THE INSIDE MAN

E-PASS blind, Tweeting, Traffic, BRT, and the August sales drop

E-PASS blind, Tweeting, Traffic, BRT, and the August sales drop image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted October 07, 2013 09:11

Malfunctioning E-toll tags, social media, traffic, transport and auto sales

Luddite! 

It's not that my advancing years have turned me into a Luddite. For how many Luddites consult DoST Secy. 'robot parking lot' Mario Montejo's Project Noah website for rain fall forecasts before embarking on a journey, even if it is only from Pampanga. I may not be of the iPad/tablet generation but I am definitely past the MS-DOS generation. 

The brief journey

A Skyway run from a European car showroom to Susana Heights and back is usually a smooth 24 minutes. Although SLEx's MATES personnel were ready to intervene, the failure of SLEx exit gates to recognize E-PASS has become alarmingly frequent. Would this have anything to do with the SLEx trying out sticker type RFID's to supplant E-PASS? Stickers and cards are slower than RFID tags like E-PASS and are like the aborted registration stickers that LTO tried to introduce some years back. But this inconvenience was nothing compared to the longer leg of my journey.

Rivers for roads

It was well and good that government is trying to solve the 40 year old problem of flooding around the periphery of SLEx in Makati. For years now, massive box culverts are being dug and imbedded along Pasong Tamo and environs. We hope it works. At the rate Manila Bay is being reclaimed, all the east-west streets of Pasay, Malate and Ermita have to convert to rivers just to accommodate rainfall draining from Makati to the Bay. 

Access all areas

Pasong Tamo or Chino Roces, as most know is also a major route for traffic heading into and out of Makati's Ayala CBD. While building flood diversion culverts are necessary, closing access roads to and through Pasong Tamo is courting disaster. That's exactly what happened during the last week of September 2013, when the east bound lane of Arnaiz Ave. between SLEx and Pasong Tamo was closed allowing only west bound traffic. Don Bosco, the short road between Citimotors and Yulo apartments, was completely closed, practically shutting off all traffic from the Skyway Don Bosco off ramp. This forced traffic heading for CBD Makati and Pasong Tamo ext. to exit at de la Rosa with catastrophic results to commuting times. If only they kept half of Don Bosco passable, the 45 second interval from Skyway off ramp to Don Bosco gate wouldn't have taken one and half hours diverting through de la Rosa and back to Don Bosco.

To the tech savvy

This is where social media, in particular, Twitter, comes in. Receiving tweets on your mobile from SkywaySOMCO, MakatiTraffic and MMDA really helps manage traffic expectations thanks to timely warnings of heavy traffic build up. Though helpful, tweeting can still be improved. For example, it's not enough the tweet mentions heavy traffic at Don Bosco off ramp. It should also mention the cause, i.e. stalled vehicle, accident or road closure due to flood control, roadworks, etc.

The significant few?

MMDA tweets do so. If ever, both MakatiTraffic and MMDA are guilty of over tweeting, sending links to live web cam views, plugs and slogans. Both MMDA and MakatiTraffic follow similar formats: periodic volume assessments in text from strategically located cameras. This leads to too many tweets to cover so many segments of short distance that's heavily trafficked all day anyway. We opine that tweets should go beyond periodic reports and focus on unusual developments like snap rallies, fires, floods, shunts, etc. that affect normal traffic flow. Example, a fire in Pasay EDSA at 5pm on a Friday will prolong the duration and queue length when and where heavy is the norm anyway. The example to beat is Nlextraffic tweets that pop up only when normal flow is disrupted while citing the problem and estimated resolution time.

More traffic, more tweets?

So if tweets, like SMS txt, is here to stay, so is traffic. The more traffic we have, the more dreamy solutions there will be. And with it comes even more hot air. It's not at all a bad idea. Commuter and government official alike think like thoughts. Sitting immobile in traffic, dreaming of subways and skyways is far better than solving traffic by banning commuting starting especially coding. Alas the temptation to do the latter may just as well be a knee jerk reaction out of frustration to all those excessive bus franchises that the government recklessly handed out years ago. Too many buses? Punish the car drivers. Forty years ago salvation was in the form of foreign funded mass transit rail like the LRT, but the loans to build and maintain mass transit rail turned out to be a hidden export subsidy for businesses that would have folded up without it. Meantime, we the borrower, are mired in debt with no hope of repayment.

