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Pavement distress along C-5 due to the truck lane policy

I frequently use Circumferential Road 5 (C-5), which is known by many names according to the MMDA, the DPWH and the LGUs it passes through. One thing I always notice is the deteriorating or deteriorated pavement, particularly along the lane designated for use by trucks. The MMDA had instituted and implements a policy requiring large trucks to use one lane of C-5 during times when the truck ban is lifted (10:00 AM to 4:00 PM). Smaller trucks are allowed to use other lanes.

The result has been a long platoon of large trucks along the designated lane of C-5 and this concentration of load on the highway has caused faster pavement deterioration for that lane. This is especially evident when the pavement surface is of asphalt concrete. Flexible as it is, the concentration of load has led to obvious pavement deformation as shown in the following photo.

For Portland cement Concrete pavement (PCCP) cases, I would presume that there is also significant damage and the distresses (e.g., cracks) can be linked to this concentration of load. This situation and the conditions for loading likely have detrimental implications on maintenance costs for C-5 and is probably an unintended consequence of the MMDA’s policy. It would be interesting to quantify the impacts of this truck lane policy, whether it has contributed to improve traffic flow along the major thoroughfare, and whether the maintenance costs have risen (and by how much) from the time the policy was implemented.

“Great wall” of trucks along C5

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has implemented a truck lane policy along Circumferential Road 5 during the last administration. It has continued at present and a long line of trucks are regularly observed along C-5 whenever the truck ban is lifted during what is designated as off-peak hours for all other traffic. Many travelers have termed the line as a “Great Wall of trucks” although in many instances, the line is “breached” by vehicles needing to shift lanes along this major thoroughfare. Strict implementation by the MMDA and the affected LGUs as well as the compliance of most trucks have led to the maximization of the occupancy of the designated truck lanes. These are easily observable along most of C-5 and particularly along sections close to the CBDs (e.g., BGC, Ortigas, Eastwood, etc.). Following are a few photos showing the long line of trucks along C-5:

Here’s another photo I took earlier last month:

 

We have a couple of students now at UP Diliman who are studying the policy and taking a look at the traffic and pavement conditions along C-5. Interesting would be their comparisons of traffic along the truck and non-truck lanes during both peak and off-peak periods as well as for weekdays and weekends. Interesting, too, will be their assessment of pavement conditions. So this will be something to look forward to once the research is completed this coming May 2017.

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.