Caught (up) in traffic

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Commuting and stress

Here is another quick post but on a topic that’s related to health and therefore is something that I think many should be interested in and perhaps take important note of.

Commuting: “The Stress that Doesn’t Pay”

There are many links to various medical articles within the article. At the last part, there is also a list of references that the reader may want to look at. I’m also posting this for future reference. This would contribute to the formulation of topics for research especially the inter-disciplinary or collaborative kind.

Some relief due to the number coding adjustments?

A friend asked me about my commute after the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) had implemented a tweak in the number coding scheme. To those not familiar with the recent adjustments to the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) or more popularly known as the number coding scheme, the MMDA has recently eliminated the window that was applied to many roads. The 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM window is no more and the MMDA also extended the coding period to 8:00 PM from the old 7:00 PM lifting.

My observation from my personal experience commuting in the mornings between Antipolo and Quezon City is that my travel times have somewhat improved. After Undas, I have enjoyed travel times of 45 minutes to 1 hour during the same morning periods when I choose to travel. This has improved significantly from the 1.5 hours I had spent prior to the adjustment. My usual route was mainly through Marcos Highway so perhaps its not just the coding aspect but also the fact that much of the construction work for the LRT Line 2 Extension have been completed and there have been less obstructions due to this project between Masinag and Santolan. My homebound trips seem to have improved too for the same reasons although not as significant as my morning commute. Another friend has similar observations and is very happy about the big improvements he says he now enjoys considering he has even longer commutes between Antipolo and Manila (Intramuros) or Makati (Gil Puyat).

But generally speaking, is it possible that there are significant positive impacts of the tweak in the number coding scheme? My assessment is that it is very possible and very likely especially if we see it from the perspective of vehicle trip reduction due to the adjustments made in the restraint policy. The number coding scheme is a travel demand management (TDM) measure designed to reduce vehicle traffic through vehicle use restraint. By introducing the coding window many years ago, the restrictions to vehicle travel were in effect relaxed and that encourage more people to use their cars.

The elimination of the coding window means people could not move their times of commute to later than 7:00 AM or earlier than 3:00 PM. It meant people whose vehicles were “coding” had to leave (forced?) early and go home late. Extending the coding period to 8:00 PM probably was probably a back-breaker to many people. And then the difference now compared to the 1990s and decade after that is the availability of the more reliable Uber and Grab vehicles that many car-owners had no option to use before. I’m not a psychologist but perhaps such factors have led to an improvement in traffic conditions. How long this would last shouldn’t be so difficult to tell given the experiences in the past and the fact that population and vehicle ownership continues to rise. Perhaps a year or two if no significant improvements in transport (e.g., mass transit projects) happen.

Starting November 14, the MMDA is also supposed to be clamping down (read: stricter implementation) on the motorcycle lane policy along EDSA, C5, Commonwealth and Macapagal Blvd. I’m not so sure how they will be doing this as enforcement along the stretches will require a lot of manpower.

Extreme commutes on a jeepney

I chanced upon this overloaded jeepney along Sumulong Highway. I counted eight people hanging behind the vehicle including the conductor. This is actually illegal and not just at present but always. The practice of hanging behind a jeepney is obviously unsafe and there is a high risk of people falling off. It would be a miracle not to have major injuries if one falls from the vehicle, and there is a high likelihood of fatality especially of a falling passenger gets hit by another vehicle trailing the jeepney.

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‘Sabit’ or hanging on for a jeepney ride is more a necessity and males usually do this in order to get a ride home or to work. On many occasions, you will see men or boys in their office or school uniforms in the morning, braving it just so they won’t be late for work of school. While it is illegal, authorities seem to apprehend overloaded jeepneys from time to time (or according to some, just for show). I guess they, too, understand how difficult it is to get a ride and how this somehow allows people to get to their destinations. Surprisingly and despite reckless behavior among drivers, there seem to be few untoward incidents reported. Hopefully, public transport will improve so that people will not have to do such extreme commuting.

Candidates for national positions in the Philippines using public transportation

There was a clamour for public officials to take public transportation in order for them to experience what commuters regularly go through when taking public transport. This was especially the challenge to officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) after what seemed to be an endless sequence of breakdowns involving trains in Metro Manila. While some officials and politicians were quick to respond, most if not all were only for photo opportunities (masabi lang na nag-MRT or nag-jeepney or nag-bus). The DOTC Secretary himself also rode the train but with many alalays and was apparently given special treatment judging by the conditions when he rode the train. I remember one senator who was presidential-candidate-to-be at the time fall in line (a very long line at that) at an MRT3 station in Quezon City to experience it herself and declared it was so the experience could help her frame legislation to improve public transport in the country. That was rare and apparently never repeated by the politician despite the praises she received for her doing so without any bodyguards or alalays (assistants).

