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Is a truck ban the solution to truck-related crashes in Antipolo?

The crash near Masinag Junction in Antipolo City that led fatalities, injuries, damage to property  and terrific costs due to the congestion was caused by a truck that apparently had defective brakes. I’ve read some posts on social media calling for a truck ban in Antipolo City. Some comments go as far as specifying major roads like Sumulong Highway and Marcos Highway where a truck ban can be ‘most effective’.

Is a truck ban in Antipolo City and particularly along major roads like Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway going to solve truck-related road safety issues? It should have some success but it does not address the root causes of the problem. Among these root causes are related to driver behaviour and the maintenance or condition of trucks. Issues pertaining to driver behaviour can be seen in the form of aggressive or reckless driving (e.g., speeding trucks, trucks weaving in traffic, overtaking at critical sections, etc.). Meanwhile, issues pertaining to vehicle maintenance/condition can be seen in instances where trucks climbing Sumulong Highway, Marcos Highway or Ortigas Ave. Extension tend to slow down traffic (overloaded and/or underpowered?) as well as in crashes involving the malfunctioning braking systems. These cannot be addressed through truck bans, which are likely to be more effective for cases of severe congestion that can be directly attributed to trucks.

A truck ban will only punish the good (read: disciplined and competent) drivers and responsible truckers/truck operators. Good drivers know their traffic rules and regulations and how to position themselves on the roads as well as the speeds they need to travel by together with mixed traffic. They exercise caution especially along areas where there are a lot of pedestrian activity (e.g., Masinag area, Mambugan, Cogeo, Tikling, Cainta Junction, etc.). Meanwhile, responsible trucking company operators would likely have more structured or organised maintenance regimes for their trucks and likely would have newer and standard (read: non-modified) vehicles in their fleets. These would be able to carry load according to their specifications and maneuver safely in varying traffic and road conditions. On a larger scale, truck bans will definitely have a detrimental impact on logistics that will carry over to the local economy as well as Antipolo is the origin of many goods/freight and much also pass through the city.

Tire conditions

While stopped at an intersection, my eyes wandered to look at the vehicles around me. I took a photo of the rear tires of a truck stopped beside me. Following are some observations about the tires:

  • Most if not all the tires were re-treads
  • Most of the tires are worn out
  • One tire is already damaged and should not have been used in the first place

IMG_0651

Such conditions of trucks’ tires reflect the state of many commercial vehicles in the country. The same observation applies to public utility vehicles. I guess there have been many instances of tire blow-outs involving trucks and jeepneys. These have not been reported as they often lead to traffic congestion (i.e., when a vehicle is forced to stop and block traffic), which is not at all an uncommon experience to many. Few perhaps have led to high profile road crashes featuring fatalities. Still, the potential for major crashes is there and it is contributory to disasters that are always just waiting to happen in many of our roads.

On logistics in the Philippines

I am not a logistics expert and will not pretend to be one. I have, however, been involved in several projects that included logistics as a major study component. These include a nationwide study on inter-regional passenger and freight flow and another for freight forwarders affected by vehicle restraint policies in Metro Manila.  A more recent engagement has allowed me to take a look at logistics in the country from other perspectives including that of national agencies seeking to improve goods movement in the country and development agencies that have committed to help the country to do just that. There are local issues and there are regional ones. The regional ones often involve the need for infrastructure such as maritime ports and airports, highways and bridges, and other facilities such as those for storage and refrigeration.

For an archipelago like the Philippines, logistics is a bit more challenging than in countries whose territories are not separated by bodies of water. There is no lack for good practices though as there are other archipelagos that could provide good examples for connecting the islands such as Japan and the United Kingdom. Nearby, we share similar challenges with Indonesia and to a certain extent Malaysia. Of course, availability of resources is always an issue and particularly for the prioritization of infrastructure to be constructed aside from those that need to be maintained. The DOTC along with its attached agencies like the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) are in the frontline when it comes to airports and ports planning, development, and maintenance are concerned. However, the DPWH plays a vital role for highways and bridges and the connections for these ports and airports including what is termed as “last-mile” connectivity that is often passed on as a responsibility of local governments. This is likely due to local roads often providing the connection between national roads (under the DPWH) and ports and airports. It is a good thing that the current DPWH has committed to a convergence program regarding national and local roads that has benefited a lot of sectors and industries like tourism and agriculture.

