We have suffered other massive traffic jams before, but the gridlock that paralyzed parts of Metro Manila last Monday was nightmarish for two relatively novel reasons. It was an almost Metro-wide jam that began early in the morning, on the first day of the working week; many other traffic nightmares begin in the middle of the day or at the end of office hours, as torrential rains flood the streets. (Indeed, this was the case twice last week, when late-afternoon and early-evening rains slowed vehicular traffic to a crawl until late at night.) Second, the cause of the gridlock could have easily been avoided—if only government agencies take their public responsibilities seriously.
The result—and we ask for understanding from the majority of our readers who do not reside or work in the National Capital Region—was a bitter taste of what motorists and commuters alike are beginning to call “carmageddon,” a manmade calamity involving thousands of vehicles stuck for hours in barely moving traffic. What a way to begin the week, in the region that accounts for over 10 percent of the country’s population and about a third of its gross domestic product.
It turns out that the proximate cause of the gridlock was a cargo truck on C-5 Road, attended by an incompetent crew. Because of the weight of the cargo of sand, the truck failed to crest a relatively steep slope of the highway. The crew lost control, and the truck crashed into the next seven vehicles behind it. The seventh vehicle, a delivery van, burst into flames, killing one of its unfortunate passengers.
A traffic investigator told the Inquirer that the truck had helpers on board who tried to stop it from sliding by doing the usual, but not entirely reliable, thing: by blocking its tires. “But when that didn’t work, [all three, including the driver,] escaped,” he said.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority was quick to blame the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board for allowing the truck to operate in Metro Manila. Together with Metro Manila mayors, the MMDA has accused the LTFRB of causing the persistently heavy traffic on C-5 and Katipunan Avenue in recent weeks by extending the “no-apprehension” deadline for so-called colorum trucks. The multivehicle pileup on Monday reinforced the MMDA’s charge. While there is something to be said for the long-term economic consequences of any truck ban on the trucking industry and on businesses that depend on it, the LTFRB cannot escape this simple fact: that the truck that caused the accident was not road-worthy in the first place.
Another mix-up prolonged the government’s response time to the accident. The pileup happened at around 4 a.m.; it took the MMDA more than six hours, until around 10:30 a.m., to clear the road. Confusion about whose responsibility it was to conduct clearing operations between officials of Makati and Taguig resulted in motorists and commuters having to spend hours on the road, stuck in very heavy traffic.
What is the economic cost of a manmade calamity like Monday’s traffic jam? Many workers reached their factories, many employees arrived at their offices, two or three or even four hours late. Meetings were cancelled, flights were missed, opportunities were lost.
There is an obvious mismatch between the sheer volume of vehicles and the available infrastructure. (The situation is aggravated by dozens of public works projects already underway.) There is an equally obvious failure on the part of the government agencies—to help decongest the region’s roads by purchasing new trains expeditiously and improving light rail facilities, to settle on a common traffic policy for all of Metro Manila’s component cities and municipalities, to assert the use of alternative ports of entry, such as Batangas, which would ease the pressure on Manila.
Unless these shortcomings are addressed, Metro Manila’s motorists and commuters can continue to expect to waste several hours in traffic, any day of the week.
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