As I See It

Move people, not vehicles

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(Continued from Monday)

Why does the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) want to tear up streets still in good condition while leaving badly damaged streets unrepaired? The “concrete reblocking” of portions of Edsa never stops while roads in the provinces badly needed to bring produce to the markets are neglected.

I pass through Edsa every day and I have no complaints about it except for the infernal traffic jams. Yet the DPWH will spend billions of pesos for a “massive repair” of Edsa, which will take two years, and at the same time neglect to repair other roads because of “lack of funds.” Why not use those billions set aside for Edsa to reduce the traffic jams there and repair badly damaged roads?

In fact, newly constructed streets or those still in good condition are torn up by contractors and cemented over again. For example, a portion of Congressional Avenue Extension, which is very new and is hardly ever used except by drag racers (attention: Quezon City police), has already been torn up for “concrete reblocking.” The same is true with other streets. Why?

A DPWH insider told me why. Favored contractors want to make repairs in the cities because the work is easy. Just tear up the concrete with jackhammers, then pour new concrete into the hole. Most favored contractors don’t want to work in the provinces because the work there is difficult. They are also afraid of outlaw bands.

The insider told me one more thing: Unspent public works funds for a given region or area must be spent before they revert back to the General Fund. Some contractors are experts in spotting these unspent funds and then come to the DPWH with proposals to repair this or that road, with part of the money going to some DPWH officials as kickback. Or to the congressmen with unspent pork barrel funds. That is why new and perfectly good streets are always being “repaired.”

Commuters would much prefer that the traffic jams on Edsa be eliminated rather than have an Edsa that is as “smooth as NLEx.”

There is much that the Department of Transportation can do to alleviate the traffic jams not only on Edsa but also on other Metro Manila streets. The trick is to move people, not vehicles. There will never be enough space for all the vehicles pouring into our streets every day. The auto and jeepney assemblers of Laguna and Cavite pour hundreds of cars and jeepneys daily into our streets, which hardly increase. Old cars, jeepneys, and buses are seldom phased out. Once a vehicle hits the streets, our mechanics can keep it running forever with the help of surplus and second-hand spare parts. So where will we put all those vehicles?

Many families keep vehicles because our public transport system cannot be relied upon. The buses and jeepneys are held up by traffic jams and the elevated trains cannot accommodate all the passengers who want to use them. Common sense says that trains and coaches should be added, but the private operators and the government do not want to spend for these. Our public transport operators are more concerned with profit than with public service.

Yet we have the commuter trains of the Philippine National Railways. Not much is being done to encourage the people to use them.

Then we have the rivers and the sea. They used to be a primary means of transport in the old days, until we were seduced by the Americans to use the motor vehicle. Ferryboats are widely used in other countries; I don’t understand why we have given those up. There is a ferry service on the Pasig River but not many people use it because the river water stinks. Why not have enclosed ferryboats to spare the passengers of the stink?

Something like the double-decked ferryboat of Hong Kong is out of the question because the river is shallow and such a vessel cannot pass under the bridges. But the ferryboat being used in Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is shallow draft and is just the right size for Pasig River use.

There are other rivers that can be used by ferryboats. The Tenejeros-Tullahan River used to be the highway of flat-bottomed boats called “casco” to transport passengers and cargo from Bulacan to Manila. The esteros also used to be water highways but they are now open sewers.

There used to be a ferry service across Manila Bay from Roxas Boulevard to Cavite City but that has been discontinued, I don’t know why. It relieved the Coastal Road of much traffic. In fact, many towns and cities bordering Manila Bay and Laguna Lake can be reached by ferryboats. The government just has to offer incentives to prospective ferryboat operators.

And then the right of way on both banks of the Pasig River and the Tenejeros-Tullahan River can be transformed into roads, the first going to the towns around Laguna de Bay, and the latter to and from Bulacan. The latter will help ease traffic on MacArthur Highway.

Besides providing additional roads, these will also raise the value of properties along the rivers. Thus, the income of the local governments from real estate taxes will increase. Furthermore, the roads will prevent the pollution of the rivers because their banks would be free of squatters. In Sydney, Australia, the highest-priced homes line the river. Ferryboats take commuters to downtown Sydney and back to their homes.

Much can be done to improve the movement of people in Metro Manila. All that is needed is a little imagination.

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