Daily traffic nightmare on the streets

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

If there is one thing that remains a constant top complaint when it comes to Filipinos other than the heat, typhoons, and corruption, it is the daily traffic situation that plagues our city streets. Things aren’t the way they used to be years and years ago when former First Lady Imelda Marcos was in control of the Metro Manila Commission and held sway over local officials, making them toe the line and keeping traffic at a minimum. But then again, to be fair, there were also far fewer cars and people in the city back then.

Fast forward to today and all you will see are the woes of Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino who is being crucified daily for the horrendous traffic situation in the city. It’s akin to horrible clogged arteries in a human heart, which, in time, if unaddressed will no doubt result in a heart attack.

I don’t envy the head of the MMDA’s position. He has to try to find a way to alleviate the situation before it reaches a boiling point, but quite frankly he does not have full control over all the factors that caused this big mess in the first place. At best, the MMDA can try to implement new traffic rules, road schemes (like odd-even and number coding), and similar initiatives in their attempt to curb the traffic, but as history has already shown us, this is only a temporary solution, if it is even a solution at all.

The main causes of our traffic stem from over population, bad infrastructure, and public transportation. As the population continues to balloon in the country (and most especially in the densely populated Metro Manila), that just adds to the number of people trying to get jobs, buying cars, and being out on the streets. And of course as the number of cars rises, the worse the situation gets.

Unfortunately, cars seem to be the only truly safe way people can truly get around and get to work. Public transportation is no longer what it used to be back in my day. These days, there are so many problems pervading the Philippine public transportation situation. The biggest is the clear lack of it. The MRT and LRT should help alleviate the traffic situation by giving workers a safer and faster alternative to get to the office. However, through bad planning and poor management, the train systems are always breaking down. Add that to not enough train lines and not enough trains and you have commuters waiting for over two hours to be able to board a train to work each and every day. That is over two hours minimum of potential productivity wasted just standing idly in line.

Then there are the troubles that plague public bus systems and taxis. Safety is the key issue here. It seems as if some bus lines and taxi companies run around unregulated and, are many times, the cause of bad traffic – weaving in and out of cars on the road with abandon and taking up two to three lanes loading and unloading passengers. Not to mention that buses have been getting a very bad rap for accidents lately, several of which have been fatal. Their vehicles aren’t always up-to-date causing road accidents and even making passengers fear for their lives. The same can also be said for taxis. Other than non-safe vehicles, there are far too many horror stories of passengers getting kidnapped, robbed, or worse while in a taxicab. These terrible tales have made it very scary for commuters, especially female commuters, to take cabs, especially at night.

It really is a mess out there right now and the country is losing a projected P2.4 billion a day in lost income and productivity resulting in the higher cost of goods and services. You can see it in almost everything. Asking for a quote from professionals now is higher to take into account much longer travel time and time lost. The same goes for goods. It takes that much longer for goods to arrive at their destination resulting in lower supply, higher demand, and higher prices.

I don’t deny that traffic has been a problem in Manila for many years, but I feel it is reaching a breaking point. If something concrete is not done soon, the situation will just explode. Alongside government led infrastructure projects and hopefully a decline or at least stabilization of the population through RH bill initiatives and education, the business community through the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) expressed their desire for the President to appoint Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras to be the country’s “traffic czar” and face the traffic situation head on.

I think this is a great idea and good first step. As I said the MMDA only controls on portion of the problem and for it to get solved, the big picture needs to be addressed. If a traffic czar were to be appointed, this individual would have the power to mobilize all concerned agencies and create real long-term change. The suggestion came last week and if made official, the position would give Almendras the ability to take charge of “all matters related to or affecting traffic and road management, including the implementation of necessary road engineering refinements on all national roads of Metro Manila.”

I think this move is a long overdue one. In response to this recommendation, concerned government agencies said that they were already working on solutions and should be given the chance to implement the necessary actions, however, I believe they have had enough time and should not have waited until now to take action. It’s truly the time to create a specific role just for this that can govern, and when needed, overrule, the existing separate entities.

As for Cabinet secretary Almendras, I have personally met him and knew him when he was the Ayala group. He sponsored and joined several of our Tuesday Club coffee and breakfast club meetings for media practitioners and businessmen at the Edsa Shangri-la and I have to say that I think he could do an excellent job. He is a modest and humble person with an impeccable service record and I think he will be able to apply years of business and work experience to the problem to find a solution that will work for the long run. I’m behind him all the way and hope that this position becomes official very soon. I think we all know how badly we need some relief on the streets.

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