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There’s recent news about the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) launching a smart scooter system in Cauayan City, Isabela. This should be considered a positive thing in light of the scooter’s sudden popularity as a mode of transport. There are, however, much to be determined in terms of this vehicle being a safe mode of transport. Singapore, for example, has released guidelines for its use in its streets while there have been mixed reactions among American cities on how these vehicles should share spaces with other modes including walking and cycling. Here is a nice article about scooter safety that should point the way towards how we should go about in assessing safety:
Chang, A.Y.J. (2020) Demistifying e-scooter safety one step at a time, https://medium.com/@annieyjchang/demystifying-e-scooter-safety-one-step-at-a-time-956afcf12d75 [Last accessed: February 3, 2020]
As a parting shot in other cases, I have always asked: Would this have been an issue or a popular mode if we had good public transportation as well as decent pedestrian and cycling infrastructure? The answer could be a simple ‘no’ for our case in the Philippines where much is to be desired in terms of PT, pedestrian and cycling infra. But e-scooters seem to have attractive quite a few in developed cities including those with good PT, pedestrian and cycling infra. The jury is still out there if this was just a fad or perhaps, as some claim, part of the evolution for improved mobility.
I continue with my comments on current and persistent transport issues. This time, I focus on one of two hot topics – motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”.
1) On motorcycle taxis:
I am not a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) that’s supposed to be evaluating the trial operations. I know one or two of the key members of the TWG and am surprised that they have not referred to the academe for studies that may have already been done about this mode of transport. I know there have been studies about it in UP and DLSU. Perhaps there are more from other universities in the country. Motorcycle taxis or “habal-habal”, after all, are practically everywhere and would be hard to ignore. Surely, researchers and particularly students would be at least curious about their operations? Such is the case elsewhere and many studies on motorcycle taxis have been made in the region particularly in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, where these modes also proliferate.
The terms “trial”, “experimental” or “pilot” are actually misleading because motorcycle taxis have been operating across the country for so many years now. They are supposed to be illegal and yet they serve a purpose in the areas where they are popular. What is often referred to as an informal transport mode is ‘formal’ to many people who are not being served by so-called formal modes including the tricycle. Of course, one can argue that these terms (i.e., trial, experimental and pilot) refer to the app that are supposed to enhance the existing habal-habal operations.
I would strongly endorse motorcycle taxis but companies need to be held accountable should there be fatal crashes involving their riders. They are supposed to have trained and accredited them. The companies should also have insurance coverage for riders and passengers. LGUs tolerant of these should be watchful and do their part in enforcing traffic rules and regulations pertaining to motorcycle operations in favor of safe riding. This is to reduce if not minimize the incidence of road crashes involving motorcycle taxis.
I think one of the problems with motorcycle taxis is not really their being a mode of choice but the behavior of their drivers. While companies like Angkas and Joyride conduct training sessions with their riders, many revert to reckless on-road behavior including executing risky maneuvers in order to overtake other vehicles on the road. This is actually a given with many ‘informal’ motorcycle taxis (i.e., those not affiliated with the recognized app companies). But then this is also an enforcement issue because we do have traffic rules and regulations that are poorly enforced by authorities. Thus, there is practically no deterrent to reckless riding except perhaps the prospect of being involved in a crash.
I will refrain to include the politics involved in the issue of motorcycle taxis. I will just write about this in another article.
Coming up soon: hot topic #2 – Obstacles to the PNR operations
We were almost late for our flight the last Friday of November because of a road crash involving at least one truck at the intersection of Sales Bridge and the SLEX East Service Road.
Here was our first view of the crash site showing one streetlamp post almost hitting the pavement if it weren’t for the wires holding it at its position. Waze wasn’t much help as there was only a simple description of a major crash reported. How serious it was wasn’t stated.
A tow truck and a forklift were already on site to help remove the truck that hit the post.
