma-report or ma-post (As long as their is something to report or post).

Well, here’s a few thoughts about what seem to be trending these days:

  1. There is still a lack of public transportation supply considering the increasing demand (more people are back to their workplaces and schools are already reopening!). Government agencies still seem to be clueless or perhaps just want to push the original rationalization and modernization programs despite the pandemic changing the game for commuting demand. Due to the lack of public transport, more people are taking to private vehicles but certain observers apparently see only cars (which they automatically equate to ‘private vehicles’). Motorcycles are also increasing in numbers and allowing motorcycle taxis will mean people will turn to these for commuting/transport needs.
  2. Cable cars won’t solve Metro Manila transport or traffic woes. Even if one will consider where they will fit or may be suitable, this is still a band aid solution considering all the solutions including the ones that are obvious or staring us in our faces (yes, allow the conventional jeepneys and buses back for now) that are available but government stubbornly rejects. As for the senator who broached the idea, I think he did so mainly for media mileage (and the mainstream media quickly snapped it up!) – para mapag-usapan. As they say – it’s so showbiz!
  3. I still believe that the experiences from the pandemic strongly provide us with the evidence to support a continuation and sustaining work-from-home or remote work set-ups. This actually ‘solved’ traffic during the heights of the pandemic and yet we choose to revert to the old normal set-up. People are languishing, suffering as they spend long travel times in their commutes. These are unproductive time that people could have spent more efficiently and productively (not to mention more meaningful) at home.
  4. I support children going back to school but not for 100% of their times. We definitely know that a 100% study-at-home set-up is not for everyone and the last two years have affected our children including their need for face-to-face interaction with other children (classmates) and adults (teachers). Still, we can have a blended set-up where perhaps we can have children come to school 2 to 3 days in a week rather than the old normal of 5 to 6 (even 7 in some schools) days. Other tasks and learning activities can be done effectively at home. This also could help ease traffic and travel demand especially in urbanized areas.

More opinions in future posts!

 

On using advanced tools for infrastructure assessments

I came upon this article on how transportation departments in the US are using tools such as drones to assess critical infrastructure including roads and bridges. This is very relevant to us especially as many similar infra are aging and would need to be assessed to determine how to reinforce, retrofit or even rehabilitate certain infrastructure vs. naturally occurring phenomena like earthquakes and typhoons.

Reed, J. (August 2, 2022) “How Transportation Departments Are Using Advanced Drone Technology for Infrastructure Assessments,” Aviation Today, https://www.aviationtoday.com/2022/08/02/transportation-departments-using-advanced-drone-technology-infrastructure-inspections/ [Last accessed: 8/4/2022]

To quote from the article:

“The WVDOT may expand its drone programs to perform road safety assessments and to assist in designing new road routes by providing topographical maps.”

I recall that there have been road-based surveys involving Lidar to map the road and adjacent land surfaces about a decade ago (maybe less). This was a nationwide project funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and implemented by the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Department of Geodetic Engineering. I’m not sure where that data is stored or hosted but the DGE should have a back-up somewhere that can be used or further processed for road safety assessment applications. This could be an interesting and fruitful research area that can involve people from various disciplines.

Star ratings for bicycles

I just wanted to do a quick share of a new method for evaluating road and bicycling infrastructure – cycleRAP. This was developed by the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP), which has established a star rating system as the international standard for road safety assessments. We currently use their Star Ratings for Schools (SR4S) to evaluate the school environment towards ensuring safe journeys for school children. Here’s the link to their website:

https://irap.org/cyclerap/

To quote from the site: “CycleRAP is an easy, affordable and fast method of evaluating road and bicycling infrastructure for safety. It aims to reduce crashes and improve safety specifically for bicyclists and other light mobility users by identifying high risk locations without the need for crash data.”

How can e-scooters become a safer way to travel?

I’ve shared some articles and opinions about electric scooters. Here is another one that delves into the safety about these vehicles that have become quite popular in the US. Here in the Philippines, they still seem to be in infancy in terms of popularity and to some, are seen as more a novelty and touristy rather than a mode of transport for the typical work trips.

Donahue, B (June 11, 2022) “How to Make Electric Scooters Become a Safer Way to Travel,” Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-06-11/how-to-make-electric-scooters-safer [Last accessed: 6/18/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Dediu believes that in time micromobility will attain critical mass, as other modes of transit have already done, and that infrastructure will come as the user base grows. “We didn’t build airports and then have airplanes show up,” he’s said. “I’m confident, given the history, that we’ll see things like more safe roadways for micromobility vehicles.” “

Scoot-to-work at BGC, Taguig, Metro Manila

It is not really about the vehicle but the environment in which it is being used. One can say a lot about walking, for example, being dangerous but without touching on the why and the how its become a dangerous or risky mode of travel. It’s the lack of infrastructure or facilities as well as the car-oriented environment (that includes archaic laws and other regulations) that make active mobility and micro mobility modes dangerous or risky. If we can address these basic issues, then perhaps we can entice more people to use these modes more often and for the most trips we make everyday.

And don’t forget that these modes are the most fuel efficient! Saves you from the every increasing prices of fuel!

On how traffic enforcement enhances road safety

It seems to be a no-brainer and has always been an assumption to many traffic engineering studies including those employing simulation to determine the outcomes of various scenarios involving transportation. The element that is traffic enforcement, however, cannot be assumed as something uniform across countries, cities, barangays or even individual road sections and intersections (yet we often do assume uniformity and a certain level of strictness).

