Practical solutions to the traffic problem
On Nov. 1 the Department of Transportation (DOTr) will adopt a revised traffic coding scheme in Metro Manila that will eliminate the “window” hours for coded vehicles on 18 major thoroughfares, and extend the coding period from 12 to 13 hours. Based on the dry runs conducted by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, these measures are expected to reduce the traffic congestion in the affected areas.
But while the resulting reduction in the volume of cars on these thoroughfares will certainly ease traffic congestion, many car owners are balking because of the inconvenience that it will pose on them. Some say they would not mind these measures if the public transportation system is efficient, which is hardly the case. As we all know, commuting in Metro Manila is a constant nightmarish struggle particularly during rush hours when the buses and MRT/LRT coaches are overcrowded, with queues spilling out into the streets and commuters exposed to the elements. But because of the urgent need to ease the unbearable traffic situation, these measures should be welcomed by Metro Manila residents.
There are low-hanging fruits, however, that the DoTr should consider as well. These include increasing the number of coaches and trips in the MRT/LRT lines, and improving the operation, repair and maintenance of the lines to prevent the almost-daily breakdowns in the systems. The rail lines simply need to be much more efficiently utilized. If there are three coaches per trip, increase it to four or five, and if the trips during the rush hours are every 15 minutes, increase the frequency to every 10 or 5 minutes. If the platforms are designed for only three coaches, expand whenever possible to four or five.
The rails may need to be retrofitted or beefed up to accommodate the longer coaches and more frequent trips. The cost involved is much lower than that for, say, a new bus rapid transit system currently being evaluated, and the time to put these in place could take only less than a year.
Another easily enforceable measure is to take back some of the streets from car and jeepney owners who use them as their permanent parking place, especially during rush hours. Anyone who has used Waze will realize that there are many options to getting to your destination using the side streets. The problem is that many of these side streets have cars parked on both sides, making them difficult to traverse. And if you happen to pass beside a market, you will see that the road is used by vendors to sell their vegetables, fruits, and other wares, further reducing the streets available for vehicular traffic. There are also many streets undergoing repair work that appears abandoned or is taking forever to complete.
The simple solution is to make these alternative routes no-parking zones, impose restrictions on market vendors, and mandate round-the-clock work on street repairs and diggings.
The government should also consider opening certain streets in exclusive villages during certain hours, in exchange for lower or zero real estate taxes on these private roads, or even subsidizing the repair costs.
Finally, we need permanent solutions to the traffic problem that would last 20 or more years. These should include more bridges to cross the Pasig River, which would involve expropriating some of the properties in the area for the access streets and roads, as well as a subway system. We need to realize that there is a limit to the number of roads, overpasses, bridges and skyways that we can build in the metropolis. Eventually, we will have no choice other than to go underground.
We do not have the luxury of time. We cannot wait for more chaos to occur before we do what we will have to do anyway. Plans and studies should be made for a subway system, and these could be funded by soft loans from friendly nations like Japan and Korea, as well as loans from the Government Service Insurance System and Social Security System, whose funds need long-dated investment instruments for their pension obligations.
David L. Balangue (firstname.lastname@example.org) chairs the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections and the Philippine Center for Population and Development Inc.
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