Pedestrians continued to cross the intersection with some glancing quickly at the sight of the vehicles involved in the crash and clearance operations. MMDA enforcers were in the area to herd people away from the area.
An enforcer looked like he was taking photos, video or both of the clearing operations.
When we arrived in the area, we only saw this truck that was apparently the one that hit the post. The damage to the truck indicated that it likely slammed into another large vehicle. However, that other vehicle was no longer in the area.
Another look at the truck involved in the crash
The post obviously was in a precarious position and effectively blocked the path of vehicles that were to turn left at the intersection. Many of these vehicles including ours were heading to the airport.
There seems to be a lot of crashes involving trucks lately. I say so based on my personal observations including passing by crash sites where trucks have been the main vehicles involved. It would be good to see the statistics of truck involvement in road crashes including the typical locations (i.e., black spots), frequency and severity of the crashes. This would correlate with the maintenance and how these trucks are being driven. Too often, we read or hear about trucks losing their brakes or drivers losing control. There are clearly maintenance and driver behavior issues here that need to be addressed if we are to improve safety in relation to these large vehicles.
Despite this incident and the resulting traffic jam, the MMDA enforcers didn’t seem to know how to go about managing the flow of traffic in the area and wanted to reroute every vehicle intending to turn left at Sales towards the airport to Pasong Tamo Extension! This resulted to more confusion and many not to take heed of the enforcer waving at us to head for more congestion after what we experienced. Clearly, this was a case where the motorists knew better than to follow errant enforcers. In these times, you wonder if the MMDA’s enforcers were capable of managing traffic after road crash incidents like this.
I recently saw what looks like a project of the City of Antipolo where several pedestrian crosswalks are being painted over with artwork including a basic road safety message. The photo below shows one in progress across from the Provincial Capitol (aka Ynares) along the Antipolo City Circumferential Road.
Photo of artwork in progress to cover the existing pedestrian crossing (zebra) pavement markings at the Rizal Provincial Capitol
Recently, I’ve seen news reports and posts by the proponents being shared in social media about the project. From what I’ve learned from reliable sources within the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), this is an initiative with the blessing of the city and did not go through the DPWH. The main concern here is whether this ‘innovation’ of sorts will be effective and if the artist(s) behind the project used the proper materials (i.e., paint for pavement markings that are supposed to be highly visible day or night) for this project. If not, then this is just street art similar to what artists did on the UP Academic Oval a few years ago in front of Palma Hall. Sorry to blow your bubble but its more a publicity stunt than a safety device if proponents do not use the proper materials. I hesitate to use the term ‘design standards’ here because this is supposed to be artwork and perhaps the word ‘standard’ doesn’t apply. But to claim this enhances safety is at this point a stretch.
More first-hand photos soon…
The Barkadahan Bridge is currently undergoing rehabilitation. To be accurate, the old bridge is being rehabilitated and upgraded/retrofitted to be able to carry the traffic projected to use it being a vital link between the Province of Rizal and Metro Manila via Pasig and the C-6 corridor. The bridge is named after the “friendship” established among Rizal municipalities and Pasig City for an area that has been subject of a territorial dispute among them. These are the municipalities of Cainta and Taytay (Rizal Province) and the city of Pasig. The bridge spans the Manggahan Floodway, much of which is in Pasig City.
To increase the capacity for this crossing, which is the most direct route to C-6 and popular among many headed to Taguig/BGC and Makati, a new bridge had been constructed to the south of the old one. The older one had 2 traffic lanes and was no longer sufficient for the volume of vehicles crossing it after the expansion of C-6 resulting to it steadily gaining more users over the years. Use of this route cut down travel times between Rizal and BGC and Makati by at least 30 minutes based on our experiences using the route.
Late last year as far as I could recall, the new bridge opened and immediately increased capacity but then congestion quickly set-in due to two factors: the traffic management at the intersection with the East Bank Road and the constrained (two-lane, two-way) leg of Highway 2000. Add to this the lack of discipline by local traffic in the form of tricycles and motorcycles counter-flowing in the area.
