Manila ports not congested, but the streets are
Every night, the whole of C-5 Road is so full of cargo trucks that there is hardly any space left for other vehicles. The reason is the daytime truck ban, which is lifted late in the evening. So, like water in a dam roaring out when the dam gives way, all the cargo trucks that have been waiting all day rush at the same time to deliver their stocks. Result: The streets are even more congested than during the day.
The truck ban is Manila’s answer to the infernal traffic jams in the city which, City Hall claims, results in a P30-billion-a-day loss to business companies and to citizens in the form of lost man-hours. Without the giant truck trailers carrying container vans to and from Port Area clogging the streets, other vehicles can move around a little faster, thus saving the precious man-hours lost to the traffic jams.
But what do you do with the thousands of container vans that pile up at the piers and the thousands more containing produce for export that cannot be delivered on time because of the daytime truck ban? Late deliveries have caused commodity prices to shoot up.
It has been suggested that cargo be shifted to the ports of Batangas and Subic to relieve the congestion at the Manila port. But the Manila port is not congested; it is the streets that are.
At present, 3.8 million 20-footer-equivalent units (TEUs) pass through the ports of Manila while Batangas and Subic have a combined capacity of only 800,000 TEUs. The capacity problem for the Manila port does not even exist.
Clearly congested are the streets of Metro Manila, and not the harbors, and these can only be effectively solved through the construction of access roads to areas outside the metropolis. Which is nearly impossible. Where will you put the new access roads?
A faster and cheaper alternative is to revive the railroad line running from Port Area to Divisoria and Tutuban to Caloocan, and from there to North and South Luzon. Thus, container vans can be loaded on flat cars and taken out of the piers to points north or south of Manila and unloaded in stations nearest to their final destinations for delivery by trucks. The cargo will still go out quickly day and night without passing through and adding to the congestion of the narrow streets of Metro Manila.
The railroad tracks are still there, but the right of way has been occupied by squatters. All that is needed is the will power of the Manila government to relocate the squatters and return the rail right of way to the Philippine National Railways.
It has been done before. The PNR was already taking the cargo out of the piers efficiently, but what did the truckers do? They lowered their trucking fees to undercut the PNR rates. Result: The cargo handlers returned to the truckers, the PNR stopped its service, and the squatters reoccupied the right of way. We should not let that happen again.
In short, the cargo transport situation became worse because of the truck ban and not because of what is termed as port congestion.
Even the fact that the ports exist within the fast-growing city is not a problem in itself. Other more vibrant cities like Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and Vancouver in Canada are showcases of cities with busy ports existing within them.
The government is hoping to give the underutilized Batangas and Subic ports a push by endorsing their use as one answer to the problems caused by the truck ban.
But the aggressive endorsement by the government of the two outports, coupled with the port operators practically offering free services just to bring in volume, won’t work.
Shippers say, for instance, that freight contracts are decided abroad. Whether or not to unload at the Batangas Port or Subic Port is decided based on the economies of scale and not as a result of state policies.
Patrick Ronas, the president of the Association of International Shipping Lines, said that since freight deals are decided abroad, it is only natural that economies of scale factor heavily in the decision-making of foreign principals.
Premiums on the extra costs of operating in the ports of Batangas and Subic would disappear only when the flow of trade grows in these areas.
The ports in Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro were historically having a premium of $350 to $400 per cargo at the time that international feeders were nonexistent in those ports, but the costs were gradually eliminated after these ports experienced growth in trade, Ronas said.
University of Asia and the Pacific economics professor Victor Abola was more straightforward in saying that the truck ban created chaos instead of bringing order to Manila’s streets.
“Revoke the ban because it is just creating traffic [jams] in other places and goods are not being delivered,” Abola said during a recent business forum where the truck ban was identified as hindering the flow of trade.
A study by Citigroup Philippines indicated that the truck ban could cost the country up to P320 billion in losses from disrupted trade and cut the gross domestic product by up to five percentage points if the truck ban continues.
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