Caught (up) in traffic

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Traffic consultants for Philippine cities?

I was driving to the office one morning, and as I was slowing down to stop at the Masinag junction I spotted a familiar face giving instructions to Antipolo traffic personnel. Robert Nacianceno was formerly the General Manager (Undersecretary level position) with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) when it was chaired by Bayani Fernando, the first MMDA Chair to gain a cabinet level post (previously the MMDA Chair was not a Secretary level position). He was in an office barong while leading Antipolo staff in positioning orange traffic cones to mark the lanes for turning traffic along the Sumulong Highway approach from Antipolo.

Nacianceno is a cyclist so I would like to think that he can take that perspective in transport planning and traffic management for Antipolo. Unfortunately, his track record at the MMDA does not provide strong evidence as to his competence in transport planning or traffic management. Insiders say most policies and schemes during BF’s time was the latter’s ideas (e.g., U-turns, bike lanes, etc.) and he had his own consultant (and reportedly an inner circle) for various matters including traffic. In fairness to the man, Nacianceno probably has tremendous experience on the job but one has to note that there were other people with the MMDA who also dabbled in transport and traffic. Also, as GM he had other things to attend to during his stint including waste management and flood control.

2014-03-26 08.52.27Remember this guy? He used to be the MMDA GM during BF’s stint at the agency.

I recall that the previous traffic consultant of Antipolo City was also a former MMDA official, Ernesto Camarillo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say that Antipolo traffic improved during the last few years. Based on what I have seen in my daily commute, transport and traffic conditions have degenerated. Antipolo is overrun by tricycles and people generally do not follow rules and regulations. Informal terminals dot the city and you don’t have to go far to find inappropriate terminals as these are in plain view and across from the Rizal Provincial Capitol. Antipolo has a new mayor in the former Rizal Governor and his mother now sits as governor of the province. I’m crossing my fingers as to how they will improve transport and traffic in Antipolo if there is really a desire to do so. For starters, is there a transport and traffic plan for this Highly Urbanized City (HUC)? There should be one as the city needs it badly together with a land use plan to bring some order in development.

Antipolo is rapidly developing but at the same time conditions (including traffic) are also rapidly deteriorating. Hopefully, the LGU will address these issues and eventually make this city a modern one and fit for its being an HUC as well as a popular pilgrimage site for decades if not centuries due to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (Is there some irony here?). Nacianceno’s work has just started and I hope he is up to the challenge of bringing order to Antipolo’s chaotic transport and traffic situation. I hope, too, that he will take note of good practices in other cities (Philippine or foreign) and won’t be relying purely on his experiences in Metro Manila. And hopefully, whatever improvements from the traffic schemes he will be introducing and implementing will be felt immediately by travellers. Good luck!

On high definition cameras to improve traffic enforcement and management

Watching the news one evening, I saw a report that featured traffic enforcers being caught on camera extorting money from drivers caught violating traffic rules and regulations. Extortion, “kotong” or “pangongotong” is not a new thing. It is actually a given to many motorist, particularly those who spend a lot of time on the road like drivers of public utility vehicles and trucks. In many cases, the enforcer or police officer is already or automatically assumed to be an extortionist even without the subtle suggestions via talk or body language. Motorists simply slip a bill with their license or in the form of a handshake to the apprehending officer. This, of course, translates into bribery, which is also a crime for both parties involved.

Traffic violations carry penalties in the form of fines that vary in amount depending on the violation. Usually, the amount is commensurate to the bribe or the “suggested” amount being extorted by the apprehending enforcer(s). In other cases, a larger amount is “suggested,” often to remind the erring motorist Of course, this assumes that the motorist is indeed guilty or in any case (guilty or not) didn’t want to waste time and opts for the perceived easy way out. However, there have also been cases when corrupt enforcers/officers meet their match in motorists who are aware of their rights and are knowledgable of traffic laws (e.g., lawyers, etc.) or are well-connected and simply show business cards of influential people (e.g., politicians, high government officials, police or military officers, etc.) to get out of a traffic bind. These instances actually reveal that many enforcers/officers are not so familiar with traffic rules and regulations so are unable to justify their apprehensions beyond their very basic knowledge.