Earlier this year, signs were posted around Rizal about the then impending project for the rehabilitation of the old bridge. The signs advised for most travellers to avoid using the Barkadahan Bridge due to the congestion in the area because of the project. It turns out that what was thought by most as a project retrofitting the old bridge alone was actually a bigger one involving increasing the capacity of the Highway 2000 leg of the intersection with the East Bank Road. Following is a photo posted at the official Facebook page of the Rizal Provincial Government showing the demolition of buildings and other structures along the Highway 2000 leg. The photos were taken from the new Barkadahan Bridge approaching the intersection, the southbound direction of the East Bank Road, and from the westbound side of Highway 2000.
Demolition and clearing of ROW for the expansion of Highway 2000 in relation to Barkadahan Bridge [Photo collage from the Lalawigan ng Rizal Facebook page]
From the photos above, it is clear that at least 2 lanes will be added to Highway 2000 and that this leg will soon be well-aligned with the Barkadahan Bridge, which will also have a total of 4 lanes. Hopefully, this project will be completed soon and within the year (before December?) in order to alleviate the commuting woes of Rizalenos working in the BGC and Makati CBD areas. Of course, that goes without saying that there is also a need to optimise the traffic signals at the intersection and to strictly enforce traffic rules and regulations vs. erring motorists in the area.
Working on a project on road safety for children, I have had an increasing appreciation for the need to improve the plight of our children who are among the most vulnerable of road users. I have shared or posted many images showing examples of children being exposed to risk. These include children crossing streets without assistance and those riding on motorcycles with minimal protective gear (not that such gear can really save them from serious injury or worse should they be involved in a motorcycle crash).
I took this photo as we waited for the signal to allow us to cross a very busy intersection in Zamboanga City. The entire family seems to be coming from dinner or the grocery where they picked up their popsicles. I hope the father is focused on balance and safe riding with his family considering the potential for tragedy here.
Some people may say that such scenes show the norm. But we must realise that treating these as normal means we accept that our children (and all other people) will be hurt one way or another. Is this really what we like or accept to be the situation? Perhaps not. And so the challenge is to find ways to make the journeys of children safer and one aspect we can focus on is the journey between home and school. This is perhaps the most common trip by children is between the home and school (to and from), which covers a significant share of the total trips made everyday.
In order to do this, we need to know, assess and understand the manner of their commutes and the facilities they use. We should collaborate with people who guide them including their parents/guardians and teachers. And we should engage those who are in the position to implement solutions such as government agencies or local governments in effecting interventions.
We are currently implementing a project to improve the safety of journeys of children between their homes and schools. Ocular surveys of 25 schools in Zamboanga City revealed a lot of issues pertaining to their commutes. Critical locations include the main access roads (e.g., across school gates) and intersections. All schools have reported incidence of road crashes involving their students and mentioned that in many cases, drivers or riders do not slow down upon approaching the critical locations. These cases of speeding are despite the many countermeasures (including informal and creative ones) that schools and Barangay authorities have implemented to improve safety.
Here are some photos we took at Sinunuc Elementary School along the national highway in Zamboanga City:
Children waiting to cross the highway and on-board motorcycles with their parents/guardians who fetched them from school
Large vehicles including trucks and buses traverse the highway and the signs offer little in terms of refuge or protection against these for students and other people crossing the highway.
Child crossing with a parent/guardian
Children crossing the highway – photo also shows a pedestrian crossing sign at the road side along the direction towards the city centre.
Children crossing with their parents/guardians as a jeepney is stopped right before the pedestrian crossing.
Though it may not be so obvious for some observers or viewers of the photos, these situations present high risks for students and others using the roads. And we hope our assessments in cooperation with the schools, agencies and city officials will be fruitful in improving road safety especially for the children.