Caught (up) in traffic

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Some snapshots of the PNR ROW along the way to Bicol

I promised to post about my trip and here are a few photos I took of the PNR’s right of way (ROW) showing the railways crossing with the Pan Philippine Highway (Asian Highway 26 or AH 26) at many points.

After traveling in the early hours of the morning, we finally got a good glimpse of the PNR’s south line that basically runs parallel to the national highway.

The single track line will actually go underneath the bridge downstream from where this photo was taken. I just couldn’t get a clear shot from our vehicle. I hope to get one on the way back.

Railway tracks are currently used as access to communities with dirt roads often running just beside the tracks.

Railway tracks leading to what looks like an area that still has a lot of vegetation. Note, too, what looks like check rails in the photo.

Railroad crossing signs along the highway – the standard one is obvious in the photo

Much of the PNR’s ROW has encroachments making it unsafe for modern railway operations.

An obviously unused (dormant?) part of the line in Quezon

The government plans to upgrade or rehabilitate the PNR’s Main Line South with the help of funding (and technical assistance?) from China. A colleague opined that maybe since the north line rehab is to be undertaken with the help of the Japanese, then perhaps the south should similarly be rehabbed with the help of Japan. That should ensure the same quality and standards will be applied throughout the system. What do you think?

More photos and stories soon!

Looking forward to another long road trip

It has been a while since I had a long road trip. The last one was not particularly long as it was only until Lucena City in Quezon. Prior to that was a trip to Baguio City. And so I am looking forward to this trip to Bicol this week and I do hope to take a lot of photos along the way. That includes photos of arches that I have not had the chance of taking that I know I can get a lot of during this trip that will take us through several provinces in Southern Luzon. Those photos and the experiences from the trip will probably dominate the postings this February.

Grab a taxi

When we were residing in Singapore, it was so easy to book a taxi wherever we might be. Comfort Taxi’s booking system allowed us to get a taxi from our home to the airport or to avoid long queues at the mall by booking a taxi by phone and waiting for it at a designated stop nearby. With the arrival of GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi in the Philippines, getting a cab became a little easier and convenient though one friend opined that the app basically mainstreams the current practice of negotiating with the cab driver for the fees (usually higher than the meter fare for metered taxis) to be paid for a ride. Hindi pa kasama ang tip dito! This ‘negotiating’ is a ‘trial and error’ thing and in certain cases, there might not even be a negotiation for the fares as Metro Manila cab drivers are notorious for being choosy about their passengers and their destinations.

Here are a few screen grabs from a booking we made last month after having some difficulty getting a ride out of UP Diliman in Quezon City.

IMG11796-20150618-1809Information about the booking fees in various Philippine cities. The booking fee in Manila is conspicuously and significantly higher than those in other major cities.

IMG11798-20150618-1810Grab Taxi’s interface shows the number of taxis nearby, which is apparently the number within something like a 4 or 5-kilometer radius of our location (204 is a big number!). We were at Melchor Hall at the time and the most convenient pick-up location was at the National Center for Transportation Studies, which was behind Melchor Hall.

IMG11799-20150618-1810You can also check out the availability of more exclusive (and expensive) Grab services such as GrabCar and GrabCar Premium. When you slide to GrabCar, the status bar will also show how many drivers of that service option are nearby (i.e., 20 drivers nearby for GrabCar). GrabCar would be similar to the basic service (and vehicle) provided by the more popular Uber.

IMG11800-20150618-1810GrabCar Premium is probably the equivalent of the Uber Black Car service we have in Manila.

IMG11797-20150618-1809Another view of the user interface showing some (or many) of the 204 taxis nearby.

IMG11760-20150605-1904Here is an example of a message from GrabTaxi after it was unable to get a cab for us.

We were fortunate that the failed attempt at getting a cab was once only as we got a cab in our next try. This is despite all the cabs supposedly nearby. In reality only those who are willing to go to my destination from Quezon City will initially be interested in taking my request via the app. There is also a gratuity feature of GrabTaxi that allows the user to indicate how much he/she would be tipping the driver on top of the fare and booking fee. In the end, I guess my stating a very generous tip ensured my successfully getting a cab. For this, my friend’s opinion seems to be true that apps such as GrabTaxi mainstreams or makes the negotiations formal and a given when using the app. It, however, already eliminates the part where the prospective passenger gets turned down by the cab he/she hailed. When a cab responds to a request via GrabTaxi, EasyTaxi or even Uber, the driver already agrees to the terms of the deal regarding the ride. And it is a good thing that these apps now feature feedback mechanisms (e.g., rating the drivers) in order to weed out those that are still uncooperative, greedy or want to take advantage of the need for taxi service.

