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Beating ‘carmageddon’ and ‘commutaddon’

opinion / Columnists
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Beating ‘carmageddon’ and ‘commutaddon’

/ 12:08 AM September 28, 2015

THE PROPOSAL to completely ban private vehicles from Edsa during rush hours, advanced in a commentary, “How to slay the Edsa-traffic dragon” by Mart del Rosario (Opinion, 9/22/15), is a radical solution without precedence even in highly congested cities like Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo.

This proposal, as well as the one to reinstate the odd-even scheme, appears to be based on the assumption that the main cause of traffic gridlock is the large number of vehicles, and that removing the vehicles will cause traffic to disappear. This seemingly desperate proposal is understandable given that traffic gridlock has gone from bad to worse, with “carmaggedon” and “commutaddon” being the new normal in Metro Manila.

At the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), we believe that curtailing the use of private vehicles in such a drastic manner will come at a high cost. Billions of pesos in transportation assets will be rendered idle. The movement of people and goods will become even more costly, aside from the untold disruption of people’s lives.

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If approved, this measure will only add to the people’s grievances against the national government and the local government units in Metro Manila, for their inability to provide basic services (i.e., traffic management and efficient public transportation) and for the removal of the preferred means of transport of many. The government must first be seen to be doing its job before exacting more sacrifices from the public.

Further, the commute on Edsa is not just in one direction—southbound during morning rush hours and northbound during evening rush hours, such that the traffic would be one-way during such hours as proposed. People and goods must get to other points than Edsa. But the present transport system, consisting of a hodgepodge of disorganized buses, jeepneys and tricycles, is incapable of providing seamless transfer rides. Commuting in the metropolis has become akin to going through Calvary. This situation has given rise to preference for car ownership and Uber-type car services.

MAP believes that the nature of the problem is both behavioral and structural, arising from the lack of universally accepted requisites of effective traffic management—i.e., road engineering, enforcement and education of stakeholders. This lack of the “3 Es” is compounded by severe deficiencies in the mass transit systems, unsustainable urban development practices, and ineffective governance. Any solution ignoring these will be for naught.

Through its position paper dated Aug. 26, 2015, which was submitted to President Aquino and certain members of his Cabinet, MAP proposed a sustainable holistic plan to alleviate traffic congestion and commuter transportation deficiency through the employment of immediately actionable measures for the earliest relief, and medium- and long-term measures for sustainability. (The paper, titled “The Traffic and Transportation Problems of Metro Manila: A Holistic Approach,” may be accessed at www.map.org.ph.)

In the long term, MAP calls on the government to fast-track the implementation of mass transit systems in the pipeline, including heavy commuter rail to develop satellite cities for urban dispersal and a subway under Edsa to anticipate future heavy commuter demand owing to the development of commercial and residential complexes. It also asks the government to complete the road system, to require adherence to best practices in large mixed-use property developments such that they are scaled to the capacity of their road and public transport systems, and to restructure the governance of Metro Manila.

Since these measures will take time, MAP recommends immediate actionable measures by appointing Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras as traffic czar, “empowered to take overall charge of all matters related to or affecting traffic and road management.” Also recommended are the deployment of the Highway Patrol Group of the Philippine National Police, “to impose order on the chaotic traffic through strict enforcement of traffic rules and regulations,” and the introduction of engineering refinements such as bus lane delineators or barriers to segregate bus lanes on national roads, including Edsa, to efficiently channel traffic, while minimizing the need for human intervention, which on many occasions is unreliable or ineffective.

These recommendations coincide with the President’s recent directives.

Deficient road engineering prevents efficient traffic flow, which is essential to optimize limited road space. The deficiency allows drivers to wantonly switch or block lanes without regard for others on vital road arteries. Regulatory weakness has allowed the proliferation of public utility vehicles. Lack of education contributes to diminished civic consciousness and irresponsible driving behavior that, coupled with ineffective traffic management, have made traffic rules mere “suggestions” to be ignored with impunity.

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Transportation resources must be maximized through efficiency. High-occupancy vehicle practices must be promoted with the provision of specific lanes. Schools should be required to operate buses to ferry students to and from specific points, including nearby shopping malls. Private cars shall not be allowed to spill onto and clog the street.

Buses must be organized as an integrated unit and operated as a system, with only an appropriate number dispatched as needed and, like a bus rapid transit system, run in batches like a caravan, stopping and proceeding simultaneously within the set time limit. Thus, people will be moved efficiently to their destination without disrupting traffic flow.

Edsa, C-5 and other major national roads should be transformed into toll-free urban expressways by eliminating traffic-disrupting intersections, perhaps with the use of prefabricated, quick-to-assemble steel bridges, time being of the essence. The coverage of present government efforts must be expanded to include all radial roads intersecting Edsa as they are major traffic distribution branches. All other major national roads such as C-5, Katipunan and Commonwealth must be included.

Other short-term measures include the rehabilitation and capacity expansion of MRT3, as rail is the most efficient and affordable people mover.

The severe traffic and transportation problems are not without solutions. But they will require immediate, firm and resolute action from the national leadership.

Eduardo H. Yap chairs the Management Association of the Philippines’ traffic, transportation and infrastructure committee.

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