You cannot put 10 pounds of manure in a five-pound bag. The traffic chaos in Metro Manila is as simple as that. There are too many vehicles fighting for space in the few and narrow roads. We are trying to put on the road vehicles double the carrying capacity of Metro Manila. The Metro Manila Development Authority is trying to reduce the number of vehicles through the number coding system. But obviously, that is not enough.
And the number of vehicles is increasing every day. The car manufacturing companies pour thousands of new vehicles onto the streets every month, and most of them end up in Metro Manila. Add the vehicles being smuggled into the country through the free ports, plus the jeepneys and buses being put together in Cavite and Santa Rosa, Laguna, from second-hand parts. Then there are the thousands of provincial buses plying city streets daily. To add insult to injury, we have an idiotic Department of Public Works and Highways “repairing”—during the daytime when traffic is at its heaviest—city streets that do not need repairs! The result of all this is the horrendous traffic jams we suffer daily.
Filipino mechanics and tinsmiths are so good that they can keep decades-old jeeps and other vehicles running forever. Thus, while more and more vehicles are poured onto the streets daily, almost none is phased out.
In the May 6 issue of the Inquirer, there was the story of the parking wars in New Delhi, India, where there are so many vehicles that people are literally fighting over inadequate parking spaces. We have already reached the same situation, and it’s time for our public officials, starting with the incumbent President Aquino, to wake up and do something about it.
In affluent, exclusive villages where each house has a garage for two or more cars, more vehicles are double-parked on the streets at night. Even on the streets surrounding squatter colonies, vehicles of all types are double-parked at night. And these are supposed to be poor squatters.
It is curious that while our officials do a lot of traveling (at the expense of taxpayers), they do not learn from the examples of the cities they visit. In Tokyo, a person will not be sold a vehicle unless he can show a title to a garage. Its main street, Ginsha, is off limits to vehicles on certain days. In Singapore, most private vehicles are banned from the downtown area. In Manhattan, New York, they have made it so expensive to own and park vehicles inside city limits such that most New Yorkers have gotten rid of their vehicles and just take public transport.
Our transportation department should already take measures to move people instead of vehicles by improving the public transport system. The elevated rail trains are one such measure but, obviously, they are not enough. We need to add more trains and to schedule more frequent trips (say, one every two minutes instead of the present one every five minutes) to accommodate all the passengers using them.
The commuter trains of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) should also be improved to entice more passengers to take them instead of the buses and jeepneys that clog the streets. The PNR rail lines north and south of Manila should be connected again so that people and cargo going to and coming from the north and the south do not have to go through the already crowded downtown areas.
Adding to the traffic congestion are the giant trailer trucks hauling container vans from the Port Area through the narrow streets of Metro Manila. There are railroad tracks going from the pier area but these are now buried under the concrete roads of Recto in Divisoria, going through Tutuban to Caloocan, and thence to the north or south of Luzon. Why not revive these rail tracks so that cargo from the piers can be taken out on railroad flat cars, thus getting rid of the huge truck trailers? With the income from these cargoes and from human passengers in the commuter trains, the PNR should be able to earn more income to fund the revival of the railroad lines throughout Luzon.
The Philippines is the only country I know that does not use the railroad to the maximum. In most countries such as the United States, India and all of Europe, the railroad is the primary means of transportation, carrying millions of passengers to their destinations every day.
The government neglected the PNR after the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal because we were seduced by American vehicle exporters to use the motor transport instead. Now we see how wrong that was.
Another curious fact is that while the Philippines is an archipelago surrounded by seas and rivers, we no longer take advantage of these water resources as a means of transportation like we did in the older days.
Much of the land traffic can be relieved by improving the ferries not only on Pasig River but along the shorelines of Manila Bay and Laguna Lake. The very heavy traffic load of the Coastal Road and Aguinaldo Highway linking Metro Manila and Cavite, for example, can be relieved with a ferry to and from the Luneta and Cavite City across the bay. There used to be one, but it was discontinued due to financial losses. The government should give financial incentives to ferry operators. I think a Ro-Ro from Manila to Cavite would be a big help.
The government should also support the Pasig River ferry not only with financial aid but also by encouraging people to use the ferry instead of land transport. For that, the shipbuilding industry should be encouraged and financially helped in constructing better ferry boats that protect passengers from the stink of the Pasig River and the Tenejeros-Tullahan River.