Traffic gridlocks need drastic solutions

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

We have to realize that our traffic gridlocks cannot be alleviated unless we are ready to accept drastic solutions. The current number coding is too soft, as we should all know by now. It was reported that it takes an average of 35 minutes and 30 seconds to negotiate 10 kilometers at a speed of just 19 km per hour in Metro Manila on Friday evenings.

The reality is simply, there are too many cars traversing our limited roadways in busy urban districts. Reducing the number of vehicles to more manageable levels involve pain that most of us are not willing to take.

So, things will just continue to get worse and worse. The Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines (CAMPI) announced that they see the potential sale of 500,000 automotive units this year. Such optimism is fueled by expectations of slower inflation and a more robust economic growth trajectory. CAMPI members sold 429,807 units last year. That’s added fuel into the fire!

We can assume most of those half a million new vehicles will be in Metro Manila. Indeed, even the toll expressways are getting pretty crowded. Not even making SLEX have 12 lanes, as Ramon Ang announced, will be enough. Actually, if we build more roads, more cars will fill them. That’s a worldwide experience for busy urban centers.

What to do? What we have is not just a transport problem.

We should reduce the population of NCR and develop new growth centers. A short-term policy of Duterte to deny tax incentives for those wanting to build PEZA-certified buildings in Metro Manila should be a permanent policy.

The government should make a very definite policy of shifting population growth out of Metro Manila. If Clark will be the new growth center, why is the Senate and the Supreme Court building their new headquarters at congested BGC? Set the example!

Our property developers should also build more mixed use developments where people can live, work, and get entertainment in the same area, reducing the need for private vehicles.

The North South Commuter Rail system should help because it will allow workers to live in adjacent provinces and work in Metro Manila. It should remove some of the cars being used by the more well-off commuters that aggravate our traffic situation.

But a recent article at the New York Times made me wonder if mass public transport, by itself, is the ultimate panacea. New York has a pretty good bus and subway system. Yet, there is an ongoing debate on the plan to impose “congestion pricing” on vehicles entering New York City.  Most New Yorkers don’t even own cars. And those who do must pay outrageous parking rates.

Apparently, the traffic situation is still bad enough for them to consider a “congestion charge.” A congestion charge is not a new concept. Singapore and London have successfully implemented that. London had no choice because by the 1990s, the average speed of trips across London was below that at the beginning of the 20th century – before the car was introduced.

The concept is simple: by driving into a congested area, you are harming the other people who have to deal with that congestion and you should be charged for your negative externality. It’s hard to argue with that, the NYT explains.

“A city’s streets, parking spaces and sidewalks are the municipal government’s most important assets, and it makes perfect sense to charge for them, both to make sure that they are used by the people who value them most highly and to raise money to cover the cost of their construction and upkeep…

“Motorists all want free roads and free parking, but they’re never really free. The choice is between paying for them directly and paying for them indirectly. Paying for them directly is the best way to reduce congestion. If you oppose that, you’re saying you support congestion and parking problems.”

New York is putting congestion charge revenue into public transit and “lower-income workers will benefit from improvements to public transportation, especially the subway, which they use extensively. On average, richer people drive into Manhattan more than poorer people do…”

An expert told NYT that he sees congestion pricing as the wave of the future. “Prices ration supply and prevent shortages. We pay more for hotels and airline seats when demand is higher. Why not roads?”

Vehicle demand management – policies and strategies that seek to limit vehicle ownership and usage – ocuses on restricting car use, and to a lesser extent, on making car ownership more expensive. Shenzhen adopted a vehicle quota system in 2014 that limits new cars sold in the city.

Shanghai, a vast metropolis, managed congestion by auctioning a limited number of license plates for vehicles allowed in the city. It slowed down vehicle growth to half the level of Beijing and raised revenues for mass transit expansion.

On the other hand, Beijing adopted “proof-of-parking,” a policy that requires residents to obtain parking certificates before purchasing a car. The high costs of verification and the lack of enforcement meant fake certificates were easy to come by in China. The policy was eventually abandoned. Yet, there is a proposal in our Congress for this.

In our case, the congestion charge can be collected by the toll road operators on vehicles that exit in CBDs. A toll collection system can also be installed for vehicles entering EDSA, C5, and Commonwealth Avenue. Proceeds can be used to upgrade public transport.

Implementing Singapore’s Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system that imposes a market-based charge on anyone buying a car is also needed. Without COE, affluent Singaporeans, and there are plenty of them, would have bought enough cars to keep traffic at a standstill in a city state the size of MegaManila (NCR and adjoining provinces). Implementing something like Singapore’s COE system will immediately bring down the sale of new vehicles and give time to allow other solutions to take root.

Reducing car ownership and usage had been going on worldwide since the ‘80s. That’s because tough painful measures are needed. Or we can stop complaining about our daily carmageddons.


Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on X or Twitter @boochanco

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