Easing EDSA traffic

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2018 - 12:00am

If we go by logic, restricting single-occupancy vehicles on EDSA, Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare that passes through six out of 17 of the metropolis’ local government units, during the peak hours of 7 to 10 in the morning and 6 to 9 in the evening has its merits.

The Metro Manila Development Authority’s collated statistics reveal that over 70 percent of vehicles plying EDSA have only one occupant, meaning the driver, and while it is not clear if this happens only during peak hours, encouraging ride-sharing could speed up flow on the 23.8 kilometer stretch.

MMDA started the test run last Aug. 15 for a full week without calling for penalties, and had announced that it would go for a full implementation starting Aug. 23 when vehicles caught with just a single occupant would be fined P1,000.

Unfortunately, a call made by several senators to discontinue the implementation of MMDA’s high occupancy vehicle (HOV) plan on EDSA prompted the agency to instead continue with the test run until Metro Manila Commission (MMC) meets, hopefully, later this month.

The MMC is composed of all the 17 local chief executives of the National Capital Region, and a consensus from the body would possibly enable the MMDA to move forward with full implementation of the HOV scheme.

Smooth running

During the week long test run, traffic on EDSA during peak hours was undeniably lighter and running smoothly, especially as more people became aware of the scheme.

Understandably, motorists who had to or used to take alternative roads instead of EDSA during peak hours were shocked at how the HOV scheme quickly clogged the back and side roads of Metro Manila, hence the feeling that the single-occupancy vehicle ban wasn’t worth any value.

Still, as more vehicle owners become more accustomed to the HOV scheme, traffic flow on EDSA could become bearable to those that have more than one occupant during peak hours.

This should result in substantial savings for the commuting public in terms of time spent on the road and fuel saved. Metro Manila’s traffic problem is already costing the nation P3.5 billion a day, according to a study made by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Temporary measures

The HOV scheme should be considered as a temporary measure, especially with more infrastructure projects coming up the next few months in Metro Manila. Hopefully, we will see some easing up in travel woes when the projects are completed.

In the meantime, technology is increasingly playing an important role for vehicle owners, and it would be beneficial to take advantage of these.

Waze, for example, has been able to show that there are roads in the metro that can be used during peak hours to shorten travel time, even if travel takes one or two kilometers longer. Wazers, a voluntary commuter community that flags down real time road conditions, should be commended for their zealousness.

Waze is not perfect, but it is still one of the best road-use tools available now. It would be nice if it could also recognize if a vehicle that is passing through EDSA during peak hours has one or more occupants, and therefore give an advice about the HOV scheme, especially if this is already going to be fully implemented.

Everyone’s cooperation needed

The success of the HOV scheme at this stage will need everyone’s cooperation, especially since majority of vehicles currently on the road are heavily tinted, making it difficult for law enforcers and road cameras to decipher if a vehicle has one or more occupants.

The MMDA is powerless for now about heavy tints, and is forced to simply warn vehicle owners that this could be a basis for the Land Transportation Office to refuse registration. Another measure that the MMDA is studying is to install thermal sensors on EDSA to detect the number of occupants in a vehicle.

We all know that both are measures that will take time to implement, and as more people become aware of the weaknesses in the HOV scheme, the less chances of success.

Ride-sharing pools

We should learn a thing or two about the withdrawal of Uber in some major cities outside of the Philippines. In Austin, Texas, for example, where Uber withdrew in 2016 after refusing to comply with stricter city regulations, people are learning to cope with new ride-sharing initiatives.

Smaller ride-share startups have tried to fill in the void that Uber left in Austin, although not completely successful. Wingz, for instance, offers pre-scheduled airport rides that has somehow fitted into the psyche of Austin citizens.

Arcade City, another startup, uses Facebook as a base. It has encouraged small pools of “regulars” composed of drivers and passengers who eventually get to know more about each other, and comfortably rely for their trips, which they pay in the form of “agreed donations.”

Arcade City is now known in Austin as a “black market for ride sharing,” but the local government has not found any regulatory basis to sanction or ban it.

A more structured startup is RideAustin, which has come up with a setup similar to Uber’s, but professes to be nonprofit. This offers rides at lower rates, but higher salaries for drivers.

In the Philippines, after Uber was merged with Singapore-based Grab, many commuters have complained of difficulties booking a ride-share because of fewer available vehicles on Grab’s system. Austin’s experience could very well be worth looking at.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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