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On the number coding options for Metro Manila ca. 2022
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) recently announced that the agency was studying options for a new number coding scheme under its Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP). UVVRP is basically a travel demand management (TDM) program focused on vehicle use restraint. In this case, private vehicles, particularly cars, are the target of volume reduction. Here’s a graphic from their Facebook page:
The schemes are not really new as these were also considered before. Are the conditions new at all? Are we assuming things changed due to the pandemic? Or will there just be a return to the old normal in terms of traffic congestion? Here are some past writings on the topic including a 3-part series I wrote back in May 2011:
- From Odd-Even to UVVRP…and back
- Traffic congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP Still Effective? – Part 1
- Traffic congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP Still Effective? – Part 2
- Traffic congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP Still Effective? – Conclusion
I think many of the arguments I made in those more than decade old articles hold or apply to the present. Even with the increasing popularity of active transport in the form of bicycle facilities appear to have not made a dent to the transport problems in the metropolis. Many questions abound and I have seen and read comments pointing to the many transport infrastructure projects currently ongoing around Metro Manila as proof that transport and traffic will be improving soon. Transportation in general may indeed improve once the likes of the Metro Manila Subway, Line 7, Line 1 Extension, and the PNR upgrades come online (i.e., all operational) but we have yet to see their impacts outside the models created to determine their potential benefits. Will they be game changers? We do hope so. Will UVVRP be needed in the future when these mass transit lines (including others in the pipeline) are all operational? Perhaps, but a scaled down version of this TDM scheme might still be needed and may suffice if people do shift from their private vehicles to public transportation. The fear is that most people eventually taking the trains would be those who are already commuting using road-based public transport like buses, jeepneys and vans. If so, the mode share of private transport will not be reduced and those traffic jams will remain or even worsen. Maybe we should be discussing road pricing now?
Proposed downtown traffic scheme for Tacloban City
The team from the National Center for Transportation Studies of the University of the Philippines presented their recommendations for the traffic scheme in downtown Tacloban City last May 4, 2018 in the city’s Traffic Summit cum City Development Council (CDC) meeting. I am sharing the image showing the proposed traffic circulation and other features for the proposed downtown scheme below:
The scheme calls for a reduction in on-street parking; restricting such to one side of the street only and where applicable. That is, on-street parking is not allowed where there is already off-street parking along establishments, where there are driveways, and within one or two vehicle length from intersection corners. There will also be designated loading/unloading areas for public transport so parking is also prohibited there.
A couple of important features in the scheme are the enhancement of pedestrian facilities, particularly sidewalks, and the introduction of bicycle lanes. These are more clearly shown in the cross-section examples included in the map. Note that for other streets where there are no designated bike lanes indicated, it is assumed that lanes will be shared with motor vehicles. This is an application of the concept of shared right of way or “sharrow” as it is also termed. The scheme is contextualised along the lines of “people-oriented” transport rather than “car-oriented”, and hopefully would lead to a more walkable downtown area and encourage more people to use bicycles. This promotion of active transport should also lead to a healthier city. I will post about the transport plans prepared for the city in future articles here.
On the Pasig HOV traffic experiment
Someone shared a post about a traffic scheme they will be implementing along Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City. The proposal is for the avenue to have a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane where vehicles with 4 or more occupants are to take one lane and all other vehicles the other. I am not entirely sure about the objective other than to promote high occupancies for vehicles. However, it would be nice to see how travellers will be behaving (e.g., complying) and how Pasig (with MMDA?) will be enforcing this scheme.
This is what a segment of Julia Vargas currently looks like with 2 wide lanes designated for motor vehicles (separated by the solid yellow line) and one narrow lane for cyclists (adjacent to the shoulder):
The intent is good but as a major link the scheme can be quite confusing especially for those who are not necessarily frequent users of this road. I assumed the yellow line was painted by the DPWH but it seems it was by Pasig. Perhaps they should have removed the old markings? Or maybe better if they rationalised the carriageway width to accommodate 3 lanes for motor vehicles and 1 wider lane for bicycles? From the photo above, it appears to me that it is possible to have 2 narrow lanes for general traffic and one wider lane for HOVs (in this case defined as having 4 or more occupants) and public utility vehicles. This configuration maximises the capacity of the road while having a the “best” lanes allocated for HOVs and bicycles.
I wish them success on this social experiment. Perhaps there can be valuable learnings from this including the need for connectivity to other links as well.
On one way schemes
A proposed one-way scheme for EDSA, C-5 and Roxas Boulevard raised not a few eyebrows among transportation and traffic professionals. While it seems to some that the three major thoroughfares are parallel or can be paired in such a way that EDSA can be one-way southbound, and C-5 and Roxas Blvd. can be one-way northbound, it is not as easy at it seems because these arterial carry a heckuva lot of traffic compared to the roads they are being compared to (New York?). The road network layout is also quite different. We have a circumferential and radial road network as the backbone of road-based transportation. A one-way scheme could be more effective if we had a grid type network where you have several pairs of roads that can be designated as one-way streets.
