Caught (up) in traffic

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Tire conditions

While stopped at an intersection, my eyes wandered to look at the vehicles around me. I took a photo of the rear tires of a truck stopped beside me. Following are some observations about the tires:

  • Most if not all the tires were re-treads
  • Most of the tires are worn out
  • One tire is already damaged and should not have been used in the first place

IMG_0651

Such conditions of trucks’ tires reflect the state of many commercial vehicles in the country. The same observation applies to public utility vehicles. I guess there have been many instances of tire blow-outs involving trucks and jeepneys. These have not been reported as they often lead to traffic congestion (i.e., when a vehicle is forced to stop and block traffic), which is not at all an uncommon experience to many. Few perhaps have led to high profile road crashes featuring fatalities. Still, the potential for major crashes is there and it is contributory to disasters that are always just waiting to happen in many of our roads.

Still on license plates

I can’t seem to get over this pet peeve of mine that is the earlier move of the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for all new vehicles to adopt the same license plate design. It was an illogical move even as the LTO claimed the new plates had security features that allowed easy verification of vehicle registration. Common sense tells us that the easiest verification of whether a vehicle is for private or public utility is by simple vision. You don’t need high tech equipment to tell you that a van sporting a private plate and picking up passengers for fares is operating illegally. You didn’t need to exert a lot of effort to read the very small lettering on the new license plate for where the vehicles is registered because the first letter of the old license plates already indicated the region (i.e., the first letter corresponds to a region – ‘B’ for Region 2, ‘F’ for Region 6, and so on).

IMG10592-20150415-2206Two UV Express vehicles bearing plates that are supposed to be for private vehicles. The one on the left didn’t even make the cut for the new plates, being issued the older green plates.

I really hope that this is corrected ASAP considering that the LTO has rescinded the earlier policy and is supposed to issue yellow plates again for public utility vehicles.

Another example of mismatched plates

My most recent post was on the inappropriateness of the new license plates issued by the LTO to public utility vehicles. New taxis, UV express and jeepneys suddenly had the back and white license that’s supposed to be issued only to private vehicles. This meant that it would be difficult to distinguish the legitimate PUVs from colorum or illegally operating ones. In the last post, I was able to show an example each for these license plates on a taxi and a UV Express van. Yesterday, I was able to get a photo of a jeepney bearing this “anomalous” plate as I was caught in an unexpected traffic jam along an otherwise free-flowing road in Rizal.

IMG10533-20150409-1113Jeepney bearing the black and white license plate issued to private vehicles

On the uncommon sense on license plates

The issuance of new license plates has been a very “painful” process and experience to a lot of people and it is not without serious issues. For one, there is still a backlog in license plates as evident from Strictly speaking, these vehicles shouldn’t be operating or not allowed to be driven even considering they are technically registered with the Land Transportation Office (LTO). The proliferation of vehicles without license plates allows for the abuse of such by owners of relatively new vehicles who can remove their plates in order to be able to take their cars on their coding days. It is also possible to be involved in a road crash or incident where the driver of a vehicle without a license plate can make an escape (the details on the conduction sticker are not easy to spot and memorize) or evade apprehension.

Among the most problematic is the issuance of plates of the same design as that used by private vehicles to public utility vehicles like UV Express and taxis. This creates a lot of opportunities for abuse especially private vehicles masquerading as PUVs. These are without the proper franchises and are illegal (i.e., colorum). What the LTO claims as security features on the plate are meaningless as the uniform color of the plates defy the simple logic behind the old policy of having a specific color to quickly distinguish among vehicles bearing different color plates. This makes it easier for traffic officers including the Philippine National Police (PNP) to spot vehicles with mismatched or inappropriate license plates.

IMG10499-20150401-0959Taxi cab bearing plate with the same design as that used by private vehicles.

IMG10530-20150408-0825UV Express van bearing license plate for private vehicles

The purpose of having plates with different colors is for quick identification and distinction of vehicles. A plate with yellow background has always been associated with public utility vehicles. Those with blue lettering or background are those for diplomatic plates. Those with red lettering or background are for government plates. Fortunately, the LTO has reverted to the original policy pertaining to the license plate colors and new plates to be issued to PUVs will once again be a distinctive yellow. Perhaps corrections are due for those legitimate PUVs that were issued inappropriate design (i.e., color) plates.

