Caught (up) in traffic

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Statement on the proposed emergency powers to solve transport and traffic problems

The National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) of UP Diliman submitted a statement to the joint Senate committees evaluating the proposal to grant emergency powers to the Philippines President in order to solve the transport and traffic problems in the country and especially in Metro Manila. Following is a copy of the one-page statement:

NCTS Statement on Emergency Powers 25Aug2016

Seemingly minor violations that affect traffic and safety

The following photo shows one of the many minor violations that happen everyday along many roads and particularly at intersections. Motorcyclists and drivers frequently occupy spaces that are supposed to be clear of vehicles. The motorcycles and AUV below occupy the pedestrian crossing that is typically space for pedestrians and cyclists crossing the intersection. Both vehicles also are encroaching upon the intersection’s yellow box, which can be risky given that the intersection is signalised and other vehicles are given the right of movement according to the cycle settings of the intersection.

Encroach intersection

This and others like it are what seems to be minor incidents but in truth have a combining or cumulative effect on traffic streams that contribute to congestion as well as having implications on road safety. Pedestrians and cyclists are forced to go around the vehicles blocking their paths, likely putting them in harm’s way. Other motorists try to avoid these errant vehicles, which, like in the photo, may be blocking the path of vehicles proceeding towards the intersection leg to the right that is hidden in the picture. Motorists doing this must be apprehended by traffic officers/enforcers as these are clear violations of traffic rules. If one is to promote discipline among road users, then it should start with minor violations that tend to be disregarded by traffic enforcers.

Addressing congestion due to school traffic congestion

There are two important traffic news stories yesterday:

For some reason that’s a bit surprising for many, the MMDA seems to have solved two of the most enduring issues on traffic congestion along two major thoroughfares. LSGH is along Ortigas Avenue while Ateneo is along Katipunan Avenue (C-5). Both have high trip generation rates and a significant percentage of their trip gen is comprised of private vehicles. While, Ateneo’s trip generation has led to traffic congestion due to the sheer number of trips the university attracts, the congestion due to La Salle is due to the poor traffic management and lack of parking spaces for vehicles attracted by the school.

I only wonder why it took so much time to address these problems considering the solutions mentioned in the articles are basically ones that could have been implemented years ago. In the case of La Salle, good old fashioned traffic enforcement apparently did the trick. But then, the MMDA even with the LGU constraint could have been stricter before whether when they were under Bayani Fernando (BF) or any of his successors as MMDA Chair. With Ateneo, the scheme is very similar if not the same as what BF proposed over a decade ago when he was MMDA Chair. At that time though a touchy issue was the U-turn scheme he installed along Katipunan that cost trees and the former service road on the west side of the avenue. We can only hope that these claimed ‘successes’ will be sustained and ensure smoother flow of traffic along the major roads they directly affect.

On the uncommon sense on license plates

The issuance of new license plates has been a very “painful” process and experience to a lot of people and it is not without serious issues. For one, there is still a backlog in license plates as evident from Strictly speaking, these vehicles shouldn’t be operating or not allowed to be driven even considering they are technically registered with the Land Transportation Office (LTO). The proliferation of vehicles without license plates allows for the abuse of such by owners of relatively new vehicles who can remove their plates in order to be able to take their cars on their coding days. It is also possible to be involved in a road crash or incident where the driver of a vehicle without a license plate can make an escape (the details on the conduction sticker are not easy to spot and memorize) or evade apprehension.

Among the most problematic is the issuance of plates of the same design as that used by private vehicles to public utility vehicles like UV Express and taxis. This creates a lot of opportunities for abuse especially private vehicles masquerading as PUVs. These are without the proper franchises and are illegal (i.e., colorum). What the LTO claims as security features on the plate are meaningless as the uniform color of the plates defy the simple logic behind the old policy of having a specific color to quickly distinguish among vehicles bearing different color plates. This makes it easier for traffic officers including the Philippine National Police (PNP) to spot vehicles with mismatched or inappropriate license plates.

IMG10499-20150401-0959Taxi cab bearing plate with the same design as that used by private vehicles.

IMG10530-20150408-0825UV Express van bearing license plate for private vehicles

The purpose of having plates with different colors is for quick identification and distinction of vehicles. A plate with yellow background has always been associated with public utility vehicles. Those with blue lettering or background are those for diplomatic plates. Those with red lettering or background are for government plates. Fortunately, the LTO has reverted to the original policy pertaining to the license plate colors and new plates to be issued to PUVs will once again be a distinctive yellow. Perhaps corrections are due for those legitimate PUVs that were issued inappropriate design (i.e., color) plates.

“Gatong” comments by traffic enforcers

Friends who have been involved in a road crash have noted that traffic enforcers seem to have the propensity for making unnecessary remarks while attending to a crash scene. I have experienced this first hand. Some of the more common comments that enforcers make include:

– How crash or accident-prone an area is (citing issues in the area);

– How certain motorists are more likely to be involved in crashes (often referring to one of the parties involved); and

– How one party’s behavior leads or led to a crash (essentially blaming one party for the incident).

