Caught (up) in traffic

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On logistics in the Philippines

I am not a logistics expert and will not pretend to be one. I have, however, been involved in several projects that included logistics as a major study component. These include a nationwide study on inter-regional passenger and freight flow and another for freight forwarders affected by vehicle restraint policies in Metro Manila.  A more recent engagement has allowed me to take a look at logistics in the country from other perspectives including that of national agencies seeking to improve goods movement in the country and development agencies that have committed to help the country to do just that. There are local issues and there are regional ones. The regional ones often involve the need for infrastructure such as maritime ports and airports, highways and bridges, and other facilities such as those for storage and refrigeration.

For an archipelago like the Philippines, logistics is a bit more challenging than in countries whose territories are not separated by bodies of water. There is no lack for good practices though as there are other archipelagos that could provide good examples for connecting the islands such as Japan and the United Kingdom. Nearby, we share similar challenges with Indonesia and to a certain extent Malaysia. Of course, availability of resources is always an issue and particularly for the prioritization of infrastructure to be constructed aside from those that need to be maintained. The DOTC along with its attached agencies like the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are in the frontline when it comes to airports and ports planning, development, and maintenance are concerned. However, the DPWH plays a vital role for highways and bridges and the connections for these ports and airports including what is termed as “last-mile” connectivity that is often passed on as a responsibility of local governments. This is likely due to local roads often providing the connection between national roads (under the DPWH) and ports and airports. It is a good thing that the current DPWH has committed to a convergence program regarding national and local roads that has benefited a lot of sectors and industries like tourism and agriculture.

Rail transport is not mentioned here because there is practically none even for what remains of the once relatively extensive PNR main lines. The local issues are not simpler and can be a bit more complicated than the regional ones. The complications are usually due to more petty circumstances that may involve politics and local power plays. The basic ingredients though are related to traffic congestion and the damage to roads and bridges attributed to trucks.

Many cities and municipalities have implemented truck bans along their major roads. These are usually one or two routes in the smaller cities and towns, usually passing through the “bayan,” “poblacion” or central business district (CBD). These roads are usually national roads (e.g., McArthur Highway and the Pan Philippine Highway pass through many towns). As such, there are cases where bypass roads are constructed to alleviate congestion along these roads as well as to try to preserve the pavements in the town proper. Such traffic schemes targeting heavy vehicles are not new and are also a way to address the issue on overloading that is common in trucking in the Philippines. The bypass roads, however, generally invite development and unplanned development have often made these alternate routes more congested than the original ones.

Manila did a “power play” recently by implementing a more aggressive truck ban. This led to more severe congestion around the Port of Manila and a lot of delays that have cost a lot of money in part due to the limited alternative routes in the city and most roads are already constricted. The costs have repercussions on the economy in general as the movement of goods are affected by the impasse in Manila. Whether this was for more political or practical reasons is difficult to say because the mayor and vice mayor have invoked the very common issues of traffic congestion, road safety and pavement maintenance that got the attention, sentiment and agreement of a lot of people. Many of these people though do not understand the impacts of inefficient goods movement and likely are concerned only about passenger transportation.

More recently, a lot of containers were shipped from the Port of Manila to Subic. These are supposedly “overstaying” shipments or those that have not been claimed for a long time or have some issues regarding their release. This should ease congestion somehow but there remain the problems of shipping or logistics companies regarding freight transport in general that needs to be addressed. Both Subic and Batangas ports have been mentioned in many formal studies over the past few years including a more recent one supported by JICA. Still, there is a lot of hesitation if not confusion or uncertainty on how to go about with shifting goods movement to these ports, which are regarded to be underutilized. There are good roads connecting these ports with cities and towns but these might not be enough in the long run.

Perhaps there is a need to reconsider regional rail transport again especially for the islands of Luzon and Mindanao where long distance rail may have a tremendous impact for transporting goods over long distances. Of course, there are also issues pertaining to other ports and airports in the country including those in Mindanao (e.g., Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Phividec, Gen. Santos, etc.) and Visayas (e.g., Cebu, Iloilo, Tacloban, etc.). The RORO ports are among those that need attention as they are directly involve road transport aside from the ferries that carry them over the waters. These nautical highways are vital for goods movement around the country and require both national agencies and local governments cooperating for these facilities and services to function efficiently.

Sound opinions on transport and traffic

One of my favorite reads is the column by former NEDA Director General Cielito Habito on the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Inquirer.net). Regardless of whether he is writing about transport or any other topic, his articles are consistently clear and logical. Here are a couple of articles from his column “No Free Lunch” about the more recent transport and traffic issues.

Traffic dilemmas – which appeared August 12, 2014

More railways in our future – which appeared August 19, 2014

I’m not sure if those in-charge or responsible for planning and building our transportation system read his columns. They will learn a lot from these articles especially as the former NEDA DG is practically sharing his experience and wisdom – things badly needed these days especially at the DOTC.