The MMDA has made a lot of effort in trying to simplify the process of paying the penalties with the guilty party now being allowed to take the ticket and pay the fine through accredited banks within a certain grace period. Traffic enforcers can no longer take your driver’s license (Note: Only Land Transportation Office officers and deputized personnel may confiscate licenses.) and this eliminated the long lines of drivers  at the MMDA offices to get back their confiscated licenses. This has also reduced the incidence of extortion as many private motorists can just opt to have tickets issued to by the apprehending officer. The latter is basically no longer allowed to collect money and contact time is also reduced. There is a grace period for the erring driver so he/she has to pay the fine within this period or else risk being flagged by the LTO itself.

The new camera system that the MMDA has in place is part of Phase 1 of its traffic signalization project. With this project, the MMDA hopes to upgrade the network of traffic signals in Metro Manila and have in place a dynamic, adaptive system to better address traffic circulation in the metropolis. This is actually a departure from a past program that was premised on the continuous traffic flow that was supposedly derived from U-turns masquerading as rotundas or roundabouts. Though the sensors and software for the traffic signal system are not yet in place, the MMDA already has a new traffic control center just across its building at the corner of EDSA and Orense Street in Makati City, from where they can now monitor traffic conditions using high definition cameras installed across the metro.

Davao has been in the forefront of using such high definition cameras for traffic management as well as for monitoring the behavior of traffic enforcers and motorists. Their traffic  management center has been operational for the past few years and I’ve had the chance to have a look at how the city is able to monitor traffic conditions in that city. With this tool, they are able to address issues by deploying personnel on sight or by changing the setting of traffic signals. In certain cases, they can watch out for incidents like road crashes or monitor apprehensions to make sure both apprehending personnel and erring motorists are honest and no anomalies are encountered.

img03471-20120711-1415Davao’s cameras have been used to monitor not just erring motorists and pedestrians but also erring traffic enforcers and policemen who might be preying on road users. The city has also been able to use their system to record and evaluate incidences of road crashes.

Perhaps in the near future, many other cities would be able to acquire and apply such tools in traffic management. I think the larger and highly urbanized cities in the country already require sophisticated systems for traffic. Unfortunately, there is always the issue of having limited resources, which usually discourages a city from investing in expensive systems, often opting for basic signals for their intersections. Such basic systems, however, can be optimized if city personnel in-charge of these have the knowledge or capability for setting signals to be synchronized with each other. These are fundamentals necessary for whoever will be dealing with traffic engineering and management in these cities. Also, there are now ongoing researches at universities with some now sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging technology Research and Development (PCIEERD) seeking to produce traffic systems at lower costs. These should eventually be deployed in our cities to help alleviate traffic problems.

Old style intersection traffic management

Heading to the DOST complex for a meeting, I took a few photos of the enforcers managing the traffic at the intersections at the Bicutan interchange from on top a traffic box. The intersections are formed by the on and off ramps of the South Luzon Expressway, the service roads and Gen. Santos Ave./Dona Soledad Ave. It was a welcome scene considering the enforcers seemed to be doing very well (i.e., traffic was flowing quite smoothly at the intersections) while also evoking times when traffic signals weren’t the norm in major intersections. Of course, it helped that pedestrian movements on the ground were eliminated by the pedestrian overpass set-up at the interchange, a legacy of the BF era at the MMDA.

IMG06272-20130618-0935Traffic enforcer on a box directing traffic at the intersection of the SLEX soutbound ramps, the West Service Road and Dona Soledad Ave. That’s SM Bicutan in the background with its two buildings on either side of Dona Soledad and connected by an elevate walkway. Pedestrians have been eliminated from the equation thanks to the elevated walkway at the SLEX Bicutan interchange.

IMG06273-20130618-0935Traffic enforcer at the intersection of the the SLEX northbound ramps, the East Service Road and Gen. Santos Ave. The PNR tracks run along just after the intersection.

Traffic Congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP Still Effective? -Conclusion

The MMDA always reports what it claims as improvements of travel speeds along EDSA that past years. They have pointed to this as evidence that traffic congestion is being addressed and that programs like the UVVRP are effective in curbing congestion. However, many traffic experts have cautioned against making sweeping generalizations pertaining to the effectiveness of schemes especially if the evidence put forward is limited and where data seems to have been collected under undesirable (read: unscientific) circumstances.

