THE INSIDE MAN

Taming the wild buses

Taming the wild buses image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted July 11, 2012 15:25

Speed limiter for buses

Ready, aim...

Last year, the LTFRB cited that 74 died and 301 were injured in 395 bus-related accidents. That's more than one accident a day involving any one of only 5,400 city buses, which, as vehicle type goes, is far less in number than jeepneys, trucks, taxis and cars. At the risk of sounding pedantic, we echo the sentiments of the Pro-Gun lobby: It's people who kill, not guns. No, we are not advocating shooting bus drivers and let God sort them out. What we mean is that its drivers who speed and not buses or trucks or cars. That is why we looked forward to ex-DOTC Secretary Ping de Jesus plan to mandate TESDA training for ALL bus drivers to tame the wild speeding beast in most male drivers. We also applaud the continuos drug testing of drivers to at least discourage the motive for driving under the influence of narcotics to stretch driving hours and meet the driver's commission or boundary. We put great faith that when all bus drivers are treated as proper employees with full benefits beginning July, the piratical motivation for cut-throat driving, fare paying passenger grabbing aggravated by the boundary system and turning fugitive after a traffic accident will be a thing of the past. We, as a nation, have put a lot of hope, MMDA constables' health and taxpayer money just to tame these wild bus drivers.

Hope springs eternal

Last February, the LTFRB proposed mandatory installation of speed limiters on all buses in reaction to the inordinate proportion of traffic accident deaths caused by speeding buses. By May, the LTFRB added that the speed limiting device will be set at the city speed limit to 40km/h, but should allow adjustment in case a change in speed limit arises in the future. This June, the LTFRB had to extend the deadline for submission of bus speed-limiter designs as no proposals were submitted.

Nothing new, really

Most speed limiters fitted to almost all of the commercial vehicles sold and driven in most developed countries since the 70s, are simple vacuum or electronic controlled devices that are set so the vehicle does not exceed legal 120km/h maximum speed on expressways, plus or minus 3.0% speedometer error. Trucks and buses that criss cross between the Asian and European continent sport stickers which conform to the international speed limits that trucks and buses adhere to; i.e. 120km/h for expressways, 100km/h for single carriageway highways, 60km/h for urban highways and 40km/h for highly populated urban areas. The speed limits decrease to 10km/h slower per category as the passenger capacity of the bus or the number of axles or trailers towed increase. Since these old speed limiters only tackle maximum velocity, it is up to the drivers to observe the other intermediate speed limits. Today's GPS Navigation screens even display the relevant speed limit in the zone one is driving through, so some day, GPS enforced speed limits through the engine ECU may become a reality.

Roof top Christmas lights?

Also, Seventies Japan had a very effective and simple method for the Police and drivers of oncoming traffic to monitor the speed that a bus or truck is traveling. On the front roof top of the vehicle, just above the windshield are three green pilot lights. When one green light out of the three is lit, it means the vehicle is traveling at 40km/h. Two lights lit means 60km/h and three lights aglow means 80km/h. Unfortunately, these 3 green lights are usually mistaken by Philippine truck re-conditioners as US regulation clearance lights and convert them to turn on with the parking lights. Or worse, rewire them to blink to amuse in anticipation of the Christmas season.

Narita's Friendly airport bus

Trucks and buses, even those from 30 years ago, are also engineered to accept after market speed limiters connected to the Tachograph, an analogue 24 hour driver's log that records idling, off time and driving times including speeds and distance covered. Locally, Chevron and Petron tanker fleets that use Volvo, MAN and Mercedes Benz prime movers, have speed limiters with adaptive cruise control and driver drowsiness warnings that conform to EU practice. Many of the old Airport and city buses imported from Japan and converted to local use have speed limiters too, although, owing to their age, they may not be as sophisticated and versatile.

Tempomat

Self-set variable speed limiters, usually manufactured by OEM module suppliers like Bosch, Valeo and Denso, have been available for some time. These devices are usually integrated with other safety features like Adaptive Cruise control. Mercedes Benz models, like the 2006 E280 Elegance and their premium brand rivals use Tempomat speed limiters that are so easy to use. Select a speed as identified by a floating arrow on the speedometer, press the stalk and drive. However you press the gas pedal to exceed the speed limit set by that floating arrow, you won't go over it. Its great for drivers who can't keep their gas pedal foot steady or when you lend your car to high testosterone teenagers and avowed speed demons. Internationally, it helps enforce the legal limit of 100km/h imposed on unaccompanied learner or student drivers, usually identified by a big “L” posted on the front of the vehicle driven.

Too slow? Gotcha!

Thus, LTFRB's specifications for speed limiters should include what's already available, and with today's cheap electronics, anything is possible. Our experience with the Mercedes E280 and what Chevron and Petron tanker truck fleet drivers enjoy shows we need not re-invent the wheel. Besides it would be silly and even downright dangerous if all 5,400 city buses, and soon to include the Provincial “express” buses, were speed limited to 40km/h by some cheap and crude device. They would banned from entering the SCTEx and NLEx and they'd instantly be caught by the LIDAR teams of Skyway-SLEx for driving below the minimum speed limit of 60km/h. Take note that many city bus routed include the NLEx and SLEx as part of their franchised route.

RFID, LIDAR, etc.

Meantime, we wait with anticipation for the RFID tagging to work in order to re-impose bus scheduled dispatch stops, so buses go back behaving like trains with scheduled stops and trips. Eliminating the scrimmage at bus stops, eliminates the need to cut each other off with pointless overtaking, that also entails speeding. Adding to our hopes were the relatively successful MMDA anti-speeding LIDAR guns that cover Commonwealth and D. Macapagal avenues. We crossed our fingers hoping it would catch on to EDSA and other wide thoroughfares that become truck and bus race tracks when traffic diminishes after 9PM.

Survey says

To survey the zones where to position the LIDAR cameras, all the MMDA has to do is to send researchers to ride buses during off peak hours and record the time and sections of the route where they “feel” the driver was speeding. Then another team is dispatched to position the LIDAR device on the span of road where the speeding was felt. Monitor the said span of road at the same time the researchers felt the incidence of speeding and MMDA can record a pattern where and when bus speeding happens.

The whole 9 yards

Off the top of our head, these bus-truck speed zones after 9PM on an ordinary week day are the stretches of EDSA between Kaingin and Roosevelt, Phil Am Life Homes and GMA-7, Kamuning flyover, Cubao underpass, Santolan to Ortigas, Guadalupe to Magallanes. Speeds go higher later in the night which is, the time when colorum non-air-conditioned buses, sneak in to join the fun. Our list is practically all the spaces of EDSA in between major bus terminals.

Don't forget the misc...

Much as we agree the buses should be tamed, Sec. Mar Roxas order that all buses be fitted with the speed limiters by year end is a bit of a tall order. Until that speed limiter device invented for retrofitting on the motley fleet of Philippine buses, bus travel can be still be made safer by implementing all those previous programs; i.e. TESDA training, RFID scheduling, drug testing, compensation based on adherence to bus schedules instead of sardine packing their buses, etc. Its about time the MMDA aim their LIDAR speed guns on buses on EDSA and other Metro bus routes, especially during off peak hours.

Barring eugenics

If bus drivers can be reformatted into proper drivers, like the way bus drivers were in the 60s or during Martial Law, there wouldn't be any need for raised fines, speed limits, speed limiters and drug testing. But like the LTFRB, we agree that decent bus driving seems several generations away so draconian measures, barring selective breeding and castration, are needed.