Our traffic nightmare
So remarkable is the similarity between MMDA interim chair Thomas “Tim” Orbos and his brothers former executive secretary Oscar and Inquirer columnist Father Jerry, that one expects the gravelly tones adopted by the older siblings to issue forth from his mouth.
But what one gets instead is a more casual, accessible persona. This despite the onerous burden recently reposed on his shoulders. Today, he is chair of the body charged with coordinating activities and imposing discipline among the 17 towns and cities that comprise the metropolis, and its population of 12 million (that blows up to 14 million during working hours) undisciplined, opinionated citizens.
At yesterday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel,” as the session between MMDA officials and media personalities wound down, the challenges and complications faced in trying to ease the megalopolis’ traffic problems seemed so many and nearly insurmountable. And we were talking of just one aspect of the MMDA’s mandate—traffic. Throw in other problems like solid waste management, disaster mitigation, illegal settlers and civic discipline, and perhaps one could forgive Orbos if even now he is already thinking of throwing up his hands in defeat.
But in the face of the barrage of problems, he sounds an optimistic note, insisting that there are ready solutions for Metro Manila’s many problems. Besides, he says, “I am always ready to step down anytime,” in reply to a question if he is ready to relinquish his post once the one-year moratorium on the appointment of defeated candidates in this year’s election lapses. As it is, he adds, he feels that “three months is already a long time.”
The problem of traffic in our urban core, says Orbos, is “so complex, compounded and real,” as if his audience still needed convincing. And the solution, he proclaims, lies not just with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the IACT or Inter-Agency Council on Traffic, or the national and local governments alone. Instead, “the solution lies with all of us.”
There is simply a huge disparity between the number of vehicles plying our roads and the amount of road space available, said Orbos, who faced the media along with two deputies: IACT deputy chief traffic enforcer, retired Air Force general Manny Gonzales; and director for traffic operations Neomie Recio.
While the road network in Metro Manila covers only 5,000 kilometers of the country’s total network of 200,000 km, said Recio, about 2.5 million vehicles, or 27.5 percent of the total in the country, are found in the metropolis.
So congested are our roads, she added, that Edsa, the metropolis’ major thoroughfare and locus of much of the complaints about traffic, is already “140 percent congested.” No wonder, at peak times of the day, Edsa can seem like a huge parking lot.
Traffic management in Metro Manila, clarifies Orbos, is under the effective control of the Department of Transportation, headed by Secretary Arthur Tugade. Overall management is in the hands of the IACT, of which the MMDA is a part, along with all the local governments in the metropolis and the relevant government agencies.
This is because, while traffic can seem like a local problem, because of Metro Manila’s central role in the country’s economic and political life, its troubles have an impact throughout our islands, necessitating a national solution. Indeed, according to MMDA statistics, up to P2.4 billion is lost each day in missed opportunities, wasted time and low productivity due to traffic. This is lost income that impacts the entire country and not just Metro Manilans stewing in traffic jams.
So we should indeed be grateful that Tim Orbos chooses to stay for now at the helm of the MMDA, doing his share in solving the problems that bedevil the capital and its ornery residents. And even as we carp and complain about life in this messy megalopolis, let’s not forget, as Orbos exhorts, that we are part of the solution towards the better life that we all dream of. That includes, it goes without saying, plying everyday streets free from traffic. Or is that an impossible dream?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.