The MMDA also has been using and to some extent overextending its use of a micro-simulation software that is employs to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of its proposed traffic schemes. The software has an excellent animation feature that can make the untrained eye believe in what is being shown as The problem here is when one realizes that computer software will only show what the programmer/operator wants, and is perhaps an example where the term “garbage in, garbage out” is very much applicable. And this is especially true should the computer model be uncalibrated and unvalidated according to guidelines that are well established, and extensively discussed and deliberated in a wealth of academic references. The fallacy of employing advanced tools to demonstrate how one’s proposal is better than another was highlighted when the DPWH acquired the same tool and came up with an entirely different result for an analysis being made for the same project by that agency and the MMDA. Surely this resulted in confusion as the outcomes of the simulation efforts of both agencies practically negated each other.

It should be pointed out that such micro-simulation software is unsuitable for the task of determining whether metro-wide schemes such as the UVVRP is still effective given the actions of those affected by the scheme. What is required is a macroscopic model that would take into account the travel characteristics of populations in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas (cities and towns in the provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna). There are quite a few of these models available but most if not all were derived from the one developed under the Metro Manila Urban Transport Integration Study (MMUTIS) that was completed in 1999. The main beneficiary from the outcomes of MMUTIS happens to be the MMDA but for some reason, that agency failed to build capacity for maintaining and updating/upgrading the model. As such, the agency missed a great opportunity to invest in something that they could have used to develop and evaluate traffic schemes to address congestion and other traffic issues in Metro Manila, as well as to assess the impacts of new developments.

Metro Manila has come to a point where its options for alleviating congestion are becoming more and more limited. The combination of a still increasing rate of motorization and private vehicle use have definitely contributed to congestion while there are also perceptions of a decline in public transport use in the metropolis. The share of public transport users in most Philippine cities and municipalities range from 80 – 90 %, while in many highly urbanized cities the tendency seems to be a decline for this share as more people are choosing to purchase motorcycles to enhance their mobility and as a substitute to cars. This trend towards motorcycle use cannot be denied based on the steep increase in ownership and the sheer number of motorcycles we observe in traffic everyday.

Metro Manila needs to retain the substantial public transport share while accepting that motorcycle ownership will continue to chip off commuters. The latter phenomenon can be slowed down should authorities strictly enforce traffic rules and regulations on motorcyclists, effectively erasing the notion that the latter group is “exempted” from such. The bigger and more urgent issue is how to put up long overdue mass transport infrastructure that is direly needed in order to create another opportunity for rationalization transport services. We seem to like that word “rationalization” without really understanding and acting on what is required to once and for all address transport problems in the metropolis. We are not lacking for examples of good practices that are both effective and sustainable including those in the capital cities of our ASEAN neighbors. However, we seem to be unable to deliver on the infrastructure part that we have tended to over-rely on a TDM scheme that has long lost much of its effectiveness. The evidence is quite strong for this conclusion and perhaps we should stop being in denial in as far as the UVVRP’s effectiveness is concerned. Efforts should be turned towards building the necessary infrastructure and making public transport attractive so that private car and motorcycle users will be left with no excuse to shift to public transport use. It is inevitable that at some time they will understand the cost of congestion and that they will have to pay for their part in congestion like what is being done along tollways or, in the more sophisticated and mature example, Singapore. But this cannot be realized if we continue to fail in putting up the infrastructure Metro Manila so direly requires.

Microcosm of society

As me and my colleagues crossed the street at the corner of the College of Engineering towards the Main Library grounds, we heard the distant sound of whistles of security guards posted along the Academic Oval. At first, we didn’t pay much attention even stating among ourselves that the guards may be trying to catch the attention of certain people. There are still many litterbugs on campus and there are street children often going around and trying to collect material they could sell at some junk shop. In some cases, they take whatever they find even those that are not supposed to be taken by them like scrap materials from buildings that are being constructed or renovated. These, after all, are not fair game in as far as the contractors and the university are concerned.

After we had crossed, however, the guards continued to whistle and the frequency and manner seemed to indicate urgency and not just as if they were not just trying to accost someone but were also in pursuit of someone or something. Another guard posted near the library stood up from where he was taking his lunch on a bench under the trees near the road and also started whistling. We soon saw the cause for the alarm – a black BMW 5 series was speeding counterflow along the bicycle lane.

We stopped near the Main Library kiosks to see where the BMW was heading and made our bets that it would be turning left towards the Asian Center and probably towards the exit along Magsaysay Avenue. We were not surprised when the car indeed took a left (and without signals) but towards the driveway in front of Malcolm Hall – the College of Law. I say we were not surprised because there have been many instances before this one when similar vehicles and even those with SUV escorts who have blatantly violated traffic rules and regulations inside the campus. Often, the excuse mentioned is that they were in a hurry. But then aren’t we all?

