Caught (up) in traffic

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Christmas season traffic jams

Traffic jams are a common occurrence in most cities. In some they are predictable, usually during peak hours in the morning and the afternoon or evening. These peak periods may range from less than an hour or stretch to a couple or even longer hours depending on the characteristics of the area. In many cases, congested are main corridors (Commonwealth, Ortigas, Marcos Highway, McArthur Highway, SLEX, etc.) leading to or from the city center or central business district (e.g., Makati, Ortigas, Cubao, etc.). In Metro Manila, it can be a corridor connecting CBDs like EDSA or C-5.

2013-12-10 19.40.11Traffic congestion along the northbound side of Circumferential Road 5 seems much worse this December though it is always bad from the late afternoon to late night on weekdays. Congestion is usually worst along the stretch between Bonifacio Global City and Pasig River though it is also usually bad along the stretch from Ortigas Ave. to Eastwood in Quezon City. Traffic along the southbound side is usually bad in the mornings especially in the Pasig area.

IMG07554-20131221-1124Traffic congestion along Tramo on the way to the airport – traffic can really be bad in the vicinity of airports during this season but then the way the terminals of NAIA are situated and the conditions along airport roads also contribute to the congestion. For example, along Tramo in Pasay City you will find a lot of bus terminals and informal settlements. There are tricycles and pedicabs operating in the area, and parked vehicles along the road that reduce capacity. I always wonder what local authorities are doing to address these issues considering NAIA is our prime gateway to the world.

Unfortunately, the Christmas season in the Philippines is perhaps the longest in the world so Christmas traffic starts to build up in September (the first of the ‘ber’ months). Worst are days in December when everyone seems to be at their busiest. Aside from the work being done due to deadlines at the end of the year, there are shopping mall sales and Christmas parties.

So how do we know if December is indeed the busiest month of the year in terms of traffic? What evidence can we show as proof to this long-standing perception that is accepted as fact by many? I was asked these questions in a recent interview but unfortunately, I didn’t have the figures to show that December indeed is the busiest month in terms of traffic. Unfortunately, too, our government agencies do not conduct data collection to determine traffic volumes throughout the year so what you can get from the DPWH is Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT). Perhaps the evidence is with our toll operators, which conduct daily counts through their detectors and their toll booths. The cumulative volume of vehicles per month can be derived from data on tolls collected to validate the notion that December is highest in terms of traffic volumes.

Meanwhile, there might also be video evidence from the cameras installed by the MMDA and other local governments monitoring traffic. Footage taken from January to December can be compared to show which months are the busiest. Taking this to another level, image processing software for traffic are now available or can be developed to determine vehicle volumes from video.

It is reasonable to argue that indeed December is the busiest and we experience more traffic congestion during this month as there are more activities, especially those related to shopping, during this month. Ask anyone on the street and surely they will say that traffic and commuting is worst this time of year but many will also say they aren’t really complaining given the situation of other people (e.g., those affected by the earthquakes in Bohol and Cebu, and those affected by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in the Visayas). For many, this is still a season for joy and we generally don’t let traffic get in the way of happiness.

Merry Christmas to all!

New parking rates at NAIA

Here’s something for those who are parking at any of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s parking facilities. Here are a few photos showing the new parking rates at NAIA, effective December 1, 2013. Gone are the flat rates of old for those picking-up relatives or friends so it actually discourages people from camping out at the parking lots. Gone, too, are the low overnight parking fees of PhP 50 per night that a lot of people enjoyed for short trips on business or as tourists in local destinations or abroad.

IMG07555-20131221-1202Information on new parking rates at NAIA effective December 1, 2013 found along the left side of the approach to the parking lot entrance.

IMG07556-20131221-1203Announcement on the new NAIA parking rates just before the entrance booths of the lot

IMG07557-20131221-1250Information on the new parking rates at the exit of the lot and just before the payment booths.

It goes without saying that with the increased parking fees at the NAIA, people would expect more in terms of the quality of these facilities particularly pertaining to security and cleanliness. One cannot expect to pay for PhP 300 per night for an open parking space where one’s vehicle is exposed to the environment as well as to possible criminal elements lurking about. Of course, there is practically no competition for these parking facilities so there is a sizable captive market for NAIA parking. In my experience, and in fairness to airport management, I have not had any untoward incidents when I did leave our vehicle at the parking lots of Terminals 2 and 3. And I have done so many times before on trips to the Visayas and Mindanao, and a couple of times on trips abroad. I hope others, too, won’t have any problems with parking at the airport.

Airport congestion and options to decongest NAIA

Airport congestion refers to two things Рcongestion at the passenger terminal and congestion at the runway(s). The first may be found in several areas of an airport terminal. Among these areas are at the check-in counters, the immigration counters, customs and the baggage claim counters. Congestion may also refer to the areas allotted to well-wishers although depending on the terminal layout or design, these can be integrated with the check-in or arrival areas. The second concerns aircraft take-offs and landings, and queuing is present both on the ground and in the air. Congestion on the ground can be observed at the end of a runway from where aircraft may be queued according to air traffic control. Congestion in the air is observed in the form of aircraft circling the vicinity of the airport at various designated distances (radius) and altitudes.

