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The need for speed (limits)?

My social media newsfeed regularly contains updates being posted by various entities about transport and traffic in Metro Manila and across the Philippines. Among those I regularly see are posts on road safety and interesting to me are the frequent posts on legislating speed limits at the local level. These are in the form of city or municipal ordinances that are supposed to strengthen, supplement and/or clarify speed limits that are actually already stated in the road design guidelines of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). These limits apply not only to national roads but to local ones as well. However, their effectiveness may be limited or reduced by the absence or lack of signs, markings and, most importantly, traffic law enforcers who are supposed to monitor traffic and apprehend those violating rules and regulations.

While there is a need for defining and clarifying speed limits perhaps in the form of local legislation, I believe the more urgent matter is the implementation and enforcement of laws. It has often been mentioned that we already have so many laws, rules, regulations and the truth is we do, and may not need more. One really has to go back to the basics in terms of enforcing these laws and that means enforcers need the knowledge and tools to be effective in their work. There is an opinion that many enforcers are not knowledgeable about many rules and regulations and therefore are prone to just focus on a few including violations of the number coding scheme, truck bans and the much maligned “swerving”. You do not often seen apprehensions for beating the red light, beating the green light (yes, there is such a violation), speeding, or “counter-flowing” (or using the opposing lane to get ahead of traffic in the correct lanes). There are also turning violations as well as those involving vehicle (busted tail lights, busted headlights, busted signal lights, obscured license plates, etc.). More recently, there are anti-drunk-driving laws that also urgently need proper implementation.

I think the current work that includes sidewalk clearing operations and anti-illegal on street parking of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is one good example of going back to the basics. These address the necessity of clearing space for both pedestrians and vehicles; space that have been constrained by obstacles that should not be there in the first place but so often have gotten the blind eye treatment. Going to the “next level” though requires tools such as speed guns,  high speed cameras at intersections, and instruments for measuring blood alcohol levels in the field (breath analyzers). And these require resources for acquisitions as well as capability building in the form of training personnel to handle equipment. No, I don’t think we need more laws, rules and regulations. What we urgently if not direly need is their proper implementation to effect behavior change that will improve both safety and the flow of traffic.

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.”

Consultation on EDSA decongestion – September 24, 2015

There will be a public consultation tomorrow entitled “EDSA Decongestion Consultation” at the GT Toyota Auditorium at the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines Diliman from 1:30 – 3:30PM. The consultation will tackle transport and traffic in Metro Manila but particularly along EDSA. The consultation will be facilitated by the TWG headed by Sec. Almendras who is the cabinet secretary put in-charge of addressing (solving?) the traffic mess in Metro Manila. The TWG includes DPWH, DOTC, DTI, MMDA, LTO, LTFRB, and the PNP-HPG.

This would be a good venue for stakeholders to articulate their concerns as well as offer their ideas towards alleviating transport and traffic problems. Invitations are supposed to have been extended to academic institutions, transport groups and other interested parties. Hopefully, this event will be a productive and constructive one. Pointing fingers and playing the blame game will not get us anywhere.

Capability building for traffic management in Metro Manila

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has been on the news lately due to the perceived shortcomings of the agency on traffic management in the metropolis. The current administration has designated the Philippine National Police – Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) to take charge of traffic management/enforcement at six identified choke points along EDSA. EDSA or Circumferential Road 4 has been a battleground of sorts for Metro Manila, representing the capital’s transport and traffic woes with just about all the conceivable problems including severe traffic congestion, high incidence of road crashes and a malfunctioning rail line (MRT Line 3) along the corridor.

The agency was criticized when its head went to Cebu City with a team of enforcement personnel in an apparent effort to augment that city’s traffic personnel. Cebu City has its own traffic management unit in the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (CITOM), which has been managing traffic in that city for quite some time now. They have been actually ahead of Metro Manila with their own traffic engineering center already integrated with CITOM way back in the late 1980s. The traffic signals around the city were already under CITOM when Metro Manila’s Traffic Engineering Center (TEC) was still under the DPWH. It was only in the last decade that the TEC was formally transferred to MMDA and modernised to the current modern facility beside the MMDA headquarters at EDSA-Orense St. in Makati City. People observed that Cebu was already ahead of Metro Manila on this part and that the MMDA already had their hands full with Metro Manila’s traffic woes. The joke among major cities is that they were learning about traffic management and enforcement from Metro Manila by checking what the MMDA was doing. They will do the opposite. These cities in on the joke include Cebu, Davao and Iloilo, which are all highly urbanized cities looking to alleviate their own transport and traffic problems before these become the level of Metro Manila’s.