We did not see who alighted from the car (it was too far to see) but it was parked in front of Malcolm Hall so I assumed it must be a faculty member, a lecturer or a guest of that College who drove or owned the vehicle. It would also be likely that the occupant was a lawyer. This begs the question of what kinds of lawyers are teaching at the College of Law. I know this is quite a generalization and perhaps unfair to many whom I know from that college. But this simple act of violating the one-way scheme along the oval and using a lane dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists despite all the signs and the guards shouting at you, which some people (like lawyers for example) would dismiss as petty are manifestations of more serious things. And I will restrain myself from alleging what those serious things are.

If he or she was a student, then the obvious question is what kind of students do the college have these days? What kinds of lawyers are being bred by the college? And may I dare ask what kind of lawyers have been produced in the past as there are evidences (from the UP Police, the MMDA and other traffic enforcers) that the same professionals are the one most likely to argue with enforcers even when they are guilty of violating traffic rules and regulations.

It is the arrogance of such motorists that is among the common causes of road crashes and the major cause for anarchy and chaos in our roads. The example in UP only shows how far we are from the objective of instilling discipline among our motorists. That same arrogance shows, too, how we regard everyone else including the joggers, walkers, and cyclists who had to give way to a motor vehicle that intruded into their right of way and practically bulldozed its way towards its destination. For these people, it is no matter that they put the lives of people in danger by their actions. After all, they were in a hurry. I believe the pedestrians and cyclists were in no hurry. they were in no hurry to get injured or, God forbid, to die because a motorist in a luxury car had to run against the one-way flow and use road space that is dedicated for pedestrians and cyclists – most of whom happen to be students who have yet to fulfill their potentials, and hopefully for the good of this country.

Tools for traffic enforcement

The MMDA recently acquired speed guns to enable them to measure vehicle speeds and catch violators of speeding regulations. A case in point is the ongoing efforts to reduce road crashes along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. Part of the effort is the enforcement of the 60 kilometer per hour speed limit that is applied to all vehicles. This, of course, is a simplification considering that ideally there are different speed limits for different types of vehicles if Philippine laws are to be reviewed. One problem with Commonwealth is that it is a very wide road with 8 to 10 lanes per direction depending on the section from Fairview to the Elliptical Road. All types of vehicles seem to be guilty of “over-speeding” but of particular concern were and are the buses that also have tended to change lanes quite frequently despite the maneuver being unnecessary.

Most private vehicles are also probably guilty of speeding at many points along the avenue. The wide road is indeed very tempting for cruising at high speeds much like what a driver may routinely do along expressways. The problem, of course, is that the avenue is not an expressway where access is restricted and there are practically no chance or instances of conflicts with pedestrians, vendors or typical public transport operations. And then there are also the ubiquitous median openings that have replaced at-grade intersections. These facilities have encouraged weaving and, arguably, aggressive driving in order to be able to maneuver to the nearest practical U-turn slot.

But going back to the speed guns; these are very handy tools for traffic enforcement. Based on what I saw on TV, the speed guns allow the operator to take a photograph of the guilty party’s vehicle and save this for downloading later at the office. The downloaded photos are then processed into a form (summons) that is sent to the owner of the vehicle who is assumed to be the driver of the vehicle caught by the speed gun’s camera. The person is given 7 days to pay the penalty/fine (PhP 7,500 accroding to the news reports) at the MMDA or at an accredited bank. If the person is unable to pay the fine, the MMDA will forward the violation to the LTO for flagging or tagging of the vehicle used. This tag will serve as an alarm for traffic law enforcers in case the vehicle is involved in another incident.

The speed gun is not an inexpensive tool and yet it is a very useful one if only to instill discipline to drivers in the form of speed management. Speeding is one manifestation of irresponsible or reckless driving, especially when combined with other maneuvers like frequent lane changing. It is also one of the most difficult to enforce since measurements are required and evidence must be strongly tied to a particular vehicle so that the match is “beyond reasonable doubt,” as lawyers may say.