Rail transport is not mentioned here because there is practically none even for what remains of the once relatively extensive PNR main lines. The local issues are not simpler and can be a bit more complicated than the regional ones. The complications are usually due to more petty circumstances that may involve politics and local power plays. The basic ingredients though are related to traffic congestion and the damage to roads and bridges attributed to trucks.

Many cities and municipalities have implemented truck bans along their major roads. These are usually one or two routes in the smaller cities and towns, usually passing through the “bayan,” “poblacion” or central business district (CBD). These roads are usually national roads (e.g., McArthur Highway and the Pan Philippine Highway pass through many towns). As such, there are cases where bypass roads are constructed to alleviate congestion along these roads as well as to try to preserve the pavements in the town proper. Such traffic schemes targeting heavy vehicles are not new and are also a way to address the issue on overloading that is common in trucking in the Philippines. The bypass roads, however, generally invite development and unplanned development have often made these alternate routes more congested than the original ones.

Manila did a “power play” recently by implementing a more aggressive truck ban. This led to more severe congestion around the Port of Manila and a lot of delays that have cost a lot of money in part due to the limited alternative routes in the city and most roads are already constricted. The costs have repercussions on the economy in general as the movement of goods are affected by the impasse in Manila. Whether this was for more political or practical reasons is difficult to say because the mayor and vice mayor have invoked the very common issues of traffic congestion, road safety and pavement maintenance that got the attention, sentiment and agreement of a lot of people. Many of these people though do not understand the impacts of inefficient goods movement and likely are concerned only about passenger transportation.

More recently, a lot of containers were shipped from the Port of Manila to Subic. These are supposedly “overstaying” shipments or those that have not been claimed for a long time or have some issues regarding their release. This should ease congestion somehow but there remain the problems of shipping or logistics companies regarding freight transport in general that needs to be addressed. Both Subic and Batangas ports have been mentioned in many formal studies over the past few years including a more recent one supported by JICA. Still, there is a lot of hesitation if not confusion or uncertainty on how to go about with shifting goods movement to these ports, which are regarded to be underutilized. There are good roads connecting these ports with cities and towns but these might not be enough in the long run.

Perhaps there is a need to reconsider regional rail transport again especially for the islands of Luzon and Mindanao where long distance rail may have a tremendous impact for transporting goods over long distances. Of course, there are also issues pertaining to other ports and airports in the country including those in Mindanao (e.g., Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Phividec, Gen. Santos, etc.) and Visayas (e.g., Cebu, Iloilo, Tacloban, etc.). The RORO ports are among those that need attention as they are directly involve road transport aside from the ferries that carry them over the waters. These nautical highways are vital for goods movement around the country and require both national agencies and local governments cooperating for these facilities and services to function efficiently.

Re: traffic congestion along Katipunan

Yesterday was a holiday in Quezon City so most offices and schools were closed. It was not a holiday elsewhere so through traffic along Katipunan Avenue would have been “normal.” This is assumed especially for trucks that have been blamed as the cause of the severe congestion. I was curious about how traffic would be with the holiday in QC and through traffic could practically be “isolated.” There still was significant traffic generated by establishments like restaurants and cafes along Katipunan. It was a regular weekday and not like it was a Sunday. Following are photos that were taken around 2:00 PM when the truck ban is not enforced in the area.

IMG09162-20140819-1328Free-flowing traffic along the section across from the UP Town Center – There were no long queues at the approach to the Katipunan-C.P. Garcia intersection. 

IMG09163-20140819-1331Free-flowing traffic along Katipunan across from Ateneo – the two universities generated few private car traffic yesterday during a period when there’s usually a lot coming in and out of the campuses due to the dismissals in the early afternoon.

