Metro Manila traffic is tying up the economy so badly that our productivity has gone to the dogs. Duterte himself has given up and last month he said “Let EDSA rot”.
Just do it!
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Last Friday, it took me close to two hours to travel from the Tiendesitas area in Ortigas to Rockwell in Makati. I started my journey at about 7 am and got to Rockwell close to 9 am. Waze said it would take me an hour, and Waze was dead wrong.

Now I know I should allot more than two hours to get to Makati during the morning rush hour. Forget C5. It is a parking lot starting at 6 am, even earlier.

Metro Manila traffic is tying up the economy so badly that our productivity has gone to the dogs. Duterte himself has given up and last month he said “Let EDSA rot”.

The thing is… there are things that could be done to at least alleviate the problem. Studies upon studies are gathering dust in the filing cabinets of DOTr, LTFRB, and other government agencies.

When I wrote about EDSA traffic a few weeks ago, my column got a comment on Facebook from Len Bautista Horn, a close aide of former president Gloria Arroyo. She once headed LTFRB, but was kicked upstairs with a promotion when she was about to implement findings of a study that calls for rationalizing the bus franchise system on EDSA.

Ms. Horn’s comment: “2004 pa natin gustong bawasan ang buses sa EDSA… With more than 500,000 passengers taking the MRT, bus franchises along EDSA should have been reviewed and reduced based on age of buses. Instead more buses and more franchises were granted. The bus terminals along EDSA should also be prohibited. 2003 pa lang alam na ng bus operators yan. Its been 16 years.”

Transportation expert Rene Santiago, a colleague of mine at the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), confirms the comment of Ms. Horn. Santiago headed the study group that came out with the EDSA Bus Route Revalidation Survey submitted to government in January 2006. I cited this study a few weeks ago and will now repeat important findings that should not surprise anyone:

 “As to the sufficiency of service, it can be concluded that there is an excess of buses on the 30 operational routes. The survey data showed load factors well below capacity, except for some short sections during AM peak hours. On a typical weekday, load factor averaged 51.3 percent; slightly lower at 47.5 percent on a weekend.

“For selected sections of the network, the load factors were also well below desirable thresholds – even during peak hours. In urban commuting, the peak-hour capacity is far more critical than daily bus capacity.

“One section of EDSA – between Congressional Avenue and Balintawak – stood out from the rest because of the apparent overcrowding during rush hours. One observation posted occupancy of 115 percent, southbound, from 7 to 8 AM...” Santiago’s report indicated that better dispatching is called for.

The operators and bus drivers must be suffering too. The Santiago report noted: “Against a normative goal of 220 kilometers per day, per bus, the average EDSA bus managed to rack up only 163 kilometers on a frequency of four trips a day. The average journey time from start-to-end of the route is two hours and six minutes, compared to the 1996 level of 79 minutes.”

The study was submitted in 2006. Average journey time must be at least double by now.

 The report continues: “Nearly a million passengers daily are carried on approximately 8,400 bus-trips on a weekday, when 6,200 trips would suffice. On weekends, the volume dips by about 20 percent to 760,000 passengers, but bus-trips decrease only by 3.4 percent.

“Part of the oversupply may be due to unauthorized operators and/or intrusion of buses assigned to other routes. More than 5,000 buses were counted in 12 LPS stations, against the official list of 3,414 units. Instead of less than 100 bus companies, the survey showed 170…

“The oversupply is about 50 percent. Against an authorized level of 3,414 buses, a reduction of 1,700 units would only cut down service headways from one bus per 11.2 seconds to one bus per 22.5 seconds…

“Thus, the perverse phenomena of bus travel speed being slower on average during off-peak hours than peak, as drivers linger on loading points to compete with each other in enticing the few riders.”

What can the government do?

The 2006 survey results suggested the following:

Simplify the route structure and descriptions. From 35, the EDSA bus routes can be condensed to 16 (on a minimalist approach) or to eight (reformist approach). The latter contemplates a special EDSA Beltway route from Baclaran to Monumento (hence referred to as ‘E-Belt’), among others. The combined fleet requirement of such a restructured set of eight routes is 1,840 units – with 500 units dedicated to the ‘E-Belt’… 

“A freeze in the issuance of franchises is imperative, as well as offering incentives to transfer units to non-EDSA routes. The weeding out of illegal bus operations first, may offer some consolation to legitimate operators. Phase-out of dilapidated units would also be salutary.”

But Santiago warns, “In transportation, short and medium term actions will be losing battles, if not palliatives, unless guided by a long term vision and strategy.”

In a recent television interview, Santiago called for a network of buses to be dispatched centrally via a system similar to what Uber and Grab employs. That will put order and predictability for bus riders and encourage car owners to leave their cars at home.

I heard DOTr Sec Art Tugade has finally decided to talk to Santiago and that’s a good start. But whether he has the balls to implement Santiago’s recommendations is a question mark.

Fixing EDSA traffic will be a test of the Duterte administration’s ability to ward off vested interests to protect the common good.

In sum, government does not lack sensible options to ease traffic flow. What it lacks is the backbone to, as Nike admonishes, Just Do It!

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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