Speed guns like the ones acquired by the MMDA will surely contribute to curbing speeding violations and reducing the incidence of crashes. However, this is currently limited to Commonwealth and there is definitely a need to acquire more instruments to enable the agency to enforce speed limits along other roads including perhaps EDSA and C5. At the very least, speed limits should be enforced along all the radial and circumferential roads. This is particularly important during the night time and probably the early mornings when many road crashes are associated with speeding violations that are obvious for the characteristic loss of control by the driver. The acquisition and proper use of additional units will go a long way into putting order to traffic along our roads and this order can be equated to ensuring that our travel ways will be safe for all users.

Ortigas traffic

Ortigas Avenue traffic is very familiar to me.  For one, I have used the road since childhood because it was the most direct route to and from school. We lived in Cainta and I went to school for 11 years in Mandaluyong. Before that, I even have memories of the section of Ortigas Avenue where Valle Verde phases are now located being carved quite literally from the adobe mountain that it was back in the mid 1970’s.  Ortigas was the only access for those living in the east, particularly the Antipolo-Cainta-Taytay-Binangonan-Angono towsn of Rizal Province, for quite some time. Marcos Highway was still a dirt road and Marikina and Cogeo were somewhat out of the way. Meanwhile, Ortigas was already an important corridor as it led to Antipolo, an important religious and popular recreational site.

As the populations of the Rizal towns I mentioned increased, mostly due to their proximity to Metro Manila and being popular for residential developments then as now, Ortigas became congested. The avenue itself was widened but as any traffic engineering textbook will tell us, the bottlenecks were really the bridges. And I also remember the Rosario Bridge across the Pasig River being widened twice, both before the Manggahan Floodway was constructed. I experienced the impacts of both widening endeavors and did not enjoy having to wake up earlier than when I usually did because of the horrific traffic. It was worse,  I guess, when the Manggahan Floodway was being constructed and there were too few options as to alternative routes. In fact, there were too few bridges across the floodway and Pasig River.

Nowadays, traffic congestion along Ortigas Avenue seem much worse than before. This I get from my siblings who still use the corridor as part of their routes to their workplaces. I trust in their assessment considering that my brother went to the same Mandaluyong school I attended and my sister attended another exclusive school in Pasig. My sister’s husband attests to the worsening traffic as he’s also lived at a residential area along Ortigas. From firsthand observation, I can also validate that Ortigas is worse these days than say 10 and 20 years ago.

The counterflow scheme along Ortigas is not new. In fact, my father and our school service drivers  knew about this and would often time their trips to coincide with the scheme so that they can drive almost continuously to their destinations in the morning. Back then, I remember that the counterflow scheme was in effect for 10 to 15 minutes at the 0630, 0700, 0730 and 0800 times. It was also actually a regulated one-way scheme and was called thus since it benefited vehicles traveling along the outbound (from Rizal) direction. Inbound traffic were stopped at strategic points along the avenue including Rosario Bridge.

Such schemes are possible only when there is a dominant direction during the peak hours. In the case of Ortigas the directional distribution before was practically 90% outbound in the morning peak. A one-way, counterflow scheme was possible and practical for an undivided road. There were no medians or island to prevent vehicles from moving over to the opposing lane and back. That was then and at a time when I suppose that there were less friction along the avenue. Road friction, particularly those caused by public utility vehicles stopping for passengers, is more serious these days as the number of PUVs have also dramatically increased to address the demand for travel. Only now, there seem to be more informal terminals and longer dwell times at strategic points along Ortigas. These cause the bottlenecks that are also complicated by Ortigas now having median barriers along its length.

I believe congestion can be significantly alleviated by developing and implementing a simple dispatching system for PUVs along strategic points like the designated loading and unloading zones at either ends of the Manggahan and Rosario bridges. The dispatching system should be implemented along with a strict enforcement regime to ensure quick boarding and alighting times and prohibiting PUVs from spilling over and occupying other lanes, that often results in blockage of general traffic. Perhaps, a counter-flow scheme may be re-evaluated and become unnecessary. This recommendation comes in the heels of a survey we conducted along Ortigas only yesterday, February 10 in Manila, where I personally experienced PUVs making a terminal out of the outbound lanes before the Manggahan bridge and effectively blocking outbound traffic along the avenue. I can imagine the frustration of those caught in traffic along Ortigas and its implications along the extension and the Imelda and Bonifacio Avenues from Cainta Junction. The result of that blockage and the implementation of a counterflow around 0715 is shown in the following two photos I took.