GrabTaxi now has a new service, Grab Express, which is an on-demand pick-up and delivery service. This is a service already provided by other companies in the US that are now giving traditional or conventional courier/logistic companies a lot of competition. I would think there is a demand for such services especially in cities where documents and other stuff still need to be submitted to offices like reports, manuscripts, letters and others that need to be delivered in “hard copy” format.

All roads lead to Antipolo: rerouting for the Alay Lakad

The Rizal Provincial Government and the Antipolo City Government recently posted traffic rerouting schemes on their Facebook pages. Lalawigan ng Rizal was the first to post schemes that affect traffic in at least 3 major local government jurisdictions – Antipolo, Cainta and Taytay. The schemes affect the two major corridors that basically lead to Antipolo’s National Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (or Antipolo Cathedral to many) – the Ortigas Avenue corridor and the Marcos Highway-Sumulong Highway corridor. There are many major and minor routes connecting to these corridors and are clearly seen in the maps.

Within Antipolo, there are also re-routing schemes, which the Antipolo City Government posted along with a “clearer” re-posting of the maps from the Rizal FB page. The Antipolo FB page includes information/maps on the rerouting within the city center. These schemes will affect traffic circulation including public transport routes. Critical would be the permanent and temporary terminals and parking areas set-up around the city that should be able to accommodate the thousands of vehicles that are also expected to be used by people who won’t be walking or cycling.

What the maps basically say is that from 4:00 PM today, Maundy Thursday, to 6:00 AM tomorrow, Good Friday, the stretch from Cainta Junction to the Shrine will be closed to traffic. This is to allow the hundreds of thousands expected to make the trek to Antipolo to have the road for themselves. What the maps don’t say is that motorcycles and tricycles would likely be allowed, too. I can understand that motorcycles could easily squeeze into the throngs of people but then allowing tricycles to operate among the walkers and bikers would be risky given their drivers’ behavior. Add to this that they would be making a killing out of charging opportunistic fares.

Technically, the rerouting schemes don’t appear to be as well thought of as can be expected from the LGUs. Baka ito lang nakayanan ng staff o ng consultants nila, and surrender na agad ang Rizal and Antipolo with regards to the coming up with more options for people to travel to the Antipolo Shrine? Not all people can walk or cycle but are willing to an could take public transport for their pilgrimage. The maps themselves are a bit crude and the Province of Rizal and City of Antipolo could have done much better maps given the resources of these LGUs. There are open source tools now available as well as your basic software like PowerPoint or Photoshop (even Word!) that can be used to render good quality images to guide people making the Alay Lakad. This is a regular event and though it happens once a year then perhaps the LGUs could have better plans especially to transport people who cannot make the walk to Antipolo. The objective after all is to convey the masses to and from the shrine safely and efficiently – something a mass transport system can do whether via Marcos/Sumulong or Ortigas corridors.

One reminder to all doing the Alay Lakad: keep your garbage to yourselves if you cannot find a proper waste bin. Do not dispose of your waste along the route and make a dumpsite out of Ortigas Avenue, Marcos Highway, Sumulong Highway or whatever roads you are taking! Kasalanan din po ang irresponsableng pagtatapon ng basura. While you might be forgiven for these “sins” through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (which many will likely take at the Cathedral), nature will have a way of getting back at you for your environmental travesty. –

On delayed flights in the Philippines

I participated in a conference held in Puerto Princesa, Palawan last November and both my flights to and from Puerto Princesa were delayed. The first one was delayed by 1 hour. We boarded on time and there were no announcements of delays. However, we sat inside the plane for about an hour including taxiing towards the runway and then waiting in queue before we were cleared for take-off. The pilot was constantly on the PA system though, informing passengers about the cause of the delay, which was airport congestion. This was a reference to the many take-offs and landings (departing and arriving aircraft) being handled by the airport at the time.  It seems air traffic control could not cope with the number of aircraft departing and arriving at NAIA even considering the airport had two runways that were operational (We took off using the secondary runway.).

