FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

When the costs of immobility overpower the costs of mobility, powerful market forces are released to deal with the problem. It is only when these market forces are stymied by politics that problems become intractable.

In the case of Metro Manila’s awesome traffic congestion, estimated to exact an economic toll amounting to over P3 billion daily, the market responded in its myriad ways. Point-to-point bus services mushroomed along with vans ferrying passenger loads along routes inadequately served by buses or jeepneys. TNVS services tried to enter the market even as they had to deal with unclear regulations. Bureaucrats bottled up Angkas for years.

In many areas, there are informal car pools serving employees. These car pools use Viber groups or other apps to pool passengers and coordinate travel times.

Grab has branched out to delivery services that proved more efficient than the traditional messenger services. Pools of motorcycle rides have organized to deliver hot meals for restaurants.

We have not wanted for innovation or imagination. Too often, the problem lies in the delayed formation of policies or the inertia of the bureaucracy.

How long did it take San Miguel to win approval for the connector road that links SLEX with NLEX? And how long did it take MPIC to win approval for their version of the connector road?

Now San Miguel is proposing an expensive all-steel elevated expressway running the length of Edsa. The sheer cost of immobility in the metropolis makes a proposal like this viable as a business proposition. Mobility costs.

The basic deficiency in the Metro Manila area is in governance. In the seventies, the Marcos technocrats had the right idea to have a governor manage the area. They did not have to ride a jeepney to arrive at that idea.

But after the Edsa Uprising, the governorship was scuttled and the metropolis was restored to the ineffectual council of 17 mayors, each protecting their little kingdoms. No major infrastructure was planned nor executed in the 30 years of this unplanned urban jungle because of this flaw in governance.

When Noynoy Aquino was confronted with complaints about the worsening traffic situation, he dismissed it as a sign of progress. Then he proceeded to do nothing. In fact, he made things worse by allowing his incompetent underlings Mar Roxas and Jun Abaya to wreak havoc with the MRT-3.

When, shortly after Duterte assumed the presidency, a proposal for emergency powers to deal with the worsening traffic situation was made, Sen. Grace Poe blocked the idea over some unfounded fear that this could abet corruption.  

Such is the benign neglect that brought us to the exasperating situation we find ourselves in.


Rising public discontent over the traffic chaos we now endure is too tempting for the opportunist leftist groups to ignore.

Last week, in pursuit of their agitprop, they challenged Sal Panelo to take public transport to work. Thinking that riding the jeepney will bring enlightenment is so characteristic of the residual Maoism that infects the leftist agitators. Recall that the Maoists in China sent intellectuals and technocrats like Deng Xiaoping to the countryside to care for pig stys so that they may find “enlightenment.”

Panelo found the challenge silly but accepted it nevertheless mainly as an opportunity to humor the leftists. The same challenge was thrown Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara, but he was in no mood for silliness. He responded by saying accepting the challenge creates no value-added. One does not have to go to the moon to know it is there.

Both officials, however, failed to use this silly challenge to expose the duplicity of the leftist groups. The left, cultivating the support of jeepney drivers, bear much blame for the problems with mass transport we now endure.

When I was young and stupid, I joined a protest action organized by the Communist Party at Rizal Avenue to protest plans to build the LRT-1. In the depths of martial rule, we bravely unfurled a banner the width of the planned rail line to demonstrate how this project will constrict traffic flow. That was a piece of disinformation. The commuter rail was elevated, it turned out.

When MRT-3 was opened, leftist groups protested the high fares the utility charged. Then President Estrada decided unwisely to force down the fares. As a result, the rail service did not earn enough (even if it was overloaded) to meet necessary maintenance expenses. That was the beginning of the problems burdening this rail line.

Lately, after government finally found the political will to enforce the jeepney modernization program, the leftist groups allied with militant drivers’ groups mounted a strike. That strike was most cynical.

Every technical measurement shows that the jeepney is most inefficient in fuel consumption and in use of finite road space.  But the militant jeepney drivers’ groups are a loyal constituency of the communists. The communists cater to their every whim and their harmful tactics.

Now the communists are trying to politicize commuter woes to turn them against government. They have embarked on this effort to win over the large constituency of commuters by, of all things, challenging public officials to take jeepney rides.

If the communists truly wanted to solve traffic congestion, they should demand that the entire Metro Manila be put under an elected governor. That governor will have the clout to devise comprehensive and integrated infrastructure solutions to mobility in this tangled city, including linking up river transport with the main mass transit routes.

Providing the right governance structure, not riding the ancient jeepney, will bring answers.


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