Figure A: Image downstream along Ortigas Avenue (to Rosario Bridge and C5)

 

Figure B: Image upstream along Ortigas Avenue (from Cainta Junction)

 

It is clear from the photos that private vehicles were the ones who benefited from the counterflow. However, it is interesting to see that the outbound lanes were practically empty especially along the Manggahan Bridge. This clearly shows that there is actually enough road capacity but that it is not utilized (and counterflows were required) because of the blockage caused by PUVs upstream of our position. This is another strong case for going back to the basics in as far as traffic engineering and management is concerned. It does not take a PhD degree to see what’s wrong in the photos and certainly an advanced degree is not required for a solution to the problem.

Ningas Cogon

After focusing on one negative trait, I didn’t expect to be writing immediately about another. Again, I do this in the context of transport and traffic, and to drive home the point that we really need to go back to the basics in as far as solving transport and traffic problems in this country is concerned. Ningas cogon refers to how a type of grass burns when set on fire. There is initially an intense burning of the grass but after a short time it dies out. This behavior of the burning is often alluded to when describing efforts that are not sustained and especially those that showed enthusiasm (and therefore promise) only at the start. It is also associated with an initial show of interest that eventually and shortly wanes for one reason or another.

Only two weeks back I was writing about Commonwealth Avenue and how it was called a killer highway. At the time, I was hopeful that the renewed effort to impose discipline among motorists and especially public utility vehicle drivers and pedestrians would result in a significant improvement of safety along the highway. The initial results seemed to be encouraging, with a dramatic decrease in the number of road crashes and deaths in the first few days. I even had several opportunities to observe the efforts of enforcers, the combination of MMDA, PNP and QC personnel, to keep PUVs along their designated lanes and remind motorists and pedestrians to follow rules and regulations. I was pleasantly surprised, for example, to see vehicles “slow down” to 60 kph instead of the expressway speeds they usually attain along Commonwealth. At the Philcoa area near Commonwealth’s junction with the Elliptical Road, PUVs were being guided through the loading and unloading area and violators were quickly apprehended by MMDA and PNP personnel closely watching the traffic.

Meanwhile, I read a few newspaper columns giving mixed reviews about the program. One column in particular from a major daily mentioned that the effort lasted only a few days and that traffic reverted back to pre-discipline zone times. My reaction was one of disappointment, not for the government but for the columnist whom I thought came up with a premature conclusion, given that changing motorist and pedestrian behavior and attitudes along a major thoroughfare would take time. I did mention though in my previous post that enforcement should be firm and sustained in order for it to be successful and enduring. Also, I was already wary of the tendency for such programs to go the way of others before it – ningas cogon.

Last Sunday, I drove along Commonwealth on my way to visit my in-laws in Novaliches. I decided to do an experiment using a simple method that I learned when I was a student at University and which I also teach my students in undergrad civil engineering. In what is called a floating car technique, I attempted to travel according to the speed limit of 60 kph. I also tried my best to keep my lane, only changing when it was necessary. I also tried to count how many vehicles would pass me, indicating how many traveling my way were faster than me and therefore over-speeding.

The first thing I noticed when I entered Commonwealth from University Avenue was that buses and cars were again zipping by me and so I didn’t bother anymore to count those passing me. I did maintain my speed so I could have a reference as to how fast the other vehicles were relative to mine. Approaching the Fairview Market area, I also observed that people were crossing almost anywhere and that some barriers have been moved to allow jaywalkers to cross the median. Meanwhile, the pedestrian overpasses were all crowded and I could see the entire length also occupied by vendors. Not an enforcer was around to bring order in what was a chaotic marketplace scene – along a major highway.

I repeated the experiment in the afternoon when I drove from my in-laws home to my parents’ home. Taking the opposite direction, Commonwealth was even more congested when I approached the Fairview Market area. Buses, jeepneys and tricycles practically took up 3 lanes, stalls, hawkers and pedestrians took up 2 lanes and there was only 1 left for all other vehicles to pass through. No one among those who clogged the highway seemed to care and I again saw no enforcers to mahage traffic. If there were, I’m sure they were somewhere else and definitely not doing their jobs.

