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Wanted: holistic traffic planning

Over the past decades, so much money has been poured into the traffic congestion problem in Metro Manila by the government and foreign donors—and yet hardly anyone would say that traffic flows have improved appreciably through the years.

The Japanese government alone, the country’s single largest donor, has financed at least eight major projects to address Metro Manila traffic congestion since the 1980s.  Interventions have ranged from technical studies to infrastructure and engineering solutions.  Among these were procurement of the familiar “Love Buses” operated by the Metro Manila Transit Corp. in the 1980s, and the construction of the railway commuter line to Carmona, Cavite.  Japan assistance also funded the construction of the LRT Line 2, installation of a computerized traffic signal system, and the construction or improvement of various major roads, flyovers and interchanges. Other donors funded the LRT Line 1 (Belgium), two Metro Manila transport and land use plans (World Bank), a traffic engineering and management project (Australian government and World Bank), the Metro Manila Air Quality Improvement project (Asian Development Bank and Japan Bank for International Cooperation), and several others.

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If traffic remains congested despite all of these, it is because our traffic problem demands more than infrastructure solutions.  Recently I wrote in this space about how bad management is often equally to blame.  The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), perhaps concerned about the lack of clear positive results from its past costly interventions in the sector, continues to take keen interest in helping ease Metro Manila traffic. In a recent analysis, Jica took stock of the shortcomings under the three E’s of efficient traffic management, namely: engineering, enforcement and education.

Under engineering, a fundamental problem is lack of continuity and consistency in the implementation of various transport plans that have been formulated for Metro Manila.  Of these, there has been a virtual alphabet soup of plans through the years going by acronyms such as UTSMMA, MMETROPLAN, MMUTIP, JUMSUT, MMUSTRAP, MMUTIS and MUCEP (meanings of which I myself am unable to keep up with).  Coverage of the road network continues to be insufficient and incomplete.  Little, if any, coordination exists in the construction of infrastructure projects in Metro Manila, undertaken by the various local government units (LGUs) along with several national government agencies, including the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.  The mass rail transit system remains highly inadequate and highly fragmented with the three existing lines not even connecting to one another seamlessly, let alone connecting with other modes of transport via air and water.

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And to further underscore the seeming lack of a holistic multi-modal perspective in transport planning, government has an ongoing project that will expand the capacity of the Port of Manila. This completely contravenes a prior government policy of decongesting Metro Manila by deliberately diverting cargo traffic to the Batangas and Subic Ports, with corresponding access highways already in place.  Not surprisingly, Jica is concerned about this development, as it undermines the expressed government policy that Japan faithfully responded to by supporting the upgrading of the Batangas and Subic ports.  And given the sorry state of traffic in Metro Manila, exacerbated by large cargo trucks moving to and from the Manila North and South Harbors, traffic can only get worse, not better, with this port expansion—yet another example of lack of continuity in plans and of policy reversals, which keeps our country from moving forward.

Enforcement issues start with the seemingly indiscriminate issuance of public utility franchises especially along saturated routes like Edsa, and the lack of rationalization of bus routes to avoid such saturation.  Then there is the common use of public roadsides as parking spaces, and even as commercial spaces for local residents, commercial establishments, schools and churches alike. Unlike governments of neighboring countries, we lack a policy on responsible car ownership that would ensure, for example, that car owners will not rely on public roads as their own private parking spaces.  Various obstructions and illegal structures proliferate along carriageways, while tricycles, kuligligs and pedicabs operate unregulated on major national roads. In general, traffic laws and rules are weakly enforced, aggravated by weak coordination between the MMDA and the various LGUs.

The third E, education, concerns traffic enforcers, motorists, passengers and pedestrians alike.  It would seem that there is insufficient knowledge, understanding and appreciation of traffic rules and regulations among all concerned, and educators would do well to give due attention to these in molding the minds of our youth. Basic courtesy and discipline of both drivers and passengers would have to be cultivated through our educational system, as these seemingly do not come as naturally to us Filipinos as they do in many countries abroad.  Faithful adherence to President Aquino’s “no wang-wang” policy is a good start, but far more needs to be done if we are to see a future where order, rather than chaos, reigns in our streets.

It is a daunting task, to be sure.  We need to start from a full understanding of the big picture, which means that so many things need to be done, all at the same time.  And all these should have been done yesterday.

E-mail: cielito.habito@gmail.com

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TAGS: featured column, infrastructure, traffic management, transport planning
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