What do we do about Metro Manila’s headache?

- The Philippine Star

There is no doubt Metro Manila’s perennial traffic problem can only get worse each day considering that more people plus more cars equals more air pollution, with less roads and less long-term solutions. But a major problem is caused by the general public: Zero discipline and zero cooperation.  So in the end it’s not fair for people to keep throwing the blame at Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino who, in fairness, is trying to come up with all kinds of short-term schemes and solutions to decongest the streets. Just two weeks ago, he suggested allowing traffic counter-flows along EDSA and C5 during rush hours depending on which side has a heavier volume of vehicles. Many thumbed this down because it could worsen gridlocks, aside from the fact that it would only encourage the already boorish behavior of many motorists who think nothing about creating their own counter-flow lanes when they get impatient and want to put one over other drivers.

Over the years, there have been a lot of “experiments” like the bus segregation scheme, fenced-in designated pick up and drop off points, elevated U-turns, flyovers, the odd-even scheme and all kinds of proposals to ease the flow of traffic. But so far, the situation continues to be horrific. And as long as the jams and gridlocks continue, there will always be somebody who will complain whenever a new proposal is presented — like the latest suggestion from Tolentino to implement a two-day ban on private vehicles along EDSA.

 The MMDA received a deluge of protests in social media and cyberspace from private car owners angrily complaining that they should not be penalized for the government’s inability to solve the traffic problem. Even the suggestion to implement four working days a week was not positively received by many — especially by small-scale businessmen complaining that it would mean additional losses.

Obviously, discipline on the road is sorely lacking not only among public utility and bus drivers but even among shuttle and private vehicle drivers who snake in and out of lanes, stopping whenever and wherever they please, parking just about anywhere — making Metro Manila a completely undisciplined chaotic mess!

Let’s face it — unless we all cooperate and come up with a short term practical solution — we will never get rid of this headache called traffic and it may never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. We can try to implement short-term, quick fix solutions like color coding, yellow lanes, pink fences, blue motorcycle lanes — but the reality is that in the long run, these will lose steam and traffic will be back with a vengeance.

As we have previously written before and a lot of people have echoed the same thing: We really need an efficient mass transport system — and this falls squarely on the lap of the Transportation Department. The fact is, only strong political will can get rid of the dilapidated, smoke belching, lung cancer causing jeepneys and buses whose psycho drivers cause perennial fatal road accidents.

One viable proposal that can be considered is to launch a bus rapid transit (BRT) program like what businessman Francis Yuseco and Philtrak have been proposing.  BRT involves the construction of elevated stations where reconfigured buses that can accommodate 180 passengers per trip will be systematically deployed 24/7. The proposed bus routes will cover several loops from EDSA to the Mall of Asia and junctions in Taft and Macapagal Avenues, with the travel time estimated at 10 minutes per route. 

According to MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino, the number of vehicles in Metro Manila alone is close to 2.3 million — but it’s not farfetched that the number could be even higher if we factor in colorum vehicles. Which reminds me — didn’t new LTFRB chairman Winston Ginez promise that he would get rid of these colorums in and out of Metro Manila? According to reports, there are more than one million colorum units all over the country, with a big bulk of them in Metro Manila.

If I remember correctly, there was even a proposal by Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya to increase the fine for colorum vehicles to P1 million because obviously, the current P10,000 penalty for violating franchise laws is not enough of a deterrent to these unscrupulous owners/operators. There was also a suggestion from MMDA for bus companies to merge in order to streamline their operations. What has happened since then?

But no question about it, the only way forward is to develop an intelligent and efficient mass rapid transit system in order to lessen the number of vehicles on the streets, because it will encourage people to leave their cars and take public transport for lengthy distances.

With the new technological age and considering the Filipino’s genius at innovation, why can’t we come up with ideas using high tech stuff? For instance, Singapore employs an “Electronic Road Pricing” system where road users are charged based on distance and time, with higher rates imposed for those who travel to certain routes during peak hours. Drivers don’t have to stop and pay manually at tollgates because everything is high tech. Gantries (bridge-like overhead structures) fitted with cameras and placed on freeway ramps serve as wireless sensors that interface with a device called “In-vehicle Unit” (much like the e-pass) containing a stored-value card from where the road/toll charges will be automatically collected.

But unless and until we all cooperate and have discipline in our streets and in the long run ultimately develop an effective mass transport system – this Metro Manila headache will never go away. As a matter of fact, it’s already a giant migraine!

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