[You’re free to add a comment you heard yourself or someone else got from a crash scene.]

Traffic enforcers or police should not make such comments at the scene of a crash especially in front of the parties involved. It is not about whether they have the right to do so but whether it is appropriate coming from a person of authority who should first and foremost be neutral in such circumstances. For one, such unnecessary comments could affect how people involved in a crash could behave. Generalized statements could wrongly favor one party over the other simply because a person of authority made a comment to the contrary of how things really happened. Enforcers should be neutral and go about their business in getting the facts about an incident and proceed in making the formal report for the crash. Even the investigator assigned to the scene should be as objective as possible in order to have a fair assessment of the incident.

The Philippines Anti-Drunk Driving Law

It’s a Friday and another weekend is here. It’s also payday weekend and so it’s expected that restaurants, cafes and bars will be full tonight and the weekends with people dining, lunching, having coffee, and likely for many – drinking. For many years, the latter has resulted in too many road crashes, a significant number of which have had fatal outcomes – usually cars or motorcycles crashing into one another or by themselves. It’s even more dangerous (and highly likely to be fatal) for motorcycle riders who need to balance themselves on two wheels after getting inebriated. Meanwhile, a lot of driving under the influence (DUI) that in many other countries including the US and Japan don’t get apprehended primarily due to the absence of laws and guidelines for their capture and evaluation. There was no way to test their blood alcohol content (BAC) in the field and traffic personnel couldn’t force people to go to hospitals to be tested.

There’s good new, however, especially for road safety advocates. The Philippines is finally implementing Republic Act No. 10586 – An Act Penalizing Persons Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, Dangerous Drugs, and Similar Substances, and for other Purposes, which was signed into law in May 27, 2013. Under the law, private vehicle drivers can be arrested and penalized for BAC of more than 0.05% while truck and public transport drivers and motorcycle riders can be apprehended for a BAC of more than 0.0%. For comparison, Japan requires a BAC of 0.0% for ALL motorists.

The Implementing Rules and Regulations for the law may be found here: PH Anti Drunk Driving Law2013 Rules. The Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) have already acquired equipment to help them evaluate apprehended persons. These include breath analyzers and staffs of both agencies have already undergone training to be able to implement the law. Unfortunately, traffic enforcers cannot randomly test people on the road but would have to apprehend them first for violating other traffic rules and regulations. But I am sure our traffic law enforcers can be quite creative in how to catch these people who pose dangers to all other road users by their being irresponsible for driving or riding under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs. And with the national elections coming up next year, there will be a lot of checkpoints sprouting up along major roads that will also open opportunities for testing and apprehensions.

On jaywalking, overpasses and informal terminals

I had some errands last December and decided to take public transport instead of taking our car and wasting time parking the vehicle. There was significantly less traffic at that time of the year because schools already on Christmas break and everyone else seemed to be on the slow side of the holiday mode (read: not in shopping mode). I needed to cross the wide road that is Quezon Avenue and there was a sign where I usually crossed that it was now prohibited to cross there. I had to take the overpass to get to the other side and to the jeepney stop to board one to get back to the university.

The overpass at the Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. intersection is under-utilized. I base this on the several times I’ve used the overpass. Most people prefer to cross at road level, taking advantage of the traffic signal cycle that allows for gaps in the traffic for pedestrians to cross safely. Of course, there are those who cross any time and seem to tempt fate by their behaviour. They seem to tempt also the MMDA traffic enforcers assigned in the area but from what I have observed, enforcement of the “no jaywalking” policy is usually lax or non-existent. People regularly cross at ground level in plain view of traffic enforcers.

IMG10030-20150115-0922A vendor set-up at the corner of the pedestrian overpass at the Quezon Ave.-Araneta Ave. intersection. Obviously, there are few pedestrians using this overpass as most prefer to cross at ground level.

IMG10033-20150115-0923More vendors on the overpass – fortunately, there were few pedestrians using the overpass at the time. Its not the same for other overpasses that are crowded due in part to vendors occupying much of the facility.

IMG10034-20150115-0923The stairs for many overpasses around Metro Manila are a bit on the steep side. That’s generally not okay with senior citizens, children or persons with disabilities.

There is an informal, on-street jeepney terminal right at the foot of the overpass. If you are in a hurry, its best to try to board a jeepney on the second lane as they are more likely to proceed when the approach is given a green light. From my experience, it takes about 2-3 cycles before the “queued” jeepneys finally cross the intersection. It takes that time to at least have several passengers for the jeepneys before it proceeds to cross the intersection. Most passengers here are transferring from jeepneys plying routes along Araneta Ave. There shouldn’t be an informal terminal here and jeepneys occupy 1-2 lanes of the road at a critical point – the intersection approach. This means intersection capacity is significantly affected and many vehicles could not proceed as they are blocked by the jeepneys. Special mention is made of vehicles wanting to make a right turn but have to go through this “gauntlet” of public utility vehicles. Again, there are MMDA enforcers in the area but it seems the jeepneys and the barkers hold sway and likely with the blessing of enforcers. Such situations are commonplace in Metro Manila and many other cities, and contribute to traffic congestion and other problems commuters regularly encounter.

