How do you solve a problem like Manila?

COUNTER F LOW - James Deakin - The Philippine Star

So last Monday, the government brought out their big guns and aimed it smack bang on EDSA, deploying no less the the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) and the PNP to man major chokepoints on Metro Manila’s busiest road.

As of this writing, reports are a bit mixed, but to the government’s credit, it tends to lean a little more to the side of it helping the situation. But as it is only the first day, let’s give it some time before evaluating the efforts of the HPG and PNP—although it is safe to say from most of the comments that discipline is definitely more of a factor than volume. But is that enough to solve the problem we call Metro Manila?

Let’s just say it is a step in the right direction.

I will remain positive and hopeful that the PNP and the HPG will show no fear or favor to these bus companies, because if that happens, we are not only back to square one, we go below zero because it will undermine their agencies completely. Because let’s face it, there’s no point deploying them to discipline the private cars while these behemoths continue to get away with murder. But again, let’s give the benefit of the doubt.

If this enforcement proves to be successful, however, the next step is to clear the roadways of any obstructions like illegally parked cars, illegal vendors, roadside businesses that encroach onto the sidewalks, pedicabs, tricycles, impromptu basketball courts, roadside wakes, and enforce traffic rules with full police powers. And I mean FULL police powers. No exceptions.

With discipline and obstructions being managed, it’s now time to work on reduction. Decentralization is still the solution, of course, but if you want a faster way, just impose mandatory license testing for renewals of all driver’s licenses. I’m willing to bet a month’s salary that if done properly, you will remove more drivers off the road than the ridiculous odd-even scheme that is being floated around.

Speaking of which, instead of suggesting that we can only use our cars half the week, you can limit the amount of vehicles by setting a maximum age of 10 years. Anything older can be driven in the provinces but will not be allowed in Metro Manila. Sorry. I know that this will get a lot of flak but it needs to be done because we just have too many cars and motorcycles. Period. Some will scream anti-poor, but the alternative is to regulate the sales of new vehicles, which is anti-progress.

Now the buses. If there’s no political will to remove them from private companies and not have them state run, then create two dedicated bus lanes on the inner most lanes alongside the MRT with elevated platforms. This way, passengers can only alight at the dedicated stops, which will be accessible by pedestrian footbridges. There will be a few points of conflict, like when the Buendia flyover joins EDSA or at the Ortigas flyover, but tunnels can be built so that the buses remain on the inner lanes for the entire stretch of EDSA.

Jeepneys also need to be overhauled and replaced with electric versions that could be brought in or manufactured tax-free under the Alternative Fuels Incentives Act, but while that is happening, have our military strictly enforce their terminals, loading and unloading areas, and general driving discipline. That is assuming any of the drivers survived the license renewal test, of course.

And finally, assuming that the MRT, LRT and PNR are running at full capacity and sidewalks are now being used for pedestrians, it’s time to develop major incentives for ride sharing and car-pooling. Instead of going after GrabCar and Uber, I say we encourage their use over private vehicles by incentivizing their services, like subsidizing fuel, removing licensing and franchising fees, and passing those savings on to the commuter.

If we can make it more cost effective for people to choose a ride sharing option than take their own car in, every Uber or GrabCar can theoretically remove an extra 15-20 cars from the road. Especially when they introduce the car-pooling option on the app that allows you to literally share your shared ride. Now try and imagine any coding system that could compete with that.

The bottom line here is, before building more roads, we need to radically rethink our entire approach to transportation in cities like Metro Manila. Gone are the days where we can take our private cars everywhere and be dropped off at our door. A proper mass transit is a given, of course, but while that is 15-20 years away from happening, let’s start with these measures. Because more than anything, it’s a mindset we need to create.

You see, as passionate as I am about motoring, and as much as there will always be a place for it, in any highly urbanized setting like Metro Manila, we need to start outsourcing or at least economizing our personal transportation requirements, much in the same way as we did when we moved from houses to condos. It is simply taking advantage of a shared economy, which in turn, maximizes not only the costs, but more importantly, space. Which like time, is our most precious commodity left. Too precious to be spent in traffic.












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