On the new vehicle plates in the Philippines

A lot has been written about the new license plates being issued by the Land Transportation Office (LTO) for vehicles. I have read and heard many opinions or explanations from officials, experts and pundits about how the current license plates were better than the old ones due to its security features. As well, I have heard the opposite – criticisms by similar officials, experts and pundits usually focusing on the flaws of the new plates compared to the previous ones. They do agree on one thing, that the 4 numbers now appearing on the new vehicle plates issued to vehicles registered from January 2014 (5 numbers for the new motorcycles) are a necessity due in part to the rapidly increasing number of registered vehicles in the Philippines. Of course, the delays in the actual issuance of the plates themselves for new vehicles is another story.

Green plates are for private vehicles (not for hire). Red plates are for government vehicles. Blue plates (with only numbers and no letters) are diplomatic plates. Orange plates are the newest type of plates and were issued to electric vehicles. These solid orange plates and not of similar design to those bearing the Rizal Monument. Yellow plates are for “for hire” vehicles including public utility vehicles like buses, jeepneys, taxis and vans-for-hire. Recently, there were actually two types of yellow plates. One type used the design with the Rizal monument in the middle and these were issued to limousines such as those operated by hotels and tour companies. The other is the solid yellow plates (no Rizal Monument) that were issued to PUVs.

IMG07705-20140217-1133UV Express vehicle with the solid yellow plate.

The new plates issued by the LTO are black and white – basically black lettering on white plates. Recently, friends have been telling me about their seeing the new black and white plates on taxis. I had thought that this shouldn’t be the case since PUVs like taxis are supposed to have distinctive color (yellow) plates in order for illegally (so-called colorum) operating vehicles to be spotted easily by authorities. It turned out that the LTO under the previous head of the agency did away with the yellow plates in favor of what they claimed to be more sophisticated new plates. My reaction was that this was absurd and visual identification (i.e., seeing the color of the vehicle’s plate) is still the easiest was to spot colorum vehicles. I had wondered, too, how the LTO came up with that obviously flawed decision and if they consulted among law enforcement agencies like the PNP who would be tasked to apprehend illegally operating road transport.

IMG09930-20150107-1904Such incidence of green plates on public utility vehicles were a no-no (illegal) in previous administrations. I assume that this one is “temporary” in the absence of what were phased out yellow plates.

Fortunately, the LTO led by its current chief has decided to bring back the yellow plates. These will probably follow the new plate design but with yellow instead of a white background. Hopefully, all legitimate PUVs will have these yellow plates instead of the “temporary” private plates many have been issued. These will aid in the enforcement of regulations pertaining to PUVs and will help weed out colorum vehicles.

Preventable tragedies

Last Friday, a provincial bus plunged into a ravine somewhere in the Mountain Province. The bus rolled several times  before coming to a stop, instantly killing 14 people. Among the fatalities in this crash is a popular comedian/media personality who went by the name Tado and part of a group doing civic work in the area. Foreign visitors were also killed in the crash, leaving many to wonder if perhaps the Department of Tourism (DOT) should also get into the act as it is in the interest of the department to also establish that “It’s safer in the Philippines!” as part of its “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” tagline.

According to initial reports, the driver lost control due to defective brakes but later one report suggested that the driver had dozed off and awoke too late to bring the bus back in control. The slope of the road was downwards and there was significant curvature. This combination is definitely a challenging one for most drivers, even professionals who, like the bus driver, would probably have encountered such combinations of slope and curvature many times, even on a daily basis along mountain routes. One has to be awake and focused on maneuvering a vehicle for such sections. It didn’t help that probably, and I base this on photos of the section I’ve seen online, the road’s barriers were not up to standard in as far as stopping large vehicles like the bus from falling off and into the ravine.

These are preventable incidents, preventable tragedies that occur on a daily basis around the country. It is clear to many that the LTFRB needs to address these problems by taking steps to insure that public transport vehicles such as provincial buses are properly maintained and drivers are fit and in the best condition to drive these vehicles. To do that, they have to be proactive in evaluating bus, jeepney, UV express, and taxi and other franchises under them. These evaluations should delve into involvements in road crashes as well as the frequencies and types of traffic violations drivers have been involved in. Such records of crashes and violations should form part of a set of criteria to suspend and ultimately revoke franchises of public transport entities.

The LTO also has a responsibility here because they are the agency in-charge of licensing drivers. They should make sure that those applying for professional licenses are indeed qualified and not just to drive any vehicle. Therefore, perhaps there is a need to have different types of licenses for different types of professional drivers. Public utility vehicles differ in size and maneuverability so a different skill set and experience is required for buses compared with taxis. Another type of license should apply for those seeking to drive trucks as well as heavy equipment such as payloaders and bulldozers. The TESDA has certification programs for these that are sought out by people who want to drive professionally abroad. These should also be made as requirements for those seeking to drive professionally here. These would ensure that drivers will be qualified and competent as they are responsible for lives and property.