IMG09164-20140819-1332Free-flowing traffic along the Katipunan-Aurora overpass – in the early afternoons, the northbound side of Katipunan is usually full of vehicles mainly private cars and trucks. While there were many trucks yesterday, their numbers were not enough to cause traffic jams.

I think the traffic situation yesterday provided a clear picture that the major traffic generators along Katipunan are mainly the reason for traffic congestion along the stretch from Blue Ridge to Balara. These are mostly the schools (Ateneo, Miriam and UP) that generate so much private vehicle traffic on weekdays and Saturdays. Sundays are different because there’s no school nor work at offices on this day. With the QC holiday, the through traffic was still there owing to work and school in other cities (e.g., Residents of QC would still have to travel to Makati or Ortigas if their workplaces are located there. Similarly, students residing in QC whose schools are in the University Belt in Manila would have to travel.). This means there is really a need to understand why there is congestion and what causes it. A lot more effort is needed for this understanding and to ultimately reduce traffic congestion along this stretch of C5. Pointing fingers among agencies and simply putting the blame on one sector of traffic (e.g., trucks) will not get us anywhere. The solution will require strong cooperation among stakeholders and will definitely be not a painless undertaking for many.

Sound opinions on transport and traffic

One of my favorite reads is the column by former NEDA Director General Cielito Habito on the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Inquirer.net). Regardless of whether he is writing about transport or any other topic, his articles are consistently clear and logical. Here are a couple of articles from his column “No Free Lunch” about the more recent transport and traffic issues.

Traffic dilemmas – which appeared August 12, 2014

More railways in our future – which appeared August 19, 2014

I’m not sure if those in-charge or responsible for planning and building our transportation system read his columns. They will learn a lot from these articles especially as the former NEDA DG is practically sharing his experience and wisdom – things badly needed these days especially at the DOTC.

Practicable road sharing in Antipolo

As there are increased calls for more bikeways, we try to look at some good examples of what I’d call “practicable” road sharing. I term it “practicable” because it is something doable or is already being done or practiced. I tried to find a few good examples of practicable road sharing to show that it can be done and usually if all road users respect each others’ right to use the road. This respect can be developed over time and requires some familiarity for each users behaviors. Of course, there will always be abusive or disrespectful people on the road including drivers of different types of vehicles.  Reckless or unsafe driving is not limited to public transport or truck drivers. There are also many unruly private vehicle drivers who endanger the lives of others whenever they are on the road. Then there are the motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians – all road users and also with bad apples or “pasaway” among them.

Road sharing happens everyday in Antipolo City in the Province of Rizal. Along Ortigas Avenue and Sumulong Highway – the two main routes to and from Antipolo, you will see motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians sharing what are mostly 4 lane, undivided sections of the two major roads. Antipolo is a very popular destination for cyclists so even during weekdays you will find a lot of people cycling up and down the mountain roads even during the night time and very early mornings. While many are recreational riders, many, too, are doing this for health. I would bet that a good percentage might be biking to work or school but there are no hard statistics to show this (topic for research?).

IMG08713-20140528-0722Motorists and cyclists “sharing the road” along Sumulong Highway

 Sharing the road shouldn’t be too difficult. However, road users need to have respect for each other’s right to use the road. I have observed many instances where one or more road user types are guilty of “disrespect” and tend to hog the road as if making a statement that “i am king of the road” rather than “i have the right to use the road.” Here are among my pet peeves:

1. Slow moving trucks or jeepneys hogging two lanes and not giving way to other vehicles to pass them.

2. Jeepneys and private vehicles racing up or down the mountain roads and overtaking even in perilous sections (i.e., those already identified as prone to crashes).

3. Tricycles taking up the middle lanes and maneuvering anywhere.

4. Cyclists taking up the middle lanes or sometimes the entire two lanes of any direction preventing other road users to pass them.

