Caught (up) in traffic

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On data on mobility trends

There are actually a lot of data available on mobility if you know how to look for them. One good source is Apple. Yes, Apple has access to thousands of smart phones that allow them to track individuals (oh you didn’t know that?) movements. Here is the link to Apple’s data:

https://www.apple.com/covid19/mobility

And here is a graph showing mobility trends in the Philippines from that resource:

Some politicians and political appointees are now saying that we are in this predicament about COVID-19 because of a lack of discipline. That is bullshit. Many stayed home and/or reduced their movements. And then there’s that study showing 90% wore masks when they go out. No, it’s not lack of discipline that’s the problem but the lack of essential services and goods that are supposed to be delivered by those who are suppose to govern and the deficiencies from the start in addressing the spread of the virus especially from abroad. Perhaps these people criticizing Filipinos should look at their mirrors more closely and look left, right and across from they comfy seats to see what’s wrong with the way government has been handling the pandemic?

On tricycle capacity in the time of COVID-19

With the current rationalization and modernization of public transport vehicles and services being implemented by the national government, many jeepneys, mostly the conventional or traditional ones, have been unable to ply their routes again. Along some routes, buses have taken over but have been limited in the number of passengers they could carry due to physical distancing restrictions. But these are mostly for routes and roads that carry people between their residences and workplaces that typically are longer distance trips (e.g., more than 4 kilometers one way). For shorter distance trips, the more relevant mode of motorized transport is the tricycle. The conventional trike in the Philippines is one involving a motorcycle with a side car. Side car designs vary around the country with some seating 4 people (e.g., back to back with 2 facing backward) but usually with only two seats inside the cab. one or two passengers can be accommodated behind the driver on the motorcycle.

New model trikes include the models endorsed by the Asian Development Bank for the e-trike project that is laid out like a small jitney with benches seating 3 to 4 people on one side (total 6 to 8 passengers) and the popular tuktuk designs that seat 3 people at the back. With the quarantine restrictions in place, conventional trikes can only take one passenger inside the sidecar and none behind the driver. Tuktuks can seat 2 behind the driver but with a barrier (usually a plastic curtain) between the passengers.

 

Conventional or traditional trike with plastic sheet between the driver and the passenger (in the side car).

Tuktuk-type trike with plastic sheet between the driver (in front seat) and passengers in back seat. The back seat allows for 3 people seated together but due to distancing requirement

I have been informed by a former student that certain e-trike models (e.g., BEMAC model e-trikes) are allowed to carry 4 passengers, 2 each on the benches behind the driver who is on the front seat. That still means less passengers than they could usually carry. This would seem to be part of the new normal and will be the set-up for the foreseeable future until perhaps a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved and people get vaccinated. Then, health protocols may be eased to allow for the full seating capacities of public transport vehicles.

On car-shaming and reducing car use

Here is another article I am sharing (re-sharing?). I have seen or read a lot of posts on social media about how we should not go back to the car-centric traffic before the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and its variations. I do agree with this point. However, I take reservation about how some people seem to be resorting to car-shaming rather than be more proactive and progressive about coming up with strategies and/or plans that I hope would be evidence-based or supported by valid data. As the article states, “it takes more than car-shaming to change car use”:

Jaffe, E. (2020) “It takes more than car-shaming to change car use”, Medium, https://medium.com/sidewalk-talk/it-takes-more-than-car-shaming-to-change-car-use-107e28ccb2cf [Last accessed: 4/29/2020]

A key message from the article: “People are most open to changing their travel habits during major life events, such as a move. But even a well-timed message isn’t enough.” Perhaps the opportunity is here now to reform our transportation system. But that will take a lot of will or effort from all sectors most especially the national agencies (e.g., DOTr, DPWH) and local governments who have the authority and responsibility to implement changes. These changes include the assignment of exclusive lanes for bicycles, public transport and logistics while restricting car use. There are also other elements that need to be in place as we transition into the so-called “new normal” and so there will be a lot going on among the sectors or parties collaborating or interacting for transportation. Hopefully, there are context-sensitive strategies that will be adopted and implemented in order for everyone to transition more efficiently and effectively. And as they say…life goes on.

On Pasig’s ordinance promoting and supporting the use of bicycles

I am posting a couple of LGU issuances that would be good references to other LGUs as we all tread along through these quarantines, curfews and lockdowns (or whatever it is they call it these days). First off is the Ordinance from Pasig City. The city has been in the news quite frequently for the very progressive, responsible and active handling of the situation led by its popular mayor Vico Sotto. His policies and programs are claimed to be based on data or information on his constituents that his team is using with much efficiency. This shows us how data analytics can prove useful in times of crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The ordinance also shows a grasp of realities for transport and the so-called “new normal” that people have been talking about once we transition out of the quarantines and lockdowns.

