Edsa made worse
The pictures were horrendous, heartrending and infuriating: thousands of commuters stranded on streets, unable to find buses to ferry them to work or school; on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa), a long line of buses unmoving and hemmed in on their designated yellow lane, while the lanes for private vehicles were nearly empty; and on the streets and stations leading to the MRT, many more miserable commuters stewing as they waited for scarce train rides.
The daily nightmare on Edsa was made even worse last week with the confusion inflicted by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) yellow lane policy, the aggravation of a provincial bus ban that went ahead despite a court order, and heavy rains.
But forget the weather for now — that’s an inescapable element at this time of year. The real culprit was the yellow lane scheme, which, while ostensibly a measure meant to impose discipline and order among bus drivers, was called out by many commuters for being antipoor.
They have a point. The scheme to segregate buses to only two lanes of Edsa (even provincial buses that are allowed on the third lane were reportedly directed by MMDA enforcers to the yellow lane), while three other lanes were dedicated to private car owners and other motorists, resulted in the now-viral picture of city buses crammed with angry passengers stuck on two narrow lanes, while the rest of Edsa was a virtual “express lane” where private vehicles could breeze through. And with Edsa clogged, the side streets connected to the major thoroughfare were likewise jammed.
Given the wide gulf in carrying capacity between private cars (5 passengers at most) and public buses (60 at full capacity), one would think the MMDA’s thrust would be to move more people — and not cars — along, and that means ensuring that public transport vehicles, such as buses that are able to ferry greater numbers of people, are able to do their job.
Much has been made of how undisciplined bus drivers regularly cause traffic havoc on Edsa; that, too, is a valid concern. But driver discipline is a separate issue from the sheer ability to move more people en masse from one point of the metro to the other.
The MMDA’s move last week did make Edsa more convenient for private vehicles, but at an unconscionable expense — thousands more of ordinary workers and employees who ended up late for work, or were forced to take unpaid leave, or had to get off at unceremonious points of their route to trudge to work. Antipoor? Yes, it was.
At least one politician seems to get the crucial big picture. “Traffic in Pasig and Metro Manila will continue to worsen no matter what traffic policies we have, UNLESS we lessen the demand for cars,” said Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto in an online post. “This means a greater focus on moving people rather than private vehicles. This means incorporating more non-car modes of transportation in our long-term plans.”
Perhaps the likes of Sotto, along with transport experts and urban planners with fresher minds and more innovative ideas to bring to the table, should be asked to attend the Senate investigation on the Edsa gridlock that Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said she will hold on Tuesday.
“Matinding kalbaryo (great suffering),” was how Poe lamented the incident.
The damage is bigger than the daily personal hell commuters are forced to go through. If traffic in Metro Manila — which contributes a third to the country’s economy — does not improve, economic losses could reach as much as P5.4 billion daily, the Japan International Cooperation Agency has earlier warned. (The metropolis has a population of 12.9 million, but this swells to 15 million during daytime.)
Transport economist Jedd Ugay, cofounder of Alt Mobility PH, proposes that the government review the revenue-focused bus franchise system and improve public transport to make it not only a more pleasant experience for commuters, but to also encourage private vehicle owners to leave their cars at home. In Singapore, for instance, the government has imposed a prohibitive car ownership policy to encourage use of public transport. But this is only possible because of an efficient public transport system, which the Philippines still sorely lacks.
Restricting the space for ordinary commuters while easing up on lanes for private vehicles will only “entice more people to shift from public transportation and go to private vehicles instead of the other way around,” said Ugay.
Unfortunately, for average daily-wage Filipino commuters, that is not an option. And so they begin their hours brutalized on Edsa, and end it much the same way. Just another day in the capital of the Philippines.
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