5. People crossing anywhere along the road especially at blind sections (curves) where sight distance is limited.

There are practically no pedestrian sidewalks along most of Ortigas Extension and Sumulong Highway so pedestrians would have use the carriageway. As there are a significant number of people walking (e.g., students, workers, and even joggers or walkers), motorists and cyclists need to be careful not to hit these people. The same people, however, need to be aware of these vehicles and should exercise caution, always being alert as they use the road properly. Ultimately though, I would like to see walkways built along Ortigas and Sumulong especially since there is already an increasing demand for walking especially during the summer months when Antipolo holds its fiesta and a lot of people go on pilgrimages on foot to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage.

There is practicable road sharing in Antipolo because most road users are already familiar with each others’ behavior and accept each others’ presence and rights on the road. These road users are likely residents of Antipolo or nearby towns or regular visitors to the city. They are “nagbibigayan sa daan.” The “pasaway” people are likely the newer ones who seem to think that the way they drive or ride (i.e., unsafe) elsewhere is the norm. Of course, that goes without saying that familiarity with the roads and its users also breed risk takers who think they already know the road and have the skill and experience to drive like crazy. Here is where effective enforcement (e.g., timely apprehensions and reminders) and engineering (e.g., traffic signs and pavement markings) comes in to address the gaps in safety in order to reduce if not totally eliminate crash incidence along these roads.

Another killer highway: Marcos Highway

Marcos Highway, stretches from the Marikina River at Santolan, Pasig to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Antipolo and Tanay in Rizal Province. It is one of the major thoroughfares connecting the towns of Rizal with Metro Manila with traffic already comparable to if not exceeding the volumes along Ortigas Avenue. It is wider that Ortigas Avenue for the sections along the more populated areas (i.e., Pasig, Marikina, Cainta and Antipolo) and connects to other major roads like Amang Rodriguez, Imelda/Felix Ave., Angel Tuazon, and Sumulong Highway. Widening of the highway is currently underway between Masinag Junction (Marcos-Sumulong intersection) and Cogeo. The increasing traffic volume seems to have also led to an increase in the incidence of road crashes. The past few days saw two fatal crashes along the highway – one near Masinag and another at the Filinvest East main gate.

The wife was able to take a couple of photos of the overturned truck and one of the vehicles it hit as the driver lost control of the truck. The area at the main gate of a large residential subdivision in Antipolo/Cainta usually has a lot of people due to the subdivision, the school beside it (shown in the photo) and the commercial and other residential developments beside and across from it.

2014-08-03 16.41.43A wayward truck lies on its side at the exit of Filinvest East along Marcos Highway just a few meters from a jeepney stop and a school.

2014-08-03 16.41.45The truck with one of the vehicles (brown sedan) it hit before turning on its side.

I travel along Marcos Highway almost everyday and notice that there are many (and likely increasing numbers) of  aggressive public transport (e.g., patok jeepneys) and truck drivers. Many of these people operating the vehicles are definitely not qualified to drive public utility vehicles based on their behavior on the road. Then there are also the motorcycle riders many of whom weave along the highway, often cutting in the path of other vehicles. Many split the lanes during congested periods and who knows how many vehicles have been damaged by motorcycle riders bumping or sideswiping into them. Many have back riders (riding in tandem?) including children. There are also what looks like entire families riding a single motorcycle with children often not having any protection (usually they are sandwiched between parents). I can only wonder how safe the riders think they are and if they thought about risking the lives of their loved ones before each journey.

A friend mentioned that there are regular drag races along Marcos Highway during the wee hours of the morning when the volume of traffic is at its lowest during the day. This goes on despite the police  checkpoints along the highway. Are they turning a blind eye to these races? Or are they also involved somehow?

Perhaps the LGUs along Marcos Highway should work together to arrest the trend of increasing road crashes. Even the Provincial Government of Rizal should have a say in ensuring safe travel along this arterial as many of its constituents use the road every day. This is a very urgent matter that needs to be addressed in order to prevent the incidence of more crashes in the future. Simple observations of traffic along Marcos Highway show that there are many crashes waiting to happen. Prevention through timely intervention is what’s needed for this road so that we can save lives and limbs.