 

I guess it begs the question if Pasig is also coming out with a formal policy or statement regarding other modes of transport such as tricycles, jeepneys and buses. They did allow tricycles for a while until national government told them to cease tricycle operations citing health issues while not really delving into details to find a way to improve people’s mobility during these times. Meanwhile, other LGUs specifically one that is close to the President’s heart has defied the very same orders from national agencies to restrict tricycle operations as public transport. I will post that issuance next…

What the DPWH says about the installation of ads including those masquerading as signs

So what does the DPWH say about signs and their installation? The DPWH in their Highway Safety Design Standards (Part 2: Road Signs and Pavement Markings Manual) states the following:

 

It’s plain and simple and yet we find a proliferation of ads masquerading as signs and entities such as the MMDA and LGUs not properly (or strictly) implementing the provisions of the DPWH manual. It is also sad to see practitioners actively trying (and succeeding) to circumvent this provision in the DPWH manual.

Build, build, build, and the cost of pursuing legacies among our leaders

Much has been written about the current administration’s Build, Build, Build program including it being billed as a “Golden Age of Infrastructure”. Many infrastructure projects though can be classified as “nice to have but not necessary”. They might become necessary in the future but then there are other projects that are more urgently needed now and need to be prioritised given the limited resources that we have. A good example of these “nice to have” projects would be the bridges proposed to connect Panay, Negros, Cebu and Bohol islands. The reality is that it is quite easy to manipulate studies in order to obtain results to support the construction of these bridges including justifying loans that will bring us deeper into unnecessary (for now) debt. You get more bang for the buck if you build instead mass transit systems and transform transportation in major cities of these same islands to favour active transport rather than be dependent on cars. Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod and other highly urbanised cities now require better public transportation and people-oriented systems. That’s where money should go and that will have a bigger impact from now to the long-term. The government’s infrastructure build-up is linked to the new tax scheme (TRAIN) but also requires a lot of borrowing from various entities including one country that has been documented to take full advantage (i.e., very disadvantageous to the borrower) of countries taking out loans from them (you know which one – China). Do we really want to get mired in such debt?

We all are in the lookout for opportunities that would probably give us something we will be remembered for. This is not limited to the leaders of our country, whether they be politicians or department heads or even district engineers, who perhaps want to be remembered for something they built, or, something they contributed in making a reality. Perhaps this can be in the form of a mass transit line, an expressway, or an iconic bridge? Perhaps for others it is in the form of a nuclear power plant or even a space program. We all have that dream project we want to be associated with.

Why are certain good people not critical of the government’s disastrous war on drugs or the proliferation of what appears to be government sponsored fake news and propaganda? It’s simple. Many of these “good” people are benefitting from the very same government particularly in pursuit of their own legacies (which are their main agenda). If you were an engineer, planner or scientist in government and your projects were funded one way or another, would you dare bite the proverbial hand that feeds you? “Complicit” seems to be a word used by the more hardline among us in terms of the socio-political-economic situation we are in now. But we have to remember that during the regime of Marcos, this was also the situation. The so-called best and the brightest were all employed by the administration back then including prominent names in industry and the academe, who perhaps enjoyed the privileges, perks and funding support for their programs and projects. Never mind martial law and its outcomes.

That is why history and its understanding is important. So we may learn from it and not relive the wrongs made in the past. We are not good in history or its application. Perhaps we only know how to memorise. And memory has its limits. That is among the costs of our current predicament. We withhold history, and memory, in exchange for what we think would be our legacies. At what cost? At what price? Human rights, freedoms, justice, financial stability, and dignity are just a few we can mention. Perhaps the biggest loss will be our humanity as we have become de-sensitized to the well-being of others.

In memoriam of road crash victims

I wrote earlier this year about a beloved aunt who was involved in a road crash. She was hit by a jeepney driven recklessly as she was walking; on her way to church one early morning. She was in the hospital for weeks before she finally passed away. It was painful to see her in her hospital bed, unconscious but fighting for her life.

No, I don’t feel anger anymore whenever I recall the incident and note that if the driver were just careful then she would still have been alive today. I feel sad. I feel sad and frustrated that despite all the efforts a lot of people have put into road safety programs and projects, there seems to be little in terms of the reduction of recklessness on the roads. The recent weeks, for example, are full of reports of crashes that claimed the lives of many and injured more. These often involved trucks that mowed down everyone in their paths. Then, you see a lot of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, many ride like stuntmen and without regard for life, limb or property as long as they can get away with it.

Additional laws in the form of local ordinances or Republic Acts will not be effective in reducing road crashes and the death toll it has brought upon us. It is the enforcement, the implementation of these rules and regulations. Rules and regulations are just words that, if not acted upon, do not have any effectiveness. And so we get to the root of the problem and that is enforcement; the lacking if not missing ingredient in the road safety broth that is necessary to save lives and create a safer environment for all. Does it deserve more attention and resources from our national government and local authorities who are in-charge of most of the enforce aspects of road safety? I do think so. Statistics on traffic-related deaths, injuries and damage to property compare strongly with if not exceed those attributed to drug abuse. When you purposely drive recklessly and crash into another vehicle or person, one is practically murderous. You also destroy the lives of people related to the person you kill or injure (e.g., that person could be the sole breadwinner of a family). The comparisons and examples are plenty and I am sure a lot of people have their own personal experiences about this as well as their opinions. For now though, let us reflect on those who perished from road crashes and perhaps think not about “what could have been” but instead of “what can be done.”