Congestion of the first kind is a given at most major airports in the Philippines especially for international flights where security is tighter and there are immigration and customs processes that passengers need to go through. In most cases including domestic flights, airports are usually congested due to the well-wishers taking passengers to the airport or welcoming the same as they arrive. It is not uncommon to see jeepney-loads or tricycle-loads of well-wishers at Philippine airports as it is customary to take relatives or friends (hatid) to the airport or fetch (sundo) people at the terminal

The second type of congestion hogged the headlines earlier this year and during the summer months of April and May when take-off and arrival delays plagued aircraft at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Some flights were even cancelled, causing much headaches for passengers and particularly those with connecting flights both for domestic and international destinations. The culprit, technically, seems to be the limited capacities of NAIA’s intersecting runways. Some critics, however, have pointed out that the airlines should share part of the blame for having schedules packed during the day times and offering so many promos. While they have a poin there in as far as scheduling is concerned, one can’t blame airlines from offering such as day flights are more attractive to passengers.

Aircraft queued along the taxiway leading to NAIA’s main runway

A newly arrived plane cuts into the ¬†queued along the taxiway towards the eastern end of NAIA’s main runway

There are currently several options to decongest the airport in Manila. Many of these are actually proposals that are impractical if not too expensive. One option is to transfer international operations to Clark, which is about 220 kilometers from NAIA or 200 kilometers from Quezon City via the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). It seems to be the most viable solution and has been compared with the location of other international airports like Narita and Suvarnabhumi, which are outside the metropolitan areas. The thing here is that there needs to be a good link between the airport and the metropolis, which presumably generates much of the demand for the airport. So far, there is already the NLEX for road transport and it should not take so long for someone to travel from, say, Quezon City to Clark. Meanwhile, a rail link has taken so much time in the planning (or procrastinating?) stage that it seems more and more that the Northrail will never become a reality in the foreseeable future.

Two other options have been put forward recently, one by a major corporation that has now expanded its portfolio to include infrastructure, particularly on transportation, and another by a consortium that has developed reclaimed areas along Manila Bay. The head executive of the San Miguel Corporation, which now controls Philippine Airlines, announced plans to build their own airport, initially likely to be somewhere in the province of Bulacan, which is just north of Metro Manila and a shorter distance away compared to Pampanga, which hosts Clark. No details were given making a lot of interested parties including airport aficionados think about which areas in Bulacan are viable and spacious enough to host an airport of international standards. More recent is the idea for the development of the Sangley Point airport that will require reclamation and still another airport link towards the reclaimed areas that include PAGCOR City and the SM MOA. This last proposal seems to be morphing into something that San Miguel is said to be considering based on at least one report that came out today. I think the bottomline here, which ever option is taken, is that we need to have a modern airport that will be able to handle current and projected passengers and freight given our aspirations for commerce and tourism plus the fact that more and more Filipinos are traveling given the OFWs abroad. Decisions will have to be made and government should have a say here considering it is a major piece of infrastructure being considered. One opinion is that we simply cannot rely on the private sector to decide on this and such decisions need to be guided based on the public interest and good.

Overnight parking at NAIA

The main terminals of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) each have overnight parking facilities. These are all open lots located near the terminals and have roving personnel on motorcycles for security. The overnight parking spaces for Terminals 1 and 2 are located a bit of a walk away from the terminal buildings but are generally spacious and do not reach their full capacities.

Terminal 1’s overnight parking is located on the lot to the right as travelers drive through the security check for vehicles. Terminal 2’s overnight facility is near the old Nayong Pilipino gate and appears to be the combined parking lots of the now-closed theme park and the also closed Philippine Village Hotel. Terminal 3’s overnight parking spaces are generally spread out with most along the service road or driveway that leads to its still closed multi-level parking facility. Other spaces made available for overnight parking are those near the entrance to Terminal 3.

I haven’t tried overnight parking at T1 and T2 but I recently availed of overnight parking at T3. Following are a couple of photos to describe overnight parking at T3, followed by a few tips on how to get a slot in what is always a full area.

Overnight parking spaces are along the service road on the right that ultimately leads to a ramp access to the still closed multi-level parking facility at Terminal 3. There is a sign that states overnight parking is full. Ask for assistance from the security staff to find a slot.

The service road leads to a ramp (visible at the center of the photo) to the closed multi-level parking (also visible on the right of the photo) of Terminal 3.

A tip for those wanting to park their cars for a night or more at Terminal 3: ask nicely for assistance from the security guard at the entrance to the parking lot. They will help you find an open space somewhere (trust me, it’s quite a challenge) in what is always a full overnight parking area. Show your gratitude by tipping. It’s definitely worth it and they’ll probably even check your car to return the favor. And yes… overnight parking fees are quite cheap at 50 pesos (about 1.15 USD) per night.