Caught (up) in traffic

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The case for motorcycle taxis in Metro Manila and other Philippine cities

The proliferation of motorcycle taxis (habal-habal) in Metro Manila and other cities is an “open secret”. They have become popular in urban areas mainly due to their being able to go through heavy traffic thereby reducing travel times between origins and destinations. While there are generally other modes of transport to choose from, most of these are likely to be bogged down in traffic particularly along most major roads in our cities. Conventional public transportation, after all, are usually confined to their fixed routes and not having the flexibility to take other roads that are perceived to be less congested. Being “out of line” is a violation of their franchise provision spelling out which road they can take. Taxis and TNVS are more flexible but also would eventually have to contend with traffic. Cost is also a consideration for what are actually car traffic. Motorcycle taxis offer faster and cheaper transport despite the safety concerns.

Motorcycle taxis in Cebu City – Angkas is very visible in Metro Cebu

Non-Angkas motorcycle taxis are not so obvious and easily blend in with motorcycles with one (or more) passengers. The Angkas in the photo actually violates its own rules regarding number of passengers with the child also not wearing a helmet.

An Angkas rider checking his smartphone for the next fare.

I’ve written before about the informal and formal terminals for these motorcycle taxis. They are still very much around and perhaps have multiplied since Angkas got the nod from the courts to continue operations despite being prohibited by the DOTr and the LTFRB, which still do not consider motorcycles as a safe form of public transport. Perhaps it is time to reconsider this policy and give people/commuters another option while we play catch-up with mass transportation? Perhaps the right way to go about this is to require motorcycle taxi service providers to have proper attire including easy to see/easy to identify vests and helmets (helmets should be required for both rider and passenger)? Perhaps their record should speak for the motorcycle taxi services, and people should be made aware of the risks and costs involved should they choose to take habal-habal to travel? And perhaps motorcycle taxis can help alleviate transport problems in our cities?

On school trip generation again

Traveling at noontime along Sumulong Highway in Antipolo City, I chanced upon the changing of morning and afternoon shifts for a national elementary or grade school. The scene is similar to that of the high school I posted previously but there were more people here considering many grade school children were with their parents or guardians, easily doubling (more?) the number of persons generated by elementary schools. However, there are few private vehicles generated by this public school and so congestion along Sumulong Highway is due to the sheer number of people entering, exiting and waiting at the school’s single gate and the tricycles manoeuvring in the area. I also noticed here that most people did not take a vehicle to go to/from school but walked to/from their homes. Again, this underlines the issue about where we send our children for schooling and how they commute. It also says something about the quality of schools that ‘force’ parents to choose the more exclusive ones located a good distance away from where they reside.

Students arriving at the school have to fall in line and wait for the morning batch to come out. There is very limited space outside the school so people including parents and guardians spill out of the sidewalks and occupy part of the curbside lane.

Causing some congestion were tricycles manoeuvring as they brought in students. Those waiting for their potential or intended (sundo) passengers were lined up along the curb side.

 

On the relationship between public transport use and enhanced traffic safety

I found this article while browsing the AASHTO Journal:

APTA Study Says Higher Transit Use Results In Fewer Traffic Deaths, https://aashtojournal.org/2018/08/31/apta-study-says-higher-transit-use-results-in-fewer-traffic-deaths/ [Last accessed: 9/5/2018]

The article contains a link to the report, which would be a good reference for those who want to show proof for the argument for public transportation development and use vs. dependence on cars. I think its possible to come up with our own version of the graphs shown in the report especially those that show less traffic fatalities per 10,000 residents vs. annual trips using transit per capita. However, this will require data collection and analysis for at least the highly urbanised cities (HUCs) in the country. I say at least because these cities would be the ones likely to have the resources to determine the stats necessary for such an assessment.

On bicycle helmet standards

Here is an interesting online article about helmet standards. One of the issues on child safety is whether children should be wearing helmets and if yes, then what helmets are safe for them to wear? Here is the link to the article:

A comparison of bicycle helmet standards

There was a lively discussion about which helmets are appropriate for children during a recent seminar I attended in Bangkok on safe journeys between the home and school. In Vietnam, for example, most children wear a child-sized helmets that are lighter than the ones adults use. In other countries, children wear bicycle helmets, which are even lighter but which some experts deem to be unsafe if used on motorcycles. In our case, most children don’t even wear helmets! That is definitely not safe even if the motorcycle speeds are low as children are more vulnerable than adults in these situations. We do have helmet standards in the Philippines (refer to Bureau of Product Standards) but these are for adult sizes and adult use rather than for children.

A common sight in the Philippines is parents taking their children to school on a motorcycle.  Note that both children are not wearing any protective gear.