The MMDA has the capacity for traffic management as it has the resources including staff to manage traffic around Metro Manila. It even has people to spare that the agency can deploy to assist or supplement traffic personnel in adjacent local governments (e.g., in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan). However, capacity does not mean capability. And MMDA clearly has limited capabilities despite the resources at its disposal. In fact, their traffic management group should be integrated if not closely working with their planning group. Transport engineering, planning and enforcement should go together, working cooperatively in order to come up with comprehensive schemes and solutions that address problems that are progressive in nature.

The old Transport Training Center (TTC) of the University of the Philippines was established to build both capacity and capability for government agencies that included the then Constabulary Highway Patrol Group (CHPG) that was under the then Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police (PC/INP) headed by the then Gen. Fidel V. Ramos. The PC/INP became the PNP and the CHPG became the Traffic Management Group (TMG) (later becoming the current HPG) but they all trained under the TTC, which became the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS).

The MMDA trained under the NCTS since the 1990s but most of those who did so over the years are now out of the agency and working elsewhere (including those who have migrated to other countries). The remaining training graduates have limited capability and some have quite a bit of overconfidence (this probably is a by-product of the BF era when the agency and its staff were basically taught that they were better than their DPWH and DOTC counterparts and everything they did was right). Mix this with what seems to be confusion about what they need to do and the result is quite amusing.

The MMDA recently established an Institute for Traffic Management (ITM) with the intent of providing training for their own staff and those from local government units. This is apparently with the instigation of their consultants who include a few academics  without transport planning and engineering expertise and experience yet dabble in it anyway. I think the ITM is not necessary at this point and it is actually not in the agency’s mandate to provide training programs other than to their own staff.  MMDA should focus instead on capability building. If not under NCTS or other local entities they can probably get the knowledge and skills required to manage Metro Manila traffic elsewhere and abroad. In fact, I would recommend that they explore programs offered by the Land Transportation Authority Academy (LTA Academy) of Singapore. These are professional programs that have been developed in cooperation with leading institutions in Singapore like the National University of Singapore (NUS) that can provide a fresh infusion of knowledge to the MMDA. But attendance in such programs is not an assurance that the agency can be better afterwards. The key ingredient would still have to be an effective and progressive leadership that is not under the influence of politics and is committed to no-nonsense traffic management even without the media covering these activities.

Enforcing bus lanes along Commonwealth Avenue

Commonwealth Avenue always seems to be the subject of road safety or traffic discipline initiatives every now and again. Quezon City together with partners in other government agencies like the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) have embarked on another program aimed at reducing the occurrence of road crashes and other incidents along this busy corridor. It actually reminds me of the “traffic discipline zone” designation of Commonwealth not a decade ago and before public transport lanes were physically allocated along the highway.

They are failing miserably if I am to base success on observations of the behavior of drivers of  public transport vehicles alone along this major highway. They get away with a lot of reckless driving including suddenly switching lanes, speeding, and tailgating. There are also cases where vehicles and pedestrians cross the wide highway at points that are prone to crashes. I am not aware of a lot of apprehensions being made of these reckless drivers along Commonwealth except perhaps at the foot of the Tandang Sora flyover where MMDA enforcers seem to be congregating on most days armed with one of two of the agency’s speed guns. But then it seems “business as usual” for the same drivers and riders along the rest of Commonwealth so the initiatives are not effective deterrents against irresponsible road use.

2015-02-01 09.39.02You can always see buses on the wrong side of the road along Commonwealth Avenue especially along the section between Fairview Market and Regalado. They do this to get ahead of other buses and then bully their way to make a stop or turn right at an intersection.

2015-02-01 09.39.15This bus in particular was weaving in traffic, bullying smaller vehicles to give way as it raced other buses along Commonwealth Avenue. Such behavior among public transport drivers is one of the major ingredients for road crashes.

It’s been a year now since the tragic crash involving an out of line provincial bus in the Cordillera. That was partly the result of poor monitoring and enforcement by the LTFRB. While the major reason for the crash was reckless driving (i.e., the driver was allegedly speeding at a critical section of the highway), this could have been avoided if the bus wasn’t operating in the first place. The very same policies along Commonwealth apply to these provincial buses and fatal crashes could’ve been avoided or minimised if the LTFRB can just exercise its mandate effectively.

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.