A more realistic scenario, according to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which also has traffic personnel deployed along EDSA, is a rush hour travel time of 30 minutes. That’s already a drastic cut from what the HPG says is the average rush-hour drive of an hour and a half between those two points.
STAR/Boy Santos
The 5-minute challenge
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2019 - 12:00am

Just to test if it was possible, a team from the Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group (HPG) drove along EDSA during the light traffic hour of 2 a.m. on a recent weekday from P. Tuazon street in Quezon City to Guadalupe in Makati at a moderate speed of about 60 kilometers per hour.

Without traffic, and with no need to shoo away other motorists, the police convoy made it in 4 minutes 58 seconds, according to HPG Lt. Col. Darwin Clark Paz.

In another test run on a Friday before noon – a low-traffic hour – this time northbound on EDSA between the same points, or a distance of about five to six kilometers, the HPG officials said their convoy clocked in at around five minutes.

So yes, Juan and Juana, the five-minute drive is possible. In 2 a.m. traffic (or lack of), I could in fact probably do it in less than three minutes, in my preferred driving speed of 100 to 120 kph.

And yes, President Duterte’s promise to reduce driving time along EDSA from Cubao to Makati by an incredible five minutes in six months – right smack at the height of the Christmas rush – might turn out to be doable.

At least this is the promise of the HPG guy in charge of EDSA, police Lt. Col. Emmanuel Tabuena, who faced “The Chiefs” last week on Cignal TV’s One News together with Paz. Depending on the outcome of Tabuena’s labors, he either becomes the new HPG chief, or he gets banished to Tawi-Tawi.

*      *      *

A more realistic scenario, according to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which also has traffic personnel deployed along EDSA, is a rush hour travel time of 30 minutes. That’s already a drastic cut from what the HPG says is the average rush-hour drive of an hour and a half between those two points.

Elvira Medina, president of the National Center for Commuters’ Safety and Protection, told us that when she was an assistant secretary in the Department of Transportation and the DOTr had fielded augmentation buses during a transport emergency, the buses made it to Ayala from North EDSA in Quezon City in just 20 minutes.

The HPG officers said 30 minutes was the driving time when the DOTr recently conducted another test during the morning rush hour on a weekday from Kamuning, Quezon City to Chino Roces Avenue near the Magallanes interchange in Makati. For the experiment, nearly the entire inter-agency Metro Manila traffic management contingent was deployed along what Tabuena at one point called “Highway 54” – the old name of EDSA.

You could deploy thousands of traffic enforcers throughout EDSA without seeing any improvement in traffic flow. What exactly did the 100 HPG, 65 Coast Guard traffic augmentation forces and 93 MMDA personnel do?

Well, basically enforce the rules to keep traffic flowing.

*      *      *

For one, they did not allow buses and other public utility vehicles (PUVs) to linger too long at stops to wait for passengers. For another, violators of lane assignments and other rules were apprehended – and when other motorists saw this, compliance dramatically improved.

Traffic flow can in fact vastly improve if there is discipline on the part of drivers and commuters alike and enforcers do their job. Medina said this was the case when they deployed those augmentation buses.

As in all laws, failure of enforcement breeds impunity. Colonel Paz says they want to institutionalize compliance with traffic rules.

How do they achieve this? “We will establish a culture where there is a certainty of apprehension in case of a violation,” Paz told The Chiefs.

No-contact apprehension, meant to improve enforcement and foil kotong cops, is now in place throughout much of EDSA, the HPG reminds the public.

The no-contact apprehension system is good, although in some areas outside EDSA, it has become more of a money-making senseless scheme that in fact promotes traffic buildup. This is the situation at various points along the Sucat Road-Ninoy Aquino Road in Parañaque.

No-contact apprehension is in effect for the EDSA yellow lanes, but the scheme needs tweaking. Buses can be limited to the yellow lanes, but these must not be exclusive for their use, because it means depriving other motorists of precious road space in an already woefully inadequate road network.

Just look at EDSA during non-rush hour, when the yellow lane rule is in effect (it’s lifted during rush hour), and you will regret the waste of road space dedicated to buses while traffic moves slowly along what’s left of the avenue for all other vehicles.

*      *      *

The idea is to keep traffic moving, preventing or minimizing anything that would impede the flow – whether these are buses stopping at every corner to pick up passengers, or stalled vehicles that take half a day to be towed.

This basic idea of keeping traffic moving is lost on traffic enforcers in Las Piñas, for example, who periodically treat the Alabang-Zapote Road like a one-way street where vehicles going in opposite directions must alternate in road use, as if there are perpetual road diggings going on. Vehicles going in one direction are stopped to give way to those on the opposite lane, even if the road is wide enough for simultaneous use in both directions. Every stop can last about five minutes, so it can take half an hour to negotiate just one kilometer of a wide, perfectly good road.

If you have that kind of traffic management on EDSA, the five-minute challenge must be amended to five hours.

Despite the optimism of the traffic managers, there are people who think the five-minute challenge is just another one of Duterte’s “OPMs” or oh promise me – in the same league as ending the drug menace in six months.

Ariel Inton, president of the Lawyers for Commuters’ Safety and Protection, says the basic problem remains: a road network that cannot keep pace with the growth in population and vehicle volume. One sector must make sacrifices, he said: private vehicles or PUVs. Which will it be?

Inton, a former member of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, told us that unless the basic problem is addressed, five minutes from Cubao to Ayala Avenue would remain “a long shot.”

Tabuena prefers to be sanguine, promising to meet the five-minute challenge by this December. “Gagawin natin ang magagawa natin” – they will do whatever they can, he said.

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