PHILIPPINES - A "Not-So-Smart" Traffic System...Technical Glitches : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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A Not-So-Smart Traffic System

June 16, 2000



Here we are in the 21st century, the start of a new millennium. Jokes are sent through text messaging, and mail through cyberspace. Scientists are mapping out the human genome and sending spacecraft to Mars. And Metro Manila finally has a "smart" traffic light system.

I bet you haven't noticed that 321 of the 419 intersections in Metro Manila now have the Smart traffic system. And I bet you're wondering if there's any smart person managing traffic at all. Since the full opening of classes last Tuesday, traffic has been abominable. Rain or shine, rush hour or not, even without a vehicular accident, traffic crawls in many parts of Metro Manila.

What's the Smart system? As far as I can piece together, it's supposed to sense traffic density and give a longer green light to the heavier traffic flow. It's supposed to function so much more efficiently than human traffic aides, who often can't tell a hole in the ground from a vital body orifice. I was ecstatic when I read that we would soon have smart traffic lights. About time!

* * *

Now if only the darn lights would work.

The problem is that they not only can't function smartly; they also keep conking out. When the glitches started manifesting themselves too often for comfort, the Metro Manila Development Authority blamed motorists for not knowing any better. Since this includes me, I muttered mea culpa and checked out those intersections. To make the system work, I'm not supposed to stop my car on the painted lines.

So the lines were cleared. How come the system was still malfunctioning? This time, the problem was traced to faulty communication links of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. But the PLDT isn't ready to take all the blame. What about those floods? Nothing is more humbling than the thought that even high-tech gadgets are vulnerable to an act of God. The PLDT also blamed construction work on the Metro Rail Transit for the communication link glitches. Since work on the MRT will take a couple more months, all we can do is grit our teeth like President Erap.

There's a bigger problem. The Smart system's contractor says the traffic lights will work efficiently if there are no blackouts. Deliverance from traffic? Dream on. Now you know why this system will never work in this country. What happens if there's another jellyfish invasion in the Lingayen Gulf? What happens during the monsoon season, when power plants are routinely knocked out?

But isn't there such a thing as a standby power source, at least for traffic lights? If there is, we've never seen them in this country.

* * *

Also, even if all these technological glitches are fixed, this high-tech system will still have to function hand in hand with traffic enforcers. And MMDA Chairman Jejomar Binay is the first to admit that traffic enforcers need special training for the Smart system.

The MMDA's Traffic Operations Center has 7,600 people, including members of the Philippine National Police and local government personnel. Most of the cops know their business -- they direct traffic like a smart traffic light system. But the cops are currently needed for other jobs these days, such as catching terrorists. So we're left in the hands of traffic aides, whose idea of smooth traffic management they must have picked up from the Cartoon Network.

To be fair, I have to admit that a smart traffic system also needs smart drivers who observe road courtesy, who know what a fast lane is, who understand what "no-loading zone" means (all these street signs should have Filipino translations). So far, the only sign Pinoy motorists heed is the one that marks a towaway zone.

Still, there need not be anarchy in the streets if there are people managing traffic efficiently. Since we can't find such people, we have turned to technology. And now the technology is turning out to be a big disappointment.

I wouldn't mind the traffic so much if I didn't know that this Smart traffic system is costing taxpayers P1.5 billion. The latest word yesterday was that the agencies involved would try to fix the glitches in the system. For P1.5 billion, this system had better start working. And soon.

-- (, June 16, 2000

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