Discouraging walking?

We were looking for suitable sites for a traffic survey along Espana the other day and had chosen the pedestrian overpass across Ramon Magsaysay High School as a possible site for a camera to record traffic flow along the avenue. Data from the video will be used to calibrate measurements from other cameras that are part of an intelligent system under development and supported by the DOST-PCIEERD. Those cameras are currently installed at a post at the junctions with Lacson Ave. and Vicente Cruz St. The system will also utilise data from the ASTI’s flood sensors near Lacson and San Diego. What we saw on the footbridge was not exactly a shocker to us as we anticipated the conditions on the overpass. However, we all agreed that the conditions of such pedestrian facilities need to be improved significantly and in such cases as this footbridge, immediately!

IMG08944-20140721-1416Walking to the overpass in front of Ramon Magsaysay with the school on the right.

IMG08947-20140721-1421The overpass was partly flooded from the rains the past few days. The roofing only had the frame so anyone using the overpass on a rainy day would have to use their umbrellas for cover. The MMDA had removed the roofs of many overpasses to discourage vendors and beggars to set up on the overpasses. Spared from the campaign were overpasses that were secured by establishments like those along Katipunan with Ateneo and along Espana with UST. While there are no vendors or beggars on this overpass, it’s quite obvious from the photo that vandals have been busy defacing the facility.

IMG08948-20140721-1421Many open overpasses like this are stinky because they are (ab)used as urinals. Who knows about the composition of these puddles aside from the rainwater during this wet season.

IMG08954-20140721-1433The overpass smelled of poop and that’s simply because there were poop scattered along the overpass. Neglected facilities like this, despite being used by many people (its right in front of a big public school) to cross busy streets like Espana, are often used by vagrants as toilets. Quick thinking and action by one of our staff reduced the stink when he got some soil from the (also neglected) plant boxes in the area to cover the feces that littered the overpass.

IMG08955-20140721-1434NCTS staff setting up a camera while also taking up the conditions at the footbridge.

IMG08956-20140721-1435The stairways to/from the footbridge are quite steep. Such features need to be designed with senior citizens, children and PWDs in mind.

This overpass is located in Manila and is probably used by hundreds of students from the public school beside it aside from the other pedestrians that need to cross Espana Avenue. I think there is an opportunity here for the City of Manila and the specific barangay to improve the conditions of the facility and ultimately contribute to improving quality of life through the improvement of the quality of walking – the most basic of all modes of transport and certainly a strong indicator for a city’s health and vibrance.

PNR Espana

While inspecting the installation of flood sensors along Espana a few weeks ago, I wandered off our site between Antipolo and San Diego Sts. to take a few photos of the PNR trains and the PNR Espana Station surroundings.

 

2014-06-26 09.56.25A PNR train crosses Espana as road vehicles and pedestrians pause to let the train through. One barrier is shown in the photo as not being able to go down completely to block traffic from the other side of Espana.

2014-06-26 09.59.29A pedestrian crosses the PNR tracks as vehicles run along Espana

2014-06-26 09.59.37The PNR Espana Station as seen from along Espana. People usually cross the tracks casually as there are few trains in operation along this line.

Sunday smog

We were staying at a hotel over the weekend and our room afforded us a good view of the cityscape to the left and seascape to the right. We weren’t able to get a good view of the sunset as we were practically facing south-east and the orientation of the window prevented any, even slight view of what is always a nice Manila Bay sunset. We did expect to see the sunrise the following morning.

As the sun came up, we took this photo of the cityscape. Closer to us were buildings in Pasay City while those farther away were buildings in Bonifacio Global City. I remembered reading somewhere that what makes our sunsets so colourful or spectacular are the elements in our atmosphere. Air pollution tends to bring the most dramatic colors for sunsets and I believe that’s in a way also applicable to sunrises. I took a snapshot of the cityscape from our hotel window expecting the worst for what could be the equivalent of an exposed negative in the old days. Instead, I got the pretty decent photo below showing the sunlight reflecting off the haze around Metro Manila and giving the cityscape that eerie look on a Sunday morning.

2014-06-01 06.12.33

There’s a joke that is often recycled concerning air pollution and air quality. According to this joke, the Philippines doesn’t need to worry about air pollution since every year it is visited by many typhoons. These typhoons passing through the country sweep away the pollution thereby making the air around us cleaner. This is actually true and one need only to get outdoors after a typhoon to smell the fresh air. Of course, it doesn’t take long before the smog returns and therein lies the punchline to the real joke. At the rate we are going in terms of vehicle emissions alone, we would probably need at least a typhoon every week for the entire year if we wanted clean air to breathe. The dry seasons would probably be the worst in terms of poor air quality. And so we must see that the joke is on us and air quality will only continue to deteriorate if we do not act now and do not pitch in for the fight for clean air.