Local Public Transport Route Plan Manual – Philippines

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) recently shared the Local Public Transport Route Plan (LPTRP) Manual that was the product of the collaboration among government and the academe. While the date appearing on the cover is October 2017, this manual was actually completed in April 2017. [Click the image of the cover below for the link where you can download the manual.]

I don’t know exactly why the DOTr and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) were hesitant in releasing this manual. Perhaps they wanted to pilot test it first on a city? Yup, this manual has never been tested yet so we don’t really know whether it will work as a tool for planning public transportation.

With all the opposition to the government’s PUV Modernization Program, the DOTr and the LTFRB should be piloting the program first and show a proof of concept to dispel doubts about the program. The same essentially applies to this transport route plan manual. Only once these are piloted would we know first hand its flaws and allow us to revise or fine tune them. I would suggest that both the modernization program and the manual be piloted in cities that are perceived or claim to have strong local governance. Davao City comes to mind and perhaps Iloilo City. Can you think about other cities where the program and/or manual can be piloted?

Some questions on a gloomy Saturday morning

On gloomy Saturdays like today, I often tend to sort of contemplate on some questions coming from events and articles the past few days. I don’t really want to answer these questions right now and immediately but would rather let these and the follow-ups play around in my mind. I would rather not do some shout outs on social media about these questions as some friends tend to be sensitive and I don’t really want to make a lot of effort carefully framing posts on FB just so they won’t appear to be offending certain persons who might be over-zealous about their advocacies or who would be so defensive of their organizations. Here are some questions running around in my brain right now:

1. Does DENR have the mandate to require sidewalks and bikeways along all roads? Design and implementation-wise, isn’t this supposed to be under the DPWH (for national roads) and the LGUs (for local roads)? Is this more a policy statement? But then shouldn’t this come from DOTC?

2. Is going out of your way really the way to get noticed and be awarded? Are there no points for people doing a great job at what they are supposed to be doing?

3. Shouldn’t an agency first check if they are doing what they are supposed to do and the outcomes reflect their objectives? Are emissions testings and monitoring successful or do we still have a lot of smoke-belchers on our roads? If they already have their hands full with their tasks according to their mandate, shouldn’t they first mind their business before even encroaching into another agency’s tasks?

4. Does media have to give so much airtime to a driver of a luxury vehicle who assaulted a traffic enforcer?

5. Why does it seem to be so much fuzz about Uber? Is it just on social media? Do most other commuters give a damn about it when they really can’t afford availing such services?

6. Are government engineers bereft of an appreciation for the arts, culture and heritage? Are they too mechanical or dumb to understand what planning and design really is all about?

Tricycles in the Philippines – Part 1

We start the “ber” months strong with an initial feature on an ubiquitous mode of transport in the Philippines. While the jeepney seems to have had most of the attention when the subject of public transport in the Philippines is discussed, the truth is that there is arguably another, more dominant mode of public transport in the country. These are the tricycles, a motorized three-wheeler consisting of a motorcycle and a sidecar. You see these everywhere around the country in most cities and municipalities where they thrive particularly in residential areas. They are usually the only mode of public transport for most people in rural areas where local roads are typically narrow. In many cases the only roads connecting communities may be national roads. And so, there is really no other choice for tricycles but to travel along national roads and against existing laws prohibiting tricycles from these roads.

IMG06146-20130606-1556Tricycle along the motorcycle lane of Circumferential Road 5

IMG02491-20120511-0949Tricycles racing along the Olongapo-Castillejos Road in Zambales

IMG_5783Tricycle along Romulo Highway, Tarlac

catolico-gaisanoTricycles along Catolico Avenue in Gen. Santos City

Unlike buses and jeepneys, tricycles are not regulated under the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Instead, they are under the local government units that through one office or another issue the equivalent of franchises for tricycles to operate legally. Fares are quite variable but are usually according to distance though there are special rates for when passengers want to have the vehicle for themselves much like a taxi.

Unfortunately, few LGUs have the capacity to determine the optimum number of tricycles for service areas under their jurisdictions. As tricycle operations are often the source of livelihood for many, the granting of franchises is often seen as a way for mayors to have influence over people who would have “utang na loob” (debt of gratitude) for being granted franchises. The tendency, therefore, is to have too many tricycles as mayors try to accommodate more applicants who seem to have no other options to earn income or to invest in. This poses a challenge to many who want to reform the system and modernize or upgrade public transport in cities around the country.