Saturday, June 22, 2013

STREET SMART AGENDA: Knowing & Avoiding Road Sharks

THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT the road-use situation in the Philippines and the modes of public transports plying therein. I am not an expert but I can say my piece of mind basing upon my own direct experience as a road user. I would discuss about what type of public vehicles you would come across; the habits and behaviour of their drivers; and how to evade these.

For those who had been driving and commuting our roads for a long time, this essay is so familiar based on their observations and experiences. For those who are new to driving and/or commuting the roads, this piece may come very handy and would give them added knowledge to preempt future road accidents and “road rage”.

For those who are non-natives or foreigners, this effort is something to get acquainted with the different system of public transports plying the country’s roads, streets and highways and the behavior of local drivers. The situation here is not at par from where they came from and, perhaps, too chaotic or amusing for their own comfort.

This write-up is about being smart on the streets especially when using the road. I write this article from the eyes of a motorcycle driver. As we all know, the motorcycle is the most vulnerable mode of transport not only here but also in other parts of the world and I always see it on the losing end of a vehicle collision.

Anyway, for those who are not yet aware, there are many modes of public transport in the Philippines. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board or the LTFRB is the one government agency tasked to regulate all public land transports. Main office is in Metro Manila but there are regional offices scattered around the country.

Regulated public transportation are buses, jitneys, taxicabs and vans-for-hire. There are other modes of transport that are regulated by cities and towns like the tricycles and horse carriages; and there are those that cannot be regulated and are illegal per se but have been tolerated by the authorities with a blind eye to ply the roads and these are the motorcycles-for-hire and the pedal-powered tricycles.

Basically, you cannot drive a vehicle if you do not have a driver’s license issued by the Land Transportation Office or the LTO. There are two types of driver’s license issued to any individual and that is the Professional and the Non-Professional. A special license called the Student’s Permit is issued to those that are still learning the rudiments of driving and to those that knows how to drive but have not reached legal age yet.

Anyone could apply for a driver’s license. It doesn’t matter if you are a PhD or unschooled. Just as long as you are a Philippine citizen; of 18 years old and above; physically fit; of good eyesight; and do not use illegal substance. Driver’s license applicants are also directed to attend a half-day traffic seminar conducted by the LTO.

Now here’s the problem. A lot of “professional” drivers – the ones driving high-speed vehicles like taxis, jitneys, motorcycles and buses – do not have good reading comprehension. The Philippines adopt the English language for traffic directional aids and signboards and have an equal translation in local dialects below these. Even if these signs are explained in vernacular during that short seminar their retention of instructions are suspect.

Most of these kind have shunned the classrooms at an early age by factors which this writer do not have the liberty to expound and which is out of topic anyway. The competence of these drivers to ply the road are questionable for they lack sound instruction-retention skills and a basic understanding of grammar learned while young.

Another problem are the “short cuts” in acquiring the driver’s license. Fixers compound that problem in the past. There are now less fixers but you can fix yourself to be tested in suspected medical clinics and drug-testing laboratories which are in cahoots with enterprising government employees. Sometimes, you do not have to trouble yourself to attend those short seminars if you know (or have been instructed to by) someone inside to know your way around.

Now, we come to the modes of public transportation that you need to look out for and avoid, which also includes the unregulated. I will start with the most dangerous and end with the most interesting.

TAXICABS: Taxi, for short, these operate in big cities like those found in Metro Manila; in Metro Cebu; Cagayan de Oro and Metro Davao. A long time ago, they come in many colors according to the whims of their owners; but now they are painted white with big bold numbers painted on their sides and back windshields indicating that these are registered and regulated by the LTFRB. The name of the taxi is also indicated.

Taxis are efficient modes of transit and could go anywhere and quick but, unfortunately, they have the most undisciplined drivers. Their drivers drive fast and stop at a corner at the last minute and just a few uncomfortable inches from you. They are unpredictable and they change lanes as fast as you could imagine without even the benefit of using signal lights.

They drive their taxis as if they are driving motorcycles and would force their way into tight spaces especially at the rightmost lane thereby blocking passage of even motorcycles and bicycles when these want to take a right turn. They do not practice road courtesy and would take advantage of any open opportunity, even how tight, just so they could not be stuck at street corners and crossings.

They stop anytime and wherever they choose to when they think prospective passengers are ahead and they don’t give a damn of who is following them. They overtake you near corners and suddenly take a right turn, closing your lane and leaving you only two choices: either you collide with the taxi or evade and crash in the sidewalk or ditch.

Do not ever follow or tail a taxi. Do not even race with a taxi. Leave them if you are able else let them pass by. When you see something white with the unmistakable roof accessory that indicates that it is a taxi, take immediate evasive maneuvers and get away from these as fast as possible. Monitor them closely on your mirrors. Just imagine how chaotic and traumatic it would be if they were still in different colors.

JITNEYS: Officially, these transportation is called the Public Utility Jitney or PUJ. These are common in all cities and provinces of the country. These are garishly decorated and painted in all color imaginable. They follow a specific route and the names of places are indicated on the sides. Types of PUJ come in different shapes and sizes; from big-engined 30+ seaters to 15-seat Suzuki Multicabs, which I love to call “public utility midgets”.