Scenes by the roadside at the port area in Manila

Traveling along Radial Road 10, you get to see how life in Manila really is. It is not the glitzy new developments that people try to present as the face of the city. The real deal is in places like Tondo, the Baseco compound and Smokey Mountain. The areas along R-10 starting from across from the North Harbor to Smokey Mountain (yes, it is still there) provide us with a peek into everyday life in this part of Manila.

IMG07923-20140321-1518Carpenters working on the body of what would become karaoke machines. The TV or screen will be installed at the upper shelf and the machine and controls will be installed in the lower part. These are popular around the country and are often rented out for parties. The quality varies but I would say that there are really good quality karaoke machines with digital quality equipment providing crisp music and the correct lyrics to karaoke lovers.

IMG07924-20140321-1519As these are informal communities, houses do not have water or electricity connections. As such, people purchase water from nearby establishments or houses, and many have illegal water and power connections for them to have water and electricity. Such illegal connections have led high losses to utility companies that translate to costs passed on to legitimate customers.

IMG07925-20140321-1524Many roadside stalls sell a variety of fruits like the bananas shown in the photo. It’s actually interesting to note that just across from the stalls is the port area whose walls don’t seem to be enough to discourage people from trying to pilfer the containers and crates containing various stuff shipped through the Port of Manila.

IMG07926-20140321-1525Roadside stalls selling practically anything and everything. This one is selling hard hats and reflective vests. These vests can be used by construction workers as well as traffic enforcers. Recently, motorcycle riders have been required to put on vests for them to be more visible to other road users.

IMG07927-20140321-1525Shanties line up along the road, actually on the road as these were built on top of the space already allocated for R-10. Many sections have already been paved where shanties have been built. These shanties are now the subject of a program to remove them and open up the space for traffic to ease congestion along this road, which has much truck traffic.

IMG07938-20140321-1529It seems that a lot of people have pedicabs as a means for livelihood. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this, the issue is mainly with regards to their excessive numbers and suitability as a public transport mode given their operations and propensity to go against traffic rules and regulations.

IMG07939-20140321-1530The mass housing in the Smokey Mountain area are multi-storey apartments that look like they definitely have seen much better days. These buildings actually look like multi-storey shanties (similar buildings elsewhere including BLISS projects look much better or are better maintained). Many units have been extended and the structures now pose hazards (e.g., fire, earthquake, etc.). Alleys are not passable to emergency vehicles like fire trucks as residents have maximized occupancy of the spaces at the ground level. These look like the perfect cases for how NOT to develop mass housing.

 

More snippets of Manila streets

The City of Manila has always been fascinating from the perspective of transport and traffic due to the many peculiarities and contradictions you’ll find around the city. Here are a few more photos and some comments on the Manila’s transport and traffic.

2014-03-06 08.07.41Pedestrian overpass along Espana Avenue right after P. Campa Street and just before Morayta Street. Most overpasses in Metro Manila are roofless so this overpass is an exception. Most roofless overpasses were constructed when Bayani Fernando was MMDA Chair and were made so to discourage vendors from setting up on the overpass. The roof, however, makes sense considering the high pedestrian traffic (mainly students) in this area, which is dubbed the University Belt due to the many universities and colleges located here.

2014-03-06 08.13.16Another overpass in Manila, this time roofless, along Quezon Boulevard. Notice the large umbrellas in the photo? Under these are informal vendors who have set-up shop atop the overpass, effectively constricting pedestrian movement on the facility. Notice, too, the signboard bearing a message from the incumbent Mayor of Manila who happens to be a former Philippines President. The message in Filipino translates to “There’s hope for a New Manila.”

2014-03-06 08.17.05Non-motorized pedicabs proliferate in Manila and particularly in and around Intramuros, the historic walled city that was Manila during the Spanish period. There are just too many of these 3-wheelers in this city and most if not all drivers are oblivious to traffic rules and regulations. In Intramuros they have narrow streets and most destinations of interest don’t really require a vehicle. Walking is the most suitable transport within the walled city. These pedicabs are quite peculiar for a district that is supposed to be walkable and very accessible to public transport along its main streets. Manila has tolerated (some say spoiled) the operators of these vehicles and has made “livelihood” as the standard excuse for their existence and proliferation especially in low income areas of the city.

2014-03-06 08.24.37There are a lot of “tambays” or people just loitering around or spending (wasting?) time in the open spaces near and at the Liwasang Bonifacio just across from the Manila Central Post Office and Manila City Hall. Many of these are homeless people that the city as well as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) have not attended to. Their presence are just too obvious to passers by and mingling among them if not they themselves are snatchers, muggers and other unwelcome elements of our society. The tarpaulin is placed over a sign stating trucks are prohibited from using Roxas Boulevard. The new truck policies in Manila have been a hot topic since early this year but everything now seems to be back to “normal” after somewhat spirited reactions from truckers that again exposed issues pertaining to the traffic impacts of the Port of Manila.