BETTER LATE than never. This best describes the government’s massive mass transit projects, worth P940 billion, being planned or under implementation in Metro Manila as part of efforts to ease congestion beyond the term of President Aquino.
Identified during last week’s Philippine Economic Briefing were nine new railway lines mainly in the metropolis: among them the extension of the existing Light Rail Transit (LRT)-1 to Cavite; the LRT-6 to Dasmariñas in Cavite; the Metro Rail Transit (MRT)- 7 that will traverse North Edsa, Commonwealth Avenue, Fairview and San Jose del Monte in Bulacan; the LRT-2 east and west extension; and the LRT-4 to Taytay. Complementing these are the bus rapid transit (BRT) systems to be set up in C-5 and in Manila, the purchase of new trains for MRT-3 and a Manila Bay-Pasig ferry system.
The presentation by the Department of Transportation and Communications showed that the mass transit budget, which also covers three additional terminals and 140 new passenger stations, is envisioned to accommodate an expected increase in mass transport ridership—from the current 1.2 million a day to 2.2 million by 2016.
It is a given that the favorable impact of most of these projects will only be felt beyond the term of President Aquino. This means Metro Manila residents and visitors will continue to be burdened by horrendous traffic for some time yet. Considering how the road congestion has turned from bad to worse, the resulting economic losses, according to Jica (Japan International Cooperation Agency) estimates, already more than the P2.4 billion a day (or P576 billion a year, counting only the weekdays) in 2014, could balloon to P6 billion a day by 2030—if the government fails to do something about the problem.
The costs include lost work hours, missed business opportunities due to delayed deliveries, and wasted fuel. Consider, too, the increased pollution that causes respiratory illnesses that could strike down a lot of workers, which, in turn, means less profits for the companies they work in. And less profits result in lesser economic activity—as there would be no hiring of additional workers, and no salary increases to raise the workers’ purchasing power.
Still, it is hoped that the Aquino administration will exert extra effort to see to it that all these mass transit projects and programs to address the terrible traffic around Metro Manila will be bid out before it steps down in June next year. As Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya pointed out, rail systems are a driver of inclusive socioeconomic growth as these encourage trade and business activity and provide access to employment and educational opportunities.
While at this, all stakeholders affected by the problem should join Sen. Paolo Benigno ‘’Bam” Aquino IV in his call for a review of the current “Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development” for more effective strategies and solutions to address the damaging economic impact of the traffic problem in Metro Manila.
Why it took the present administration too long to act on this really escapes us. Now it has to cram so many projects aimed at easing the traffic problem in the last two minutes of its term. Again, it’s better late than never.
But then, even with the additional roads and mass transit rail lines that will come on stream, if the government will continue to allow the current situation in Metro Manila’s road network to continue, the road congestion will persist.
Roads like Tandang Sora Avenue that feed into main arteries like Commonwealth Avenue are being used as jeepney or tricycle terminals. Busy thoroughfares like Taft Avenue, and their side streets, are crawling with pedicabs; or like Kalentong in Mandaluyong City, where sidewalk vendors occupy entire lanes. On Edsa, buses clog half of the lanes at the busy bus stops on Shaw Boulevard, Ortigas Avenue, Cubao or Guadalupe as they wait for passengers beyond the time allowed by traffic rules. Add to these all the vehicles parked on side streets around the metropolis.
The Aquino administration and its successors will have to exercise strong political will to address as well this particular, glaring lack of road discipline. Otherwise, the P940-billion worth of additional railways, roads and projects lined up to ease traffic in Metro Manila will be for naught.
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