Aircraft taxiing towards NAIA’s main runway in preparation for take-off

I won’t mention specific airlines as I think domestic flights by all airlines have been incurring significant delays and not just recently but among the main possible reasons for delays that can be charged to the airline are the following:

1. Airport congestion – This can refer to either the runway or the passenger terminal. However, for the latter case  you can have examples of very congested or crowded terminals of airports that have planes taking off and landing on time. Tagbilaran and Roxas Airports are like that, and Mactan (Cebu) and Bacolod-Silay have passenger terminals that are becoming if not already congested. Thus, airport congestion as a reason for delays must be due to runway operations. A single runway airport will handle fewer flights compared to those with multiple runways. Airport runway design and configuration are influenced by many factors but given any single runway in a major airport like NAIA it is already assumed that these factors are already considered in operation and on a typical day under normal or even favorable conditions, the only other significant factor for runway operations is air traffic control. Air traffic controllers would be responsible for guiding arriving flights and clearing planes for take-off. The number of take-offs and landings will also be significantly affected by how air traffic control “queues” planes in the air and on the ground.

2. Too many flights – Airlines tend to maximize the use of their aircraft and seem to be scheduling more flights that they can handle. This results in the very common “late arrival of turnaround aircraft” reason that airlines announce as the reason for delayed flights. Granted, in many cases this is ultimately due to reason #1, it seems that other airlines that have lesser flights also have less problems of this kind. In fact, I have observed that in many if not most instances, international carriers do not incur as much delays as local carriers and among local carriers there seem to be a unanimous observation on which “planes are always late” these days.

It seems at first that the main issue is not necessarily airlines overbooking their flights since air traffic control and the number of runways can be major factors influencing the number of aircraft that can take-off and land during a particular period. However, one particular airline has a knack for offering a lot of flights that they obviously cannot handle with all the delays and cancellations they have been incurring to the consternation of a lot of travelers. Though I myself use the airline often due to the convenience of their schedules and frequencies, I too have been victimized many times of these delays including one flight to Singapore a couple of years ago when, instead of arriving in time for dinner I ended up arriving home just after midnight.

Recently, there have been calls for the airline and others performing like it to be penalized in order for them to realize how much inconvenience they have brought on to their passengers. I think this is right in order to send a clear message to airlines that safety and service come first before profit. Too many flights, no matter how convenient to the passengers in terms of schedule, is not a substitute for good quality service. Being a budget airline also does not excuse it from what a lot of people have branded as crappy service. This mentality of airlines reminds me only of similar mentality among bus and jeepney operators (land transport) but that’s another story.

Travel the Philippines 2015: 20 Photos that will make you pack your bags and go – @Just1WayTicket

I saw this article being shared around social media about tourism spots in the Philippines. Given the push for more visitors, local and foreign, the government and its partners in the private sector have exerted a lot of effort and allocated much resources to improving the tourism in the country. This includes improvements to infrastructure as well as to the tourism industry itself. There are many nice places around the country including those off the beaten track. I think the following article does a great job of featuring a lot of the more popular spots as well as many that are not usually in the typical itinerary of travel agencies:

Travel the Philippines 2015: 20 Photos that will make you pack your bags and go – @Just1WayTicket.

No PAGASA? No problem!

I interrupt the transport theme of this site with something about the weather, which actually affects transport and traffic. Rains have resulted in flooded streets and lead to severe traffic congestion. Meanwhile, typhoons have always disrupted travel with airlines forced to cancel flights and maritime operations put on hold. Those braving the weather risk frightening turbulence or rough seas, hopefully not leading to air crashes or capsizing vessels.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) website has been down the past two days at a time people are anxious on information about a typhoon affecting the country with potentially catastrophic outcomes. The Philippines’ weather bureau has put up an alternative site to provide information on the approaching typhoon. Ruby (International name: Hagupit) had developed into a super typhoon yesterday and its Category 5 attributes reminded people about how destructive such forces of nature can be barely more than a year after Yolanda (Haiyan) lay waste several provinces. It seemed that the international name of the typhoon itself was apt for its potential. “Hagupit” is Pilipino for “to lash,” and it would seem to be something like a scourge of God if the typhoon were to make landfall like Haiyan last year.
I have not been too dependent on the PAGASA site despite all the information it provides including real time information on the water levels of major rivers in Metro Manila. I take exception of DOST’s NOAH project, which to me is technically not PAGASA and very useful for their Doppler data and visualization. Two websites that I highly recommend to people for information on the weather are the following:
For those interested in modeling and the forecasting of typhoons from their formative stages the website by the National Oceanic an Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US is a very interesting site.
Following are sample visuals from the three sites I mentioned, which can be good references for the weather. I highly recommend Wunderground, which also has an app for your smartphone, for daily or even hourly weather information.
JTWC’s latest information on Hagupit

Wunderground’s latest 5-day forecast for Hagupit

NOAA storm tracks showing current and potential weather systems in the Western Pacific