Take the case of Tacloban City, whose central business district has a grid-type network with intersections relatively closely spaced. The city implemented a one-way scheme as shown below:
Note the pairs of roads designated for one-way flow. These basically make for efficient traffic circulation provided the capacities of streets and intersections are not significantly reduced by factors such as on-street parking and other roadside friction. This can be achieved in various places in Metro Manila where streets are similarly laid out and there are multiple pairs to promote good circulation. Makati, for example, has many one-way streets in its CBD, and these are also in pairs. While having high capacities, EDSA, C-5 and Roxas Boulevard just does not have the closely spaced intersections to effect efficient circulation. In fact EDSA (or C-4) and C-5 are arterials that function to distribute the traffic carried by radial roads such as Roxas Blvd., Shaw Blvd., Commonwealth Ave, Aurora Blvd., etc.
A better option is to focus on improving road -based public transport by setting up high capacity, express bus services with exclusive lanes. These may not necessarily be full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems but requires a drastic reduction and restructuring of current numbers of buses along EDSA and their deployment along corridors like C-5 and Roxas Blvd. Express means longer intervals between stops (hint for EDSA: express bus stops coinciding with MRT-3 stations), and increased travel speeds made possible by exclusive lane(s). This could have been piloted during the APEC meetings in the previous administration where 2 lanes for each direction of EDSA were appropriated for APEC vehicles. These lanes could have been used afterwards for a BRT (-lite?) system and what could have been an pilot could have also provided an appreciation or “proof of concept” for BRT in Metro Manila that we could have learned a lot from.
MMDA statement on the odd-even scheme
Addressing congestion due to school traffic congestion
There are two important traffic news stories yesterday:
- MMDA successfully clears parked vehicles outside La Salle Greenhills
- MMDA sets drop off, pick-up points for Ateneo students
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.
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.
Remember 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!
Manila’s bus experiment
Manila recently banned provincial and city buses from entering the city stating this is because many of them do not have franchises and/or terminals in the city. Those without franchises are the ones labeled as “colorum” or illegally operating public transport vehicles, which really don’t have a right to convey people in the first place. It’s become difficult to catch them because many carry well-made falsified documents. But it’s not really an issue if the LTFRB, LTO and LGUs would just cooperate to apprehend these colorum drivers. The LTFRB and LTO are under the DOTC, and so the agency is also responsible for policies and guidelines to be followed by the two under it. LGUs (and the MMDA in the case of MM) are tasked with traffic enforcement and so they can apprehend vehicles and act on traffic violations including operating without a franchise.
Those without terminals are both city and provincial buses. For city buses, this can be because they “turnaround” in Manila and operators do not feel the need to have a formal terminal. For example, G-Liner buses plying the Cainta-Quiapo route will stop at Quiapo only to unload Quiapo-bound passengers, and then switch signboards and proceed to load Cainta-bound passengers as they head back to Rizal. There is very little time spent as the bus makes the turnaround. It’s a different case for provincial buses, whose drivers should have the benefit of rest (same as their vehicles, which also need regularly maintenance checks) after driving long hours. Thus, if only for this reason they need to have formal, off-street terminals in the city. Following are photos I took near the Welcome Rotunda en route to a forum last Friday.
Commuters walking to cross the street at the Welcome Rotunda to transfer to jeepneys waiting for passengers to ferry to Manila.
Commuters and cyclists moving along the carriageway as there are no pedestrian or cycling facilities in front of a construction site at the corner of Espana and Mayon Ave.
Advisory for buses coming from Quezon City
Commuters waiting for a jeepney ride along Espana just after the Welcome Rotunda
Some pedestrians opt to walk on instead of waiting for a ride. Manila used to be a walkable city but it is not one at present. Many streets have narrow sidewalks and many pedestrian facilities are obstructed by vendors and other obstacles.
So, is it really a move towards better transport systems and services in Manila or is it just a publicity stunt? If it is to send a message to public transport (not just bus) operators and drivers that they should clean up their acts and improve the services including practicing safe driving, then I’m all for it and I believe Manila should be supported and lauded for its efforts. Unfortunately, it is unclear if this is really the objective behind the resolution. Also, whether it is a resolution or an ordinance, it is a fact that the move violates the franchises granted to the buses. These franchises define their routes and specify the streets to be plied by buses. Many LGUs in the past have executed their traffic schemes and other measures intended to address traffic congestion, without engaging the LTFRB or at least ask for the agency’s guidance in re-routing public transport. Of course, the LTFRB is also partly to blame as they have not been pro-active in reviewing and optimizing PT routes.
One opinion made by a former government transport official is that this is just a ploy by the city to force bus companies to establish formal terminals in the city. This will require operators to secure permits, purchase or lease land and build terminals. And so that means revenues for the city and perhaps more traffic problems in the vicinity of the terminals just like what’s happening in Quezon City (Cubao) and Pasay City (Tramo).