It would be nice to conduct a survey on helmet use for schoolchildren in the Philippines. We often make observations and provide anecdotal evidence on use/non-use but we don’t have the numbers to substantiate this issue. While, multiple passengers on motorcycles (e.g., a parent taking his/her child or children to school) is basically unsafe, it is widespread in the Philippines and surprisingly have not led to a high incidence of crashes involving them. Well, at least, not that we know of based on news reports and whatever available statistics are there. I guess that underlines the need to have better data collection and statistical analysis for this but that’s another story…

On healthier cities and encouraging walking

It’s a Sunday and the sun is up after days of rain so it would be a good time to be outdoors. Here is a nice article for the fitness buffs out there. Many of us have sedentary lifestyles and this has come as no surprise with the how we work and study as well as the influence of tech in our everyday activities. Even as I write this, I am sitting in front of my desk and have only my fingers and hands working. The rest of me is inactive except perhaps my senses and my brain. 🙂

Merle, A. (2018) “The Healthiest People in the World Don’t Go to the Gym,” medium.com, https://medium.com/s/story/the-healthiest-people-in-the-world-dont-go-to-the-gym-d3eb6bb1e7d0 [Last accessed: 8/1/2018].

I miss the times when I was living in Japan and when we were living in Singapore mainly because I was able to have a more active lifestyle in the cities where I lived. I walked and biked a lot when I was in Yokohama, Tokyo and Saitama, and later walked a lot around Singapore. I/we didn’t need a car as the public transportation was excellent and so were the pedestrian infrastructure. I recall walking between our laboratory at Yokohama National University and the dormitory, and later the Sotetsu Line Kami-Hoshikawa Station almost everyday. And then climbing up and down the hills of Yamate on Sundays. I can walk around Tokyo on my own and finding my way through shopping streets especially in Akihabara and Ueno. Of course, my favourite places would always include Kamakura, which can be reached via a train ride from Yokohama Station. The wife and I loved walking around Singapore and exploring places on foot. Indeed, you can be healthy and have a workout everyday without being too conscious about it!

Safe and healthy journeys to school

I recently attended a workshop organised by UNICEF in cooperation with UN Environment and the WHO. The main topic was about road safety, particularly for children and focusing on their journeys between homes and schools. This is definitely a big issue and the concern is not without basis. Take the example shown in the photo below where two motorcycles are carrying more passengers than what they are designed for.

Children on-board motorcycles bound for a school in Zamboanga City

The passengers are children being taken by what looks like a parent or parents driving the motorcycles. Such are common scenes in Philippine roads and in many cases, the children are at risk of being involved in a crash. Most will have no protection and will likely be seriously injured or be killed in case of a crash. Then there are the cases of children walking between their homes and schools and are exposed to the dangers brought about mainly by motor vehicle traffic along the roads they travel on. It is a wonder how there are few crashes occurring despite these conditions (or is it because few are reported and recorded?)!

I will be pursuing research topics related to safe journeys to schools more than other road safety topics that the staff and students I supervise are usually taking on. Hopefully, too, my new advisees this coming semester will be interested in related topics particularly graduate students who work for the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

School is back and so are safety issues for schoolchildren

It’s school time once again in most parts of the Philippines. Public and private schools including most colleges and universities have resumed classes this month of June while others start this July and August. But with the resumption of classes, there is also the re-emergence of issues pertaining to the safety of these children. Students are exposed to the hazards of commuting. These include the likelihood of being injured or killed by vehicles running along the roads the students use to get to school.

The photo above is a typical scene in front and around many public schools in the country. Schools are located along national roads and often lack spaces for students and their guardians. Many end up occupying the roads and causing congestion. Of course, that congestion is secondary to the safety of these children. Nevertheless, such issues need to be addressed in a more holistic manner rather than attempt to solve one as if they could be isolated.

Most students of grade schools and high schools around the country either walk or take public transportation in their commutes. They are exposed almost daily to motor vehicle traffic along the roads and risk being sideswiped or run over by vehicles. In certain cases, small children walk significant distances thereby increasing the likelihood and risk of being harmed by traffic.

Traffic is particularly bad along most roads leading to schools mainly during the morning, mid-day and afternoon periods when students arrive or leave their schools. In Metro Manila, for example, the worst congestion are experienced along major roads like Katipunan Avenue (due to traffic generated by Ateneo, Miriam and UP) and Ortigas Avenue (due to La Salle Greenhills). That means a lot of time and fuel are wasted and more emissions are released into the air that we breathe. However, one can argue that in terms of road safety, this is better since gridlocks mean slow moving vehicles that make it safer for walking or cycling. This is not the same in the provinces or rural areas where there is less congestion and vehicles travel at faster speeds.

04.JPGChildren heading to school on a ‘skylab’ version of the motorcycle taxi

While there are initiatives pertaining to revisions in speed limits, such are limited (pun not intended) by how much action can be done in order to enforce these regulations. Add to this the requirement of having the instruments to measure and record speeds in aid of enforcement. This was what MMDA did along Commonwealth Ave. and Macapagal Blvd. with the acquisition of two speed guns. I don’t see them using these anymore and wonder if the instruments are still working. Meanwhile, expressway authorities are using these as they continue their enforcement of speed limits along tollways. [I am aware of NLEX and SCTEX enforcement units employing speed guns along those tollways.]

The DPWH is also doing its part by doing road safety audits and identifying measures to reduce the likelihood of crashes involving these students. Among these are rumbles strips and, in some cases, the construction of sidewalks but these are not enough. There were recommendations from an iRAP project many years ago but the agency was resistant to what they thought were new and innovative ideas that were actually already being implemented in other countries. Perhaps these recommendations and that iRAP study could be revisited and solutions drawn from there?