It is also clear that the DPWH and local authorities in-charge of road safety along roads should look into how to make travel safer by investing more into safety devices such as barriers. Crash or accident prone sections can be identified and sturdier barriers designed to keep vehicles on the road should be constructed/installed in order to prevent such types of fatal crashes (i.e., barriers would not prevent head-on collisions, etc.). That is why the DPWH and local governments need to have capacity and capability to assess road safety along national and local roads. These actions address vulnerabilities. These actions save lives.

What can you do to help in this effort? You don’t have to be part of an organized group or a lobbyist to be involved in promoting road safety. You can be involved in simple ways. Be aware of your rights on the road and your being among those vulnerable to road crashes. I am sure you don’t want to be involved in a crash nor would you like a loved one to get injured or, God forbid, perish in a crash. If your bus, jeepney, UV express or taxi driver drives recklessly, be firm in reminding him of his responsibility. You may enjoy a fast ride but are you sure your destination isn’t the afterlife? Think about it. Act on it. Save lives!

Clear message to transport service providers

The cancellation of the franchise of the Don Mariano Bus Transit last January 14, 2014 is a long overdue decision. I say this because there have been so many incidents of road crashes in the past involving public transportation that led to the deaths and serious injuries of a lot of people whether they are passengers, the drivers themselves, pedestrians or even innocent people who happen to be at the wrong place and the wrong time (i.e., when and where the crash occurred). The cancellation of the franchise sends a strong message to erring operators and drivers of public utility vehicles including those of buses, jeepneys, UV express and taxis that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is dead serious about enforcing franchise rules and regulations particularly in the light of road and public safety concerns. The decision is also a strong statement by the agency. One that says they have the balls to make game-changing decisions that is assumed to be intended for operators and drivers to take heed.

I had the opportunity to attend a few congressional hearings at the Batasan a few years ago that were convened by the Committee on Metro Manila Development. The main topics of those hearings were on public transportation. I recall that one hearing focused on the proposal to increase the penalties for traffic violations while others focused on policies being introduced by the MMDA (e.g., dispatching scheme, painting the bodies of buses with their plate numbers, RFID, etc.). In these hearings, the MMDA had been asked by the congressmen to present statistics on road traffic violations by public transport vehicles and they did present the numbers indicating also which bus companies were involved in the most crashes and which incurred the most violations. One question asked by a congressman was why, despite all the incidents and violations that bus companies were involved in, have no franchises been cancelled or revoked. The MMDA quickly and correctly replied that it is the LTFRB that has authority over the franchises. I do not recall how the LTFRB managed to answer the follow-up question trained on them but I don’t think anything close to a solution came out of those hearings. The transcript of these meetings and the data reported by the MMDA should be with the committee and, I presume, should be for public consumption given that these hearings were made in the interest of the general public.

Public transport as a form of “livelihood” should not be made an excuse for the poor quality of public transport services. A driver cannot drive like crazy, crash into other road users and claim that they were only trying to earn a living. Operators cannot scrimp on maintenance and spare parts costs (resulting in poorly maintained vehicles that are prone to mechanical failure and obviously violate emission regulations) just because they want to earn a larger profit.  It is a card that is always put on play by public transport operators, drivers, conductors and their lawyers when interviewed, especially by TV reporters. One take on the news reports on TV is that those interviewed were nagpapaawa lang (acting for people to pity them or sympathize with them. Yet afterwards, once the suspension is lifted, these same drivers go back and drive as if nothing happened and still oblivious to the dangers they pose on others travelers. I have written about this in the past and share the opinion that we will get nowhere near the efficient and safe transport services we aspire to have unless we do away with the current practices of reckless driving and smoke-belching PUVs. And the improvement begins when the LTFRB starts canceling franchises of erring operators of public utility vehicles and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) starts revoking the licenses of irresponsible drivers.

Now, if we can only have the LTFRB cancel the franchises of erring jeepney, taxi and UV express operators, then that will send even clearer messages to all that government is really serious about road safety and public transport regulations. Included also are initiatives on truck operators and drivers who are also guilty of irresponsible driving. Perhaps the LTO should follow suit and be more aggressive in their part to rid our roads of erring private vehicle drivers and motorcycle riders? I think such actions are definitely what’s needed under the banner of “Matuwid na Daan” (literally “straight path” but also translates to “right or correct path”). In order to achieve “Matuwid na Daan,” we should also have “matuwid na pagmamaneho” (“responsible driving”).