Some people have been saying that one Vice Presidential candidate is so desperate that she’s taking public transport and having herself photographed doing so. I happen to know for a fact that the said VP hopeful takes public transportation regularly and even from the time when she was not yet congressman. She almost always takes the bus between her hometown in Bicol and Metro Manila. That is not a desperate act but a natural thing for her that few if any of our national officials, elected or appointed, can claim they also practice. This is the VP-candidate in her natural self with no pretensions and no sense of self-entitlement (compared with others who ride their chauffeured vehicles complete with escort vehicles). We need more people like her if we are to address transport and traffic issues cities and the entire country is now facing. These problems hinder development and is something experienced by most people including those who can afford to have their own vehicles for their commutes. We need leaders with first-hand knowledge and experience of how it is to be someone who takes public transport regularly.

Commuting conveniences in Singapore

My recent trip to Singapore allowed me to get reacquainted with its efficient and convenient public transport system. The first thing I did when I arrived at Changi was to proceed to the SMRT station beneath the airport to take a train to the city center where our hotel was located. There I got me a tourist pass for unlimited 2-day commuting over the weekend we were there. I also decided to get a new EZ link card as I saw they released a design for the Chinese New Year (Year of the Monkey). I missed getting myself a Star Wars card, which the staff said were immediately sold out.


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IMG_1067Escalator to the SMRT Station beneath the Changi Airport Terminal 2

IMG_1068Heading down, you realize that the station is way under the airport terminal

IMG_1069After a second long flight of escalators, you reach the station level for the N-S line (green)

IMG_1070Ticket machines for purchasing tickets, cards or topping up (reloading) your card

IMG_1071Ticket office where you can purchase a pass or EZ link card

IMG_1072N-S line platform at Changi Airport Terminal 2

Singapore along with Hong Kong provides very good examples of how public transport should be and the benefits these can provide to people. Tourist passes and the EZ link card gives us a good example of how convenient commuting can be in terms of fare payment/collection.

“New phenomenon” in traffic?

I read in the news recently that the government official currently acting as traffic czar for Metro Manila. The news item may be found at the following link:

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/536851/news/nation/almendras-cites-new-phenomenon-in-edsa

Apparently, the government official found what he claimed as a “new phenomenon” along EDSA. To quote from the article:

“Sa gabi, your honor, may bagong phenomenon na we’re still trying to understand: Bakit ang daming naghihintay ng bus pauwi?” Almendras told senators during the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs’ hearing on the traffic in Metro Manila.

The secretary added that while commuters are having a hard time getting a bus ride in the afternoon, EDSA is packed with passenger buses in the morning.

Almendras has been personally monitoring EDSA since the police’s Highway Patrol Group took over traffic management on the main thoroughfare.

He said somebody told him that passenger buses are no longer going out in the afternoon or in the evening because they have already hit their quota during daytime.

“This is not fact yet… Somebody told me that when the buses hit their minimum targets, the drivers decide, ‘Bakit pa ako magpapakahirap magbiyahe?'” he said.

“I have that question. Why do I see a lot of people on the streets waiting to go home in the afternoon than in the morning?” he added.

It boggles the mind on how our officials are making assessments of the transport and traffic situation around Metro Manila and particularly along EDSA. The statements taken directly shows how detached our officials are from the realities of commuting that most people face on a daily basis in the metropolis. Such statements reinforce calls for public officials to take public transportation themselves in order for them to experience first-hand and understand how most people feel during their daily travels between homes, workplaces and schools. But while people do not deserve such hardships of commuting, there is the lingering (philosophical) question of whether the same commuters deserve the leaders they elected who appointed these same officials who have been and continue to be inutile and insensitive to the plight of the commuting public. Hopefully, the coming 2016 elections will yield officials who will be more sensitive and responsive to the plight of commuters in this country.

Misleading information on comparing modes of transport

A major media network sponsored an experiment pitting a bicycle, bus and rail in a race from Trinoma to De La Salle University along Taft Avenue. The bicycle won but under conditions that are favorable to the cyclist even considering Metro Manila’s road conditions that are not bike-friendly (and not pedestrian friendly, too, in many areas).

Would the bicycle have won against a motorcycle where both riders were of similar skills and experiences? Probably not considering the speed of a motorised vehicle even given congested roads.

Would a lot of people consider cycling between, say, Trinoma and DLSU? Most likely not, even if you provide the necessary infrastructure and facilities like bike racks, showers, etc., short of building exclusive bikeways (e.g., elevated).

I have nothing against bicycles and cycling. I have a bicycle myself and I have cycled between my home and the universities when I was studying and a visiting scientist in Japan. However, I have to caution people into thinking and oversimplifying that one mode is better than all others. If we pursue this line of thinking, then perhaps we should include walking in the discussion. I would like to think that there will also be a lot of people who would state that walking (and even running) is better than other modes including cycling. When comparing these two non-motorized modes, however, the advantages of one over the other become obvious – cycling is faster and requires less energy per person traveling using the mode. Such would extend to the motorized modes and comparisons should clearly show the suitability of certain modes of transport over others once distance and capacity are factored into the equation. Thus, we have rail systems as more appropriate over longer distances and are able to carry much more passengers per hour compared to, say, jeepneys. These are even more efficient in terms of energy on a per passenger basis. Further, we have to appreciate that we have to establish a clear hierarchy of transport systems and provide the necessary infrastructure to enable people to have all the options for traveling and especially for commuting.