Needed: ‘Daang matino’
The distance between the cities of San Juan and Makati is approximately eight kilometers. At the prescribed speed limit of 40 kilometers per hour, it should take 13-15 minutes to travel this distance by car on Edsa. It is a route I am familiar with because it has become a nearly inevitable part of my daily life, and indeed the lives of so many others whose everyday path to their places of work leaves almost no other choice but Edsa.
It should be simple enough to traverse this route. But this eight-kilometer, relatively straight road turns into a supreme test of patience and mental fortitude because it often takes, not a sensible 13-15 minutes, but a mind-boggling one hour and 15 minutes to complete one’s travel on it, while grappling with nearly-standstill traffic.
One hour and 15 minutes is about the time it takes to travel by air from Manila to Hong Kong! One hour and 15 minutes on eight kilometers translates into a speed of about two feet per second—the pace of a regular walk. No wonder many complain that they could have already reached Hong Kong for the amount of time they were stuck in traffic, or could have walked at a mildly brisk pace alongside the creeping vehicles and arrived at their workplace at the same time it would have taken by motor vehicle.
Fortunately for me, I have a relatively shorter distance to traverse and, thus, a relatively shorter amount of time to endure the torture. Most others traveling on Edsa come from farther distances and have to get up at dawn to make it to their workplace on time. Worse still is the plight of ambulances, sirens frantically blaring, making a desperate effort to inch their way through a phalanx of nearly inert vehicles to get their emergency cases to a hospital before it’s too late.
Sadly, Edsa traffic is not an exception but a prime example of what prevails throughout our metropolis. One can argue that urban congestion and its accompanying heavy traffic are features common to nearly all major Asian cities, so why be so unpatriotic as to unfairly criticize our Filipino version of it? Consider, however, that ours was the first LRT in Asean, and so were the first express and tollways. Other major Asean cities, taking our lead, followed suit and went on to expand and modernize their systems, while we appeared content to allow ours to rot.
It is clear from the experience of every progressive city that a main antidote to congestion and the transport chaos it creates is the establishment of a rational, efficient, well-maintained intermodal transport system combining rail lines and conventional transport modes interconnected with “magnet towns” established outside the urban center, to encourage population dispersal. People can thus reside kilometers away from their workplaces and still get to work within a reasonable time.
This is all part of intelligent urban planning, which seems to have escaped us after our initial pioneering successes. Now our transport officials appear content to blame the situation on too many cars (thus the Band-aid coding system), too few roads (thus the endless proposals for more and more unsightly overpasses), and an MRT system prone to breakdown (not their fault, according to the officials’ sickening mantra). They appear to turn a blind eye to their own shortcomings—unbelievable inefficiency in providing driver’s licenses and car plates, seeming cluelessness about intermodal transport systems, gross incompetence in managing and maintaining the LRT/MRT—all adding up to crass abuse of the common tao’s legendary resilience.
Should we all simply adjust our lives to accommodate their ineptitude?
Some ready solutions exist, but these languish in the throes of open-ended indecision. Among them:
MRT 7, a prime example of a combination of the creation of a magnet town in San Jose, Bulacan, the construction of a combined bus terminal and MRT station there, which would significantly decrease the number of provincial buses having to enter the city, and a rail line that connects from there to LRT 1 or MRT 3.
This project has been discussed ad infinitum for 15 years, without final resolution.
The transfer of the main international airport to Clark together with the building of the original correct version of the North Rail, which has been the no-brainer alternative since it was first conceived of in 1996.
Other dilemmas are largely self-inflicted by transport officials, including the current impasse over where the North Edsa MRT/LRT common terminal should be (SM or Trinoma?), and the irrational disruption of the efficient Land Transportation Office computerization system by the unlamented former LTO chief Virginia Torres.
In short, we have transport but no system. The Aquino administration may not have enough time left to fix this mess even via massive doses of daang matuwid on errant officials. One hopes that the succeeding regime will finally launch our urban transport system on a correct path by supplementing daang matuwid with an equal emphasis on much-needed daang matino.
Roberto F. de Ocampo, OBE, is a former finance secretary. He was Finance Minister of the Year in 1995, 1996 and 1997.
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