Here is an article that reports on new research pertaining to how the enforcement of traffic laws makes roads safer:

Mohn, T. (June 8, 2022) “Enforcing traffic laws makes roads safer, new research shows,” Forbes.com, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2022/06/08/enforcing-traffic-laws-makes-roads-safer-new-research-shows/?sh=74b03c97591e [Last accessed: 6/10/2022]

To quote from the article:

“High visibility enforcement of traffic safety laws actually works. When carried out, regulations governing driving have a positive and measurable impact on safety by reducing dangerous behaviors behind the wheel that put road users at risk…

““Enforcement alone will not solve the traffic safety crisis,” Adkins added. “We cannot simply enforce, build, design or educate our way out of this problem. The Safe System necessitates a comprehensive approach for achieving our collective goal of zero traffic deaths, including equitable enforcement that focuses on risky driver choices that endanger all road users.”

The article points to new research published by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The synthesis to that research may be found here while the full report is found here.

Such research and articles are very relevant especially as incidents like the one involving a driver running over an enforcer become viral and bring to the forefront traffic enforcement or the lack of it (some will word it differently – like why many drivers don’t follow traffic rules and regulations). The discussion must continue especially in the context of road safety.

On the right to a walkable life

Here is an article from a perspective that’s very relevant today everywhere. We need to examine our daily routines particularly when it comes to commuting or moving about. Do we live in walkable communities? Is walking to certain places like school, the market, or the office an option to many of us? Or do we automatically choose to ride a car, a tricycle or motorcycle to get to these places?

Malchik, A. (May 13, 2022) “Driving is killing us,”  Medium.com, https://antoniamalchik.medium.com/driving-is-killing-us-6a1b35158458 [Last accessed: 5/28/2022]

To quote from the article:

“Ask yourself this question: if you stepped foot outside your door, would you be able to walk anywhere you needed or wanted to go? Can you walk to a store, a library, school, or work? If your answer is “no,” what’s stopping you? Distance, highways, private property, broken or absent or inaccessible sidewalks? …

The loss of walking as an individual and a community act has the potential to destroy our deepest spiritual connections, our democratic societies, our neighborhoods, our freedom, our health, and our lives. But we can reclaim it. We can start to make a world that welcomes the walker, the pedestrian, rather than paving over that incredible human inheritance.”

I myself have enjoyed the benefits of walking when I was a college student in UP, when I was studying abroad in Japan, when we lived in Singapore and now in our community in the midst of the pandemic. I always think about opportunities and even schedule times for walking. Nowadays I am even conscious of my daily step count, which I equate with being active.

On phasing out cars in cities

I’m sharing another article on reducing car dependence. The article was referred to by the previous series that I shared recently.

Nicholas, K. (April 14, 2022) “12 best ways to get cars out of cities – ranked by new research,” The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/12-best-ways-to-get-cars-out-of-cities-ranked-by-new-research-180642 [Last accessed: 5/20/2022]

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

“Question: what do the following statistics have in common?

The second-largest (and growing) source of climate pollution in Europe.
The leading killer of children in both the US and Europe.
A principal cause of stress-inducing noise pollution and life-shortening air pollution in European cities.
A leading driver of the widening gap between rich and poor urban residents.

Answer: the vehicles on our streets, primarily the not-so-humble passenger car.”

also this:

“The research is clear: to improve health outcomes, meet climate targets and create more liveable cities, reducing car use should be an urgent priority.”

and this:

“To meet the planet’s health and climate goals, city governments need to make the necessary transitions for sustainable mobility by, first, avoiding the need for mobility (see Paris’s 15-minute city); second, shifting remaining mobility needs from cars to active and public transport wherever possible; and finally, improving the cars that remain to be zero-emission.”

You can also listen instead of reading it as it is a narrated article.

Articles on examining the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion

Planetizen recently published a three-part series of articles examining the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion:

Part 1: Brasuell, J. (April 13, 2022) “Planning and the Complicated Causes and Effects of Congestion,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/116834-planning-and-complicated-causes-and-effects-congestion [Last accessed: 5/17/2022]

Part 2: Brasuell, J. (April 20, 2022) “How Planning Fails to Solve Congestion,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/116914-how-planning-fails-solve-congestion%5BLast accessed: 5/17/2022]

Part 3: Brasuell, J. (May 12, 2022) “Planning for Congestion Relief,” Planetizen, https://www.planetizen.com/features/117153-planning-congestion-relief?utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news-05162022&mc_cid=34b0612d40&mc_eid=9ccfe464b1 [Last accessed: 5/17/2022]

I think these articles are a must read especially for students (and not just practitioners or professionals) and is sort of a crash course on transportation engineering and planning. It covers many concepts and learnings from so many decades and touches on certain programs that are most effective in reducing car trips. To quote from the article, the top 12 programs based on case studies in Europe are:

  1. Congestion Pricing (12-33% reduction in city-center cars)
  2. Parking and Traffic Controls (11-19% reduction in city-center cars)
  3. Limited Traffic Zones (10-20% reduction in city-center cars)
  4. Workplace Mobility Services (37% drop in car commuters)
  5. Workplace Parking Charges (8-25% reduction in car commuters)
  6. Workplace Travel Planning (3-18% drop in car use by commuters)
  7. University Travel Planning (7-27% reduction in car use by university commuters)
  8. University Mobility Services (24% drop in students commuting by car)
  9. Car Sharing (12-15 private cars replaced by each shared car)
  10. School Travel Planning (5-11% reduction in car use for school trips)
  11. Personalized Travel Planning (6-12% drop in car use share among residents)
  12. App-Based Incentives (73% – proportion of app users declaring reduced car use)

Are we ready to confront congestion and at the least start discussing these car trip reduction programs? Or are we content with the current discourse, which remains car-centric?