Transport planning is a big part of the DOTC’s mandate and both the LTO (in charge of vehicle registration and driver’s licenses) and LTFRB (in charge of franchising of buses, jeepneys and taxis) look to the agency for guidelines and policy statements they are to implement. Meanwhile, LGUs have jurisdiction over paratransit like tricycles and pedicabs. In the case of Manila, these paratransit also include the “kuligligs,” 3-wheeler pedicabs that were fitted with engines and have been allowed (franchised?) by the city to provide transport services in many streets. Unfortunately, most LGUs do not have capacity nor capability for transport planning and so are limited or handicapped in the way they deal with transport (and traffic) issues in their jurisdictions. We have always maintained and promoted the stand that the DOTC should extend assistance and expertise to LGUs and the LGUs should also actively seek DOTC’s guidance in matters pertaining to transport. There needs to be constant communication between the national and local entities with cooperation leading to better, more suitable policies being formulated and implemented at the local level.
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.
Traffic congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP still effective? – Part 2
In the past decade, there has been a sharp rise in the motorcycle ownership around the country and especially in Metro Manila. From about 1 million motorcycles registered in 2000, the number has increased to 3.2 million in 2009, a 320% increase over a period of 10 years. Motorcycles have become associated with mobility, in this case the motorized kind, and have become the mode of choice for many who choose to have their own vehicles but cannot afford a four-wheeler. These people also choose not to take public transport for a variety of reasons but mainly as they perceive their mobility to be limited should they use public transport services that are available to them. This rise of the motorcycle is also a response to the restrictions brought about by UVVRP with the scheme not covering motorcycles. In fact, should motorcycles be included in the UVVRP, it would be a nightmare for traffic enforcers to apprehend riders considering how they maneuver in traffic. Add to this the perception and attitude of riders that motorcycles are practically exempt from traffic rules and regulations (and traffic schemes!). One only needs to observe their behavior to validate the argument.
To understand UVVRP, it must also be assessed in the context of its original implementation when Metro Manila had to contend with congestion due to infrastructure projects being constructed everywhere during the 1990’s. EDSA MRT was being constructed, interchanges were also being put up, and a number of bridges were being widened to accommodate the increasing travel demand. Road widening projects generally benefit private vehicle users more than public transport users. In the case of Metro Manila, many areas are already built-up and acquisition of right of way for widening is quite difficult for existing roads. As such, it is very difficult to increase road capacities to accommodate the steady increase in the number of vehicles.
In transportation engineering, when traffic/transport systems management (TEM) techniques are no longer effective or yield marginal improvements we turn to travel demand management (TDM) schemes to alleviate congestion. In the former, we try to address congestion by tweaking the system (i.e., infrastructure) through road widening, adjustment of traffic signal settings, etc. while in the latter, we go to the root of the problem and try to manage the trips emanating from the trip generation characteristics of various land uses interacting with each other. By addressing the trip generation characteristics through restrictions, we influence travel demand and hopefully lessen traffic during the peak periods while distributing these to others.
This is the essence of UVVRP where the coding scheme targets particular groups of private cars (according to the end number on the license plate) each weekday. Meanwhile, the scheme is not implemented during weekends due to the perception that, perhaps, travel demand is less or more spread out during Saturdays and Sundays. However, there is a problem with this approach as the traffic taken away from the peak hours are transferred to other times of the day, thereby causing in some cases the extension of what was originally a peak hour unto a longer period. What was before a morning peak of say 7:30 – 8:30 AM becomes spread out into a peak period of 7:00 – 9:00 AM. The problem here is when you have major traffic generators like central business districts (e.g., Makati and Ortigas) where congestion is experience for more than 2 hours (e.g., 7:00 – 10:00 AM or 4:00 – 7:00 PM).
The UVVRP is not implemented in all of Metro Manila. Several LGUs, particularly those in the outer areas like Marikina City and Pateros. This is simply due to the information and observations of these cities that their roads are not affected by the build-up of traffic since most traffic is bound for the CBDs located in Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Quezon City and Manila. This is the case also for LGUs in the periphery of Metro Manila like the towns in the province of Rizal, which is to the east of the metropolis, where the typical behavior of traffic is outbound in the morning and inbound in the afternoon. The great disparity between inbound and outbound traffic is evident in the traffic along Ortigas Avenue where authorities have even implemented a counterflow scheme to increase westbound road capacity.
There have also been observations of traffic easing up during the mid-day. As such, the MMDA introduced a window from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM to allow all vehicles to travel during that period while retaining the restrictions of the number coding scheme from 7:00 – 10:00 AM and 3:00 – 7:00 PM. However, while many LGUs applied the window, some and particularly those found in central part of the Metropolis like Makati, retained the 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM ban. This stems from their perspective that traffic does not ease up at all (e.g., try driving along Gil Puyat Ave. during lunchtime) along their streets during the window period.
Nowadays, there seems to be the general perception that one can no longer distinguish between traffic during the coding period and the window. Traffic congestion is everywhere and there are few opportunities for road widening. Traffic signal control adjustments are limited to those intersections where signals have been retained (mostly in Makati) since the MMDA replaced signalized intersections with U-turn slots during a past administration where the U-turn was hailed as the solution to the traffic mess.