It is both disappointing and frustrating that the traffic discipline program along Commonwealth went the way of ningas cogon. In fact, the MMDA seemed to have celebrated what they thought was success prematurely, even stating that they were to apply similar strategies to other major roads in the Metro. By the looks of the outcomes along Commonwealth, such efforts along other roads will eventually go the way of ningas cogon. Such results send the wrong message to motorists and pedestrians and reinforce the perception that the authorities don’t really mean business and that such programs are just for show. So far, it seems that this perception will continue to pervade along Metro roads unless the MMDA, the PNP and the respective local government units get their acts together. Again, it shows that going back to the basics remain the main challenge and overcoming the ningas cogon tendency the main obstacle for our authorities.

Suwapang

The Filipino or Tagalog translation of the words greedy or selfish seems much more appropriate to use as a term to describe what is arguably the most basic reason why our country is in a rut. It can also be used to describe why our transport systems and traffic is what it is at present. The term suwapang easily and comprehensively defines the way we drive vehicles, ride motorcycles, commute, operate transport services, and enforce or manage traffic. It is also applicable to the way we plan and build infrastructure.

Public utility vehicle drivers are suwapang when they cheat on fares for students and senior citizens, refusing to give the discounts mandated by law. The are suwapang when they race to overtake fellow drivers in order to get to passengers waiting along the roadside. They never mind the safety of their passengers or those in other vehicles around them. To them, the most important thing is to get ahead of everyone else even if in the end those waiting along the roadside or the stop weren’t even heading their way. PUV drivers are suwapang, too, when they cut trips, making it difficult for passengers to get a ride home, to school or to their workplace. Suwapang is also the word appropriate for those refusing passengers for one reason or another. Public transport is, after all and definitely above its business aspect, a service.

Motorcycle riders are suwapang when they disregard traffic rules and regulations and weave in traffic, placing themselves and others at risk of getting involved in a road crash. They are suwapang when they carry more than one other rider (angkas) as what we commonly observe along many roads and with children sandwiched between their parents who seem to not understand the risk they are exposing their children and themselves to.

Tricycle drivers are suwapang when they travel along national roads or highways, fully aware that they are prohibited from doing so. They are suwapang when they charge exorbitant fare for “special” rides. The word also applies when they clog streets due to their numbers, many probably even illegal or colorum units. There are actually too many of them in many areas but they are still steadily increasing as newer tricycles are accommodated or tolerated by the ones supposed to be regulating them.

Transport operators are suwapang when they cheat on vehicle maintenance and place passengers at risk of being involved in a road crash. Poorly maintained vehicles also lead to higher fuel consumption and would definitely have a significant impact on operational costs that is part of the basis for setting fare rates. Suwapang is the word for those who operate gas guzzlers while claiming that it is wholly the rising fuel prices that are to blame for their rising fuel costs. These operators unfairly lobby for increasing fare rates while not doing their part on maintaining their vehicles, effectively imposing the fuel inefficiencies of the vehicles on the riding public.

Commuters are suwapang when they pressure drivers to stop where public transport are restricted from loading and unloading passengers. They do not care about the driver being apprehended and probably paying up for the violation. Commuters are also suwapang when cheating the driver for fares like when they choose or insist to hang on to jeepneys and not pay fares or pretend that they have paid when they have not. They are also suwapang for waiting on the road rather than the road side. They cause congestion because they occupy space intended for vehicles and in effect reduce the capacity of these roads.

Private vehicle drivers are suwapang when they overspeed and weave aggressively in traffic. They do not care about the safety of others nor about rules and regulations that are in place for everyone’s well-being. They are suwapang for demanding more road space when the collective volume of private vehicles are the real cause of congestion, especially when one realizes most vehicles carry only 1 or 2 passengers including the driver. It is inefficient use of road space at best aside from being a waste of fuel and unfriendly to the environment due to the emissions they produce. They are also suwapang when they do not have off-street parking where they reside and leave their vehicles to occupy precious road space, reducing capacity and contributing to traffic congestion in the process. One is also suwapang if they still have sirens (wang-wang) installed on their vehicles for their convenient use, despite the no wang-wang policy being implemented.

Traffic enforcers are suwapang when they extort money from drivers instead of issuing them the traffic ticket for legitimate violations of traffic rules. They are more suwapang when they unscrupulously apprehend motorists for what the former claim were violations by the latter but are actually not, in order to eventually extort money from them. These are quite awkward situations since either or both parties may not even be knowledgeable of the rule or rules that were violated in the first place, if any. Enforcers are also suwapang for extorting money or tong from drivers of goods or freight vehicles. Their activities only lead to an increase in the prices of commodities such as rice and vegetables.

