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All hands on deck

/ 12:09 AM September 30, 2014

So much has been written about the horrendous traffic in the metropolis. Exasperated commuters continue to press the government to do something about it, but those appeals seem to fall on deaf ears. The impact particularly on the working middle class is distressing: Many have to get ready for work long before sunrise and manage to get home long after sunset. In between, they spend hours and hours crawling through terrible traffic.

The World Bank notes that the traffic nightmare and its attendant environmental problems have reached serious proportions in Metro Manila, with vehicles traveling on average no faster than 15 kilometers an hour on a weekday on Edsa, the metropolis’ main arterial road. And those among Metro Manila’s more than 10 million residents who often use buses, jeepneys and tricycles are the worst affected. The multilateral lending agency is one of those institutions helping the Philippine government find lasting solutions to the problem.

It has often been stressed that about P2 billion is lost daily in potential revenues from the weekday traffic gridlock in Metro Manila alone, according to study results. This includes lost work hours and business opportunities due to delays and missed deliveries. And then there is the wasted fuel burned by vehicles in standstill traffic. The losses add up to about P500 billion a year.


A lot of proposals to ease traffic congestion have been made and while many may not be doable, a few can possibly work. One suggestion that the government can consider is regulating vehicle ownership. This is indeed controversial, but quite logical. A trip around the side streets of the metropolis will show how most of these roads have been converted into parking spaces. Some enterprising local government units have even converted many of these roads into pay-parking slots.

The volume of vehicles in the country—technical people call it motorization—has been increasing at a double-digit pace in the past few years. The latest report from the Asean Automotive Federation on the sales for the first seven months of 2014 cited the Philippines as the fastest-growing automobile and motorcycle market in the region (26 percent), outpacing Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and even Indonesia. The Philippines also had the second-highest growth (23.1 percent) in terms of motor vehicle production in the first seven months of 2014, next to Vietnam.

The government cannot put a cap on how many units car companies can sell. That would be illegal. But there is one way it can control the volume of vehicles being added to the streets of the metropolis. New cars have to be registered with the Land Transportation Office. The government can simply add a requirement for the person registering a new vehicle to show proof that he/she has a parking space for that unit. No parking slot, no registration. The same can be done for existing vehicles. These are registered annually, or every three years for those who choose the longer registration period. These vehicle owners can be given enough time to come up with a

parking space for their vehicles.

We emphasize that this alone will not solve the crippling traffic situation in Metro Manila. As pointed out several times in the past, instilling discipline among drivers and commuters alike should be an indispensable part of any package of solutions to address the traffic problem. An aerial view of metro traffic conditions on a weekday will show how unruly bus drivers flock to nearby bus stations (including in no-loading/unloading MRT stations), blocking the smooth flow of vehicles on the other lanes. Commuters are also to blame as they often wait for public buses and jeepneys, or even taxis, wherever they please. This kind of behavior has to stop.

The Aquino administration is banking on more than a dozen road projects being started at this time to ease traffic in Metro Manila by 2016. However, those road projects will be rendered useless if the feeder roads or side streets remain clogged with illegally parked vehicles. Roads are for vehicles to pass through, not for private individuals to use as parking spaces. The government projects will also be useless if the attitude of both drivers and commuters will not change. We should all be part of the solution to Metro Manila’s nightmarish traffic.

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