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.

Bottlenecks and other traffic issues in Antipolo

Commuting between our home in Antipolo and my work place in Quezon City, I have noted a lot of issues on transport and traffic that needs to be attended to by the local government in coordination with other entities like the DPWH and Meralco. Here are some photos with my notes and comments.

IMG07835-20140310-1207Much of Sumulong Highway have been widened to 4 lanes but many electric posts remain in the middle of the additional lanes and pose hazards to motorists and cyclists. These posts seem to have been here for quite some time now and the paint on them gives the message that they will be here for the foreseeable future. Paint or no paint, they are road hazards and have the potential to kill people on vehicles crashing into the poles. I think this is supposed to be the responsibility of the power company (Meralco) but there needs to be a firm request and coordination coming from Antipolo City Government to finally relocate these poles.

IMG07836-20140310-1210Congestion is often caused by counter-flowing vehicles forcing their way back into the right lane (like the car in the middle of the photo) upon encountering opposing traffic. It doesn’t help that there are motorcycles splitting the lanes to make for a very crowded road.

IMG07837-20140310-1212The new but still closed Antipolo Public Market along Sumulong Highway and near the intersection with Daang Bakal (the old railroad line that’s now a road). I wonder about the trip generation potential of this complex as it is not yet operational. Meanwhile, a huge Robinsons mall (looks larger than their Magnolia property) is currently under construction just across from it and will definitely be a major traffic generator in that area. The combined traffic to be attributed to these commercial complexes will surely have a tremendous impact on Sumulong Highway and other roads in the vicinity.

IMG07838-20140310-1213Both Sumulong Highway and Ortigas Avenue Extension carry significant truck traffic. These often cause congestion as they are slow going up to Antipolo and can block the entire road as Sumulong Highway and Ortigas Extension have some narrow sections where the shoulders could not provide enough space for other vehicles to pass the slower moving ones. In certain cases like the one in the photo above, there are electric posts in the middle of the shoulder lane.

IMG07839-20140310-1215Tricycles occupy the outer lane of Ortigas Ave. Ext./Olivares Street. Such informal and on-street terminals are illegal along national roads and yet the city tolerates them. One explanation for this is that there are informal communities along the highway on shanties built along what is supposed to be a ledge along the mountainside (shown at right in the photo). These are where tricycle drivers and their families reside. 

IMG07840-20140310-1216Tricycles from different tricycle operators and drivers associations (TODAs) seem to roam the entire city. This is contrary to the common practice in other cities and municipalities where tricycles are limited within a certain area or district that in many cases just overlap with others (e.g., UP Teachers Village-Philcoa-Krus na Ligas).

IMG07841-20140310-1218Many tricycles serve as school service. However, the observation is that most tricycles tend to be overloaded with passengers. These are usually small children so the driver probably figured that they could cram more passengers than what is legally allowed.

IMG08713-20140528-0722Sharing the road? Antipolo is very popular with cyclists and weekends bring a lot of them to the city as they come from all over via the main routes along Sumulong Highway and Ortigas Avenue (there should also be those coming from the east via the Antipolo-Teresa Road and Antipolo-Tanay Road). Most motorists are aware of these cyclists and give way to them. Most experienced cyclists are also aware of the ROW of other vehicles and so keep to the inner lanes. This mutual awareness and respect are vital to make roads safe for all. I think the only thing needed is to provide space for pedestrians as there are significant numbers of people walking, hiking or jogging along these roads.

Hang time

Traveling to the office one morning, I spotted a jeepney overloaded with passengers. Many were already hanging on to the jeepney at the rear and I could count eight people including 6 who were practically dangling from the jeepney. Such behaviour is common among males who do this just so they could get a ride to their workplaces. But this is also common among students who, with their bags (usually backpacks) face even greater risks when they hang on at the rear of jeepneys. This is actually illegal but poor traffic enforcement combined with the inadequacies of public transport force a lot of people to make sabit (hang-on) to the jeepney. Granted that some of these people have no intention of paying their fares but there is a real danger of lost lives if not serious injuries if one falls off the vehicles.

2014-05-26 08.10.51Eight passengers hanging on to a jeepney as it is stopped at an intersection. Note the ones with backpacks that add to the degree of difficulty for this practice just to get a ride to work or school.

2014-05-26 08.11.58The same jeepney with all 8 passengers dangling as the vehicle speeds up along Marcos Highway in Antipolo. These sabit passengers are actually lucky that their driver is not so reckless (e.g., changing lanes so often, making abrupt movements).

This practice is among a host of seemingly small but important items that can easily be addressed with strict enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. Prompt and timely apprehension and penalties will go a long way into influencing behaviour change among both drivers and passengers. I think the basic idea going on in the minds of both parties is that despite the practice, there’s seldom an incident when a passenger falls off from the jeepney. Such should not be the case and an acceptable reason if we are to prevent untoward incidents from happening, and it starts with sending a strong message through proper enforcement. Are the authorities up to the challenge though? Or is the ningas cogon attitude going to prevail all the time for such situations?