Our government leaders, planners and engineers are suwapang for poorly planned, designed and prioritized infrastructure. Perhaps some are more concerned with their cuts in the budget for transport infrastructure than the quality of a project and its overall benefit to the public. They are suwapang because they choose to benefit themselves (sarili) over the good of their country (bayan), securing their pockets and their own futures when they should be securing the future of the nation as is required of those in public service. They are suwapang because they hinder the nation’s development and deprive people of an efficient transport system for both mobility and accessibility.

Some in the private sector are considered suwapang for collaborating with politicians, planners and engineers described previously. They can also be considered suwapang for pushing for projects that should not be prioritized but are assessed to be so due to their connections with people in power. They, too, hinder this country’s development and deprive people of the efficient system they deserve.

So the inevitable question is – Are you swapang?

Discipline along a killer highway

Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City was given a tag as a killer highway due to the frequent occurrence of road crashes along the road, many of them resulting in fatalities. Only last December, a retired judge was about to cross the highway on his vehicle, his wife (a retired teacher from a prestigious science high school) with him as they were heading to church. It was very early in the morning since they were going to the Simbang Gabi or night mass – a tradition in the Philippines during the Advent Season leading up to Christmas Day. Despite probably signalling and their being cautious enough, their vehicle was hit by a speeding bus. The driver of the bus was to claim later that he used his lights and horns to warn the judge against crossing. There was no mention if the bus driver attempted to slow down, the safest thing to do when driving at night and knowing that there are many crossings along the road he is traversing. In fact, this should be the first thing on the mind of anyone aware and conscious about safe driving.

There are many incidents like the one above and not just along Commonwealth or other Metro Manila road. Road crashes occur along many of our national and local roads everyday and the casualties just pile up, and many are often just treated as statistics especially when nothing is done to address the issue. Such road crashes occur due to many factors that are usually categorized into human, vehicle or environment-related. Most often, as findings in the Philippines indicate, it is the human factor that results in a road crash.

Driver error, poor maintenance of vehicles, and ill-designed roads can all be traced to human shortcomings. Environmental factors are also ultimately rooted on the human element. Speeding is one thing and aggressive driving is probably another but altogether general driver behavior along Philippine roads are clearly a manifestation of a lack of discipline and not necessarily the lack of skill, although the latter is also a significant factor if one is to focus on public transport and trucks.

There are few exceptions and it seems “few” is a relative term often leading to the example of Subic. At Subic, we always wonder how and why drivers seem to be disciplined. Some say it is because of the fines or penalties for traffic violations. Others say it is psychological and a legacy of the base being previously under the US military. I would say it is more of the traffic rules and regulations being enforced firmly and fairly in the free port area. I would add that motorists and pedestrians have embedded this in their consciousness such that there is something like an invisible switch turning on when they drive in Subic and turning off once they are out of the free port.

For a corridor like Commonwealth, perhaps the best example to emulate would be the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Along that highway, its operators the Tollways Management Corporation (TMC) have established a strict regimen of enforcement and have applied state of the art tools for both monitoring and apprehension. These tools include high speed cameras equipped with speed radars that detect speeds and capture on photo cases of overspeeding. Photos are used as evidence upon the apprehension of the guilty party at the exit of the expressway.

The current campaign along Commonwealth is premised on the strict enforcement of a 60 kph speed limit along the arterial and the designation of PUV lanes (e.g., yellow lanes) along the length of the corridor. The initiative would be manpower intensive and features novel tools such as the use of placards,  loudspeakers and public relations in order to encourage motorists and pedestrians to follow traffic rules and regulations. The results as of today look promising and there has been a significant reduction in speeds and general compliance for PUVs serving the corridor. The numbers might be misleading if we attempt to conclude about the success of the program now. Perhaps the more reliable statistics would come out after the campaign has been implemented and the effort sustained over a month’s time. Nevertheless, it gives us a nice feeling to see less speeding and less weaving among vehicles that were once observed as though they were driven along a race track. It would be nice to once and for all kill the “killer highway” tag and make Commonwealth an example of how traffic management should be implemented. We are always searching for examples of good if not best practices that can be replicated elsewhere. If we succeed in the “Battle of Commonwealth” then perhaps we could eventually win the “War Against Irresponsible Driving and Jaywalking.”