License to print money

Truth be told, mass transit is a profitable business. The SEC and LTFRB never run out of applicants for businesses to run public buses. That's why financing public transport can be done on commercial terms. But this assumes Public funds and funding continues to be spent on infrastructure. Government builds the road network, private companies provide the transport is the ideal. Successful public transport in big cities abroad are successful not because they are publicly funded but because they're a monopoly. The success of rail, light rail, underground, tram, trolley bus and BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] lies in having exclusive franchise and thus exclusive right of way. Tantamount to an all-day all-night all-hours express lane only for buses.

Nothing new

Monolithic public transport networks, with or without huge taxpayer subsidy, can manage mean route capacity, rider throughout and trip gaps or so called headway, because it avoids piratical behavior from other competition like other buses and road users. These seriously disrupt the bus schedule. Centralized dispatch control is maximized under a monopolized regime. Exclusive bus lanes in London, Geneva and Paris shows it can be done. But the truth to all this is that whether exclusive bus lane or exclusive tram guide way or elevated rail, the smooth flow and adherence to bus/train stop schedule is because there are no out of control loose cannon road users.

BRT

The buzz word today is the grammatically mouthful BRT or Bus Rapid Transit. Ayala CBD MACEA is lining up for it and so is Cebu. Much ballyhooed in urban planning circles was the success of BRT in Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota, Colombia. Mexico City, Bangkok, Jakarta and Seoul, some of which have chaotic cut throat dog-eat-dog battles on bus routes, just like the Philippines, are agog over this. 

Once there were trams

Exclusive guide ways for public transport is as old as public transportation itself. Cities and towns in the Old World and their colonies were traversed by trams. The last World War's destruction of tramways forced cities to repave roads and replace the steel wheel and rails of the tram with the asphalt and pneumatic tire of the bending bus or articulated bus. Still, public transport remained a municipal monopoly, was not run to make a profit.

Voice in the wilderness

Back in 1989, investment banker and entrepreneur Francis Yuseco proposed Philtrak PRBT or Phil rapid bus transit using Filipino capital, buses, training etc. The concept was to run buses on an exclusive guide way. But it wasn't dependent on foreign funding and the DOTC of the day never heard of a tram system using bendy buses. In 1998 PRBT got the nod from the ERAP administration. It was to be installed in virgin and still to be completed C-5 way before Curitiba and Bogota became household words in urban transportation. Alas, the Asian financial crisis scuppered the project. And since then, project proponent Francis Yuseco has been a voice crying out in the wilderness. With traffic aggravated by dissonance between transport policy modes, the Philtrak concept needs another hearing. Or else, Mr. Yuseco will remain to be just another voice in the wilderness.

Marketing savvy meets government lethargy

Not one to miss a marketing opportunity to subtly exhibit brand values and attention to detail, some car dealers are beginning to produce some really swell looking signature plates to display the conduction sticker number. This is incidental because of two reasons. One, If Makati City regains the Fort from Taguig, a large no-coding area now becomes a 12hr/5day coding zone. Two, because the LTO is delayed, approving the new plate number supplier, the ultra-cautious legacy bequeathed by Mar Roxas to the DoTC, issuance of plates to new cars is also delayed. This, and the temporary ban on choosing plate number endings to exhaust the supply of old plates, probably led to the 15% sales drop in August, hopefully just a hiccup, in the steady month-to-month growth of local automobile sales. Because of this, the MMDA has reinterpreted the coding ban to include conduction stickers. To help in enforcement, car dealers are now displaying, in varying shape, style and form, said alpha numeric conduction stickers where the missing plates should be. Why some of these conduction sticker plates look so good that they may even put the official new style number plates to shame.