The first PUJs were made from original surplus World War II-era Willys Jeep and converted to carry passengers, eight a side plus driver and two passengers on the front seat. Later on, local manufacturers like Baisac, Sarao, Lawin, Armak and others copied this durable transportation. These are mostly used in Metro Manila. In Cebu, PUJs are bigger, more modern looking and travel fast using engines from Fuso or Isuzu light trucks.

Automotive technology is far from perfect. Parts used are surplus components coming from Japan or Taiwan and their mechanical problems are a constant nuisance for commuters and other road users. Their headlights don’t shift from high to dim; it remain at high and causes glare to other motorists. The drivers don’t use signal lights and brake lights are intermittent. The reason: inferior automotive-wiring system. Blame these to the LTFRB for giving these franchises.

When a PUJ stops to pick up or disembark a passenger, most likely they would slide to the side, but not entirely. Most often they stop where they are, leaving the lane impassable to other vehicles. They do this because they want to make sure that other PUJs would not overtake them and pick up more passengers up ahead which should have been theirs. Other times they would stop right on the middle of the road and on street corners. When a PUJ stops, everyone stops behind it and always cause traffic. Remember that!

Nearing street corners they would crawl at one kilometer per hour and time their stop when the red light glows to the consternation of the ones following them. Or they would race at each other and jockey for position so they could arrive first and pick up the most number of passengers and woe to those found in the middle. It’s like swimming among sharks in a feeding frenzy!

Get away when they are in a feeding mode. Do not follow them. The rightmost lane is their domain. If possible, identify the streets where there are PUJ routes and evade those. Take another street instead where there are no jitneys. Simplify your day this way so you will not be stressed.

BUSES: Known also as a Public Utility Bus or PUB, it is the main public land transportation in the country and travels long distances to the northernmost tip of Luzon and to the southernmost tip of Mindanao. They are in different colors according to the name of the bus liner. They may be airconditioned or not and a lot of these buses ply on or pass by EDSA in Metro Manila.

They have certain routes and they occupy the left lane when travelling in provincial roads then shift to the right when picking up or disembarking passengers. If you are in a hurry, you cannot overtake on the right else they close it suddenly. You have to wait when they move to the right. They function like PUJs, but bigger and emit more black exhaust fumes!

They block the lanes just like the PUJs. If PUJs are sharks, PUBs are orcas and certainly more dangerous when you are caught in between. They travel faster and you should be concerned when PUBs are racing with each other and are behind you. Surrender immediately the lanes to these PUBs and let it overtake you while you can.

Avoid routes taken by buses so you would not be inconvenienced or in the line of danger. Most often these buses are found on national highways but they may be found on city streets because bus terminals and their garages are located in there.

VANS-FOR-HIRE: There is only one country-wide franchise given by the LTFRB for these kind of transportation. I don’t have a problem with V-Hires when competing road space. My only problem is when I become a passenger in it. Just imagine a 10-seater passenger van converted as a public transport and operates to accommodate fourteen people. Their airconditioning system cannot cool the interiors and people are packed like corned beef.

TRICYCLES: This is a motorcycle with an improvised side car. Cities and municipalities give franchise to these. They have big bold numbers at the back and they have routes to follow. They are slow-moving and they service narrow secondary streets. They are banned along national highways and along primary streets and so it would not be difficult to evade these. When you follow one on a very narrow road, it is torture for those with appointments.

ANIMAL CARRIAGES: These mode of transportation are remnants of a vanishing era but city administrators and cultural sentimentalists retain these as tourist attractions. These are given special franchises and have their own special routes. Only the cities of Manila, Cebu and Vigan allow horse-driven carriages to make a living ferrying passengers. The bad side about this is the horses are more often influenced by illness, fatigue and heat and would go berserk when not in the mood. I would not want to be near that when it is in that temper.

MOTORCYCLES-FOR-HIRE: Locally known as “habal-habal”, these are rampant in the countrysides and slowly made themselves felt in the big cities. While these could access the most remote corners of the farthest hamlets, which is good; maintaining these as modes of transportation in cities is dangerous. For one, the drivers do not respect traffic laws and do not have knowledge about safety. They don’t wear helmets and they deny that as well to their passengers.

They are illegal and therefore, cannot be regulated. They cannot even police themselves. There are too many of them and competition is stiff amongst them. They do not give premium to a good night’s rest for they are awake for the most part of the day and night just so they could earn to pay for their motorcycles which they loaned from money lenders. They charge you high if you are not from their locality and they would take advantage of that and seemed to enjoy it most of the time.

They are so ill-disciplined and so rude, probably, most of these kind graduate to drive taxicabs one day for they have the same mindsets. But not all. A lot of them die young. Watch them when they drive past you and watch them how they swerve and close the lanes right after overtaking you. So James Bondish yet so near to an out-of-body experience. They throttle at racing speed and they do not understand motion dynamics, much more so, reading a road sign. Just let them pass and do not race with them but watch out for them coming from all the other directions.

PEDAL-POWERED TRICYCLE: A folk favorite, especially in small towns, this is actually a bicycle with a side cab. Fondly called as a “trisikad”, these are slow-moving modes of transport that are given franchise in some towns because of the lack of modern transportation system or that these are politically expedient for the powers that be. These do not have head lights, tail lights, brake lights and signal lights and take any directions and turns as they wish when empty. Do not follow these for they retard your movement. Take main arteries and highways instead when you happen to find yourself in a sleepy town.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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