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As I See It

Solve traffic jam first before Edsa repairs

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Before they even think of embarking on a massive two-year repair work on Edsa, they should first solve the infernal traffic jams there. Even on the best of days, a trip by motor vehicle from Quezon City to Makati takes at least one hour. On the worst days, especially during Fridays, paydays and bargain-sale days (in any of the shopping malls along the thoroughfare), the trip is usually more than double that long. Imagine what will happen if the whole stretch of Edsa is repaired, for two years! It would be hell on earth!

Government agencies, especially the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), seem at a loss on what to do with the traffic problem there. Yet any damn fool can see what is causing it—too many vehicles on the same street at the same time. As the saying goes, “You cannot put 10 pounds of s–t in a 5-pound bag.” To be able to do that, you have to reduce the 10 pounds of s–t into 5 pounds. It is the same thing with Edsa: You have to reduce the number of vehicles there according to the holding capacity of the thoroughfare. The government itself says that Edsa endures daily three times the number of vehicles it was designed for. Ergo, reduce the number of vehicles there by two-thirds. The question is, how?

The MMDA has tried color-coding or, more accurately, the “numbers game.” Vehicles are banned from Edsa on a certain day of the week, depending on the last digit of their plate number: 1 and 2 on Mondays, 3 and 4 on Tuesdays and so forth. But the trick hardly makes a dent on the vehicle volume on Edsa. The operators and owners of buses and private vehicles simply switch their plates. So the government had the plate numbers of the buses painted in big black numerals on the sides of the buses, but no such thing can be done on private vehicles; many owners simply buy a spare vehicle—on easy installment terms—for the days when one of their vehicles is banned from Edsa.

Among the biggest causes of traffic congestion on Edsa and other streets are those big, lumbering buses driven by undisciplined drivers. The bigger the vehicle, the more space it occupies, right? But the bigger vehicles can carry more passengers, also right? Except that many of those big buses are half-empty, even during rush hours, burning precious imported fuel and polluting the air with their exhausts. Ergo, there are much more buses than necessary to carry the passengers who need them. The answer is also obvious: Reduce the number of buses on Edsa. But again the question is, how?

These buses have franchises; they have the right to operate on Edsa. The culprit here is the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). It issues too many franchises although it has been told that Edsa can hold only so many buses. The trouble is that there are too many fixers in the LTFRB who secure franchises with the cooperation of their accomplices inside the regulatory agency. How can we now reduce the number of buses on Edsa without violating franchises?

Simple, as I see it. Suspend, then cancel the franchises of buses in serious accidents or whose drivers have committed many traffic violations. Just making them pay fines is not enough to teach them to obey traffic rules.

And why do the drivers violate traffic rules regardless of the penalty? Because of competition caused, again, by too many buses. These buses dawdle at bus stops, waiting for passengers, blocking the buses and other vehicles behind them, thus slowing down traffic. When the drivers see passengers waiting for rides, even away from bus stops, they suddenly swerve to pick them up, often causing accidents. Again, the answer here is obvious: Reduce the number of buses on Edsa.

Former MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando once planned on having bus terminals near Edsa, where city buses could wait for passengers and be dispatched as needed. That way, not only would competition be reduced, so would the number of vehicles plying Edsa, the quantity of fuel wasted on half-empty buses and due to heavy traffic, and air pollution. Also the wear and tear on buses would be minimized. That was a good plan, but what happened to it? The present MMDA chair either does not want to implement it or does not know how to go about it.

And then the bus congestion was exacerbated when the previous MMDA put up bus stops on Edsa for provincial buses. As provincial buses, they should operate only in the provinces, right? Their terminals should be outside city limits where they can load and unload passengers. The city buses can then ferry the passengers to their destinations in the inner cities. That was a sensible plan but, again, the MMDA is either reluctant or afraid of the provincial bus operators, or does not know or dare to go about it.

The elevated rail lines were expected to starve the buses of passengers so that they would be phased out and thus reduce the number of buses plying the streets below. No such thing happened.

The elevated rails do not have enough trains and coaches to carry all the passengers who want to use them. We can see this inside trains overloaded to the brim with passengers crammed like sardines, and in the long lines of commuters waiting to board at train stations. Again, the answer is obvious: Increase the number of coaches and trains. But the government and the private operators are unwilling to spend more for trains and coaches. Why invest more when they are already making a killing with the present arrangement? The government, meaning the taxpayers, pay for whatever government-guaranteed profit the private firms don’t earn from the train operations. What better deal can you get than that?


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