How to get private cars off the road | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

How to get private cars off the road

/ 05:04 AM November 24, 2022

As everyone knows, moving around Metro Manila can be a very exhausting and stressful experience, especially for those who need to take public transportation. Overcrowded transport terminals, long waiting times, too much traffic that results in longer travel time, rising fuel costs and fares, and so on. Double that misery come the rainy season when flooded streets lead to a standstill. Factor in other irritants like pollution, the roadworthiness of vehicles, and lack of safety concerns on the streets.

The causes of these problems are varied: too many cars, not enough mass transport vehicles, not enough road networks, lack of interconnectivity of transport routes and modes, and poorly maintained or inadequate road infrastructure that offers commuters some comfort and convenience, like waiting sheds.

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All these concerns have been plaguing motorists, commuters, and pedestrians for years, with successive administrations trying to resolve the problem but finding themselves playing catch up. A lot of infrastructure has been built, and various road schemes implemented to make travel easier, but they are never enough. Perhaps we need to reorient the way we view the problem and how we seek solutions for it.

I’ve always held the opinion that Metro Manila is too congested and its situation untenable. Its population continues to grow, but there is no more space to accommodate that growth. Decongesting the capital by moving factories and industries to outlying provinces to spread economic growth and the working population would be ideal, but isn’t practical in the short and medium term.

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With almost 30 percent of national gross domestic product generated within Metro Manila alone, that option won’t be easy to implement. Industries will need to be properly incentivized to move out to surrounding provinces which, in turn, will require significant upgrading of infrastructure and improvement in connectivity, particularly in Visayas and Mindanao. Such improvements will also require a significant amount of time.

In the meantime, the current government has a number of projects aimed at relieving the public from their woes on the road. The solution offered is a mix of rail lines, including a subway system, improved bus services, and fuel subsidies, to help transport operators and drivers deal with rising fuel costs, so they can keep fares affordable to the riding public. But in terms of improving the travel experience and reducing stress among motorists and commuters, these projects would provide only short- and medium-term solutions.

There is another solution that doesn’t get enough attention or even discussed: the need to reduce the number of privately owned vehicles on the road. The need to get cars off the road is vital to make the ongoing road projects work. And while a number-coding scheme is in place, it hasn’t really been that successful in reducing the carload on our roads, as people with means simply buy an extra vehicle or two.

To effectively reduce or get privately owned cars off the road, car owners should be encouraged and convinced to leave their vehicles at home and instead take public transportation. But the only way for a car owner to choose commuting over driving is convenient, comfortable, reliable, clean, and safe mass transport. Only by vastly improving the riding experience will car owners be enticed to ditch their vehicle for public transportation.

This approach is best summed up by a quote from the former mayor of Bogotá, now president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

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Moira G. Gallaga is an author. She served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer, and was posted as a diplomat at the Philippine consulate general in Los Angeles and the Philippine Embassy in Washington.

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TAGS: cars, NGP, traffic
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