The traffic situation is tightly related to the various issues of public transportation. 
The STAR/Joven Cagande
Commentary: Finding solutions for Philippines' traffic crisis
Edwin Santiago ( - September 28, 2019 - 2:27pm

Media and public relations practitioners refer to the life of a news story as a news cycle. Over the years, the so-called news cycle has been changing—of course, depending on the topic—with the presence of social media. Typically, a news story would last for about 24 hours.

There are two topics that I can think of with very strong staying power in the media—the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) and the discussions on public transportation coupled with the EDSA traffic.

Around mid-August of this year, the GCTA issue surfaced over the possibility of former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez—who was convicted in 1995 of seven terms of reclusion perpetua—of being released under Republic Act No. 10592, the law allowing convicts an early release based on good conduct time allowance.

Because of the public outrage over the Sanchez case and subsequently other high-profile cases, including the allegations of corruption in what has become known as the “GCTA for sale” scheme, the story has lingered in the news, perhaps, partly sustained by the Senate investigation.

Another story that has stayed in the news is the traffic mess, particularly in EDSA and in the entire Metro Manila, in general. The traffic situation is tightly related to the various issues of public transportation. 

While there is also a Senate hearing that touches on these—in relation to the emergency powers that the president has been asking for the last three years—that keeps these issues landing on precious media spaces, the many proposals to end the Metro Manila traffic make the subject at the forefront of national and metro news. 

But I suspect that one of the reasons these topics have mass appeal is the fact that these are matters that people of Metro Manila face every day. This problem is real—too real for many.

Everybody who travels to someplace for school, work, and other activities are affected, whether you drive, take public transportation, or even walk. Those who drive curse what has become a permanent sight of traffic, all pointing to other drivers for their lack of discipline on the road. 

The blame mostly falls on drivers of public utility vehicles and motorcycles. In the end, it has become a finger-pointing game between public and private transportation drivers.

So-called experts have been racking their brains trying to come up with out-of-the-box proposals. Some of these recommendations are dismissed outright for being impracticable and downright lunatic. 

There are also run-of-the-mill proposals that do not indicate deep thought. Recently, there was a proposal to make the entire EDSA go in one direction. This was shot down as something that will make traffic in the metropolis even worse. 

There are also proposals that, in my mind, are common-sensical. As such, to even suggest something that is already in the pipeline of solutions may just be adding noise to the already deafening discourse on the issue, such as strictly implementing discipline among drivers, commuters, and pedestrians.

Too many vehicles and limited road spaces are observations that, while acknowledged as true and important, pose numerous obstacles in counteracting. Suggestions to limit the acquisition of vehicles by raising taxes may lead to pro-rich policies. 

Even proposals to widen the coverage of the existing unified vehicular volume reduction program—such as allowing the use of a vehicle to only once a week—may lead to the purchase of more vehicles by those who can afford to.

On the other side of the equation, proposals to build more infrastructure, such as roads and rail transport systems, can only be considered good from the standpoint of solving the congestion in Metro Manila. 

Former Senator JV Ejercito’s suggestions to relieve Metro Manila’s traffic are well taken. These include doing fast-track work on the NLEX-SLEX connector, MRT-3 rehabilitation, MRT-7, MRT-2 extension to Rizal, the Malolos-Calamba commuter train line, and the development of the Clark International Airport new terminal building. He also mentioned about prioritizing LRT-1 extension to Cavite, Philippine National Railways (PNR) North and South and the Manila Subway, and making use of the present PNR tracks with new train sets. 

At the policy level, he suggests car-pooling during rush hour, continuing with the jeepney modernization, re-rationalizing franchises of all public utility vehicles, and even the relocation of government agencies to Clark.

But there are other things to consider, such as the financing of these infrastructures. While it is relatively easier to borrow money, we also need to worry about repaying those loans. Certainly, we do not want the economy saddled with debt servicing in the future.

Still, there are proposals that, theoretically, make a lot of sense, but are difficult to implement in one go. A clear example of this is to decongest Metro Manila by developing the countryside. This model is ubiquitous in the development economics literature but takes a strong political will to be implemented, and more than anything else, time, for the benefits to become apparent.

One proposal that is gaining traction (no pun intended) because of the benefits it promises is the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). This system is being used in some 136 cities in about 39 countries, including the US, UK, Canada, China, Indonesia, among others. 

What makes the BRT system attractive as a solution to our transportation and traffic woes is that it can be implemented in a shorter period and is relatively less expensive compared to a railway system, but with the potential of maintaining its benefits in terms of passenger capacity, scheduled trips, etc. It works by having dedicated lanes for the busways that are aligned to the center of the road and other features similar to a metro system. 

In the final analysis, what should be obvious to all is that transportation and traffic problems are not going to be solved overnight, figuratively speaking. But, at the literal level, perhaps, it would take at least one year for us to feel any improvements that is if we keep on working on the solutions that are already on the way.

It is not just about too many vehicles on the road either. What should also be clear to all is that there is no one solution that will miraculously address the problems that have taken years to build up. If only we paid attention to these things a lot earlier, then, maybe, these problems would have been more manageable. 

And while we are at it, maybe it is not only the discipline of the drivers that needs attention. Perhaps, there is a serious problem with knowledge of the rules. You cannot follow a rule that you do not know. 

In our system, even those who got their driver’s license through fraudulent means are perpetually qualified to renew their license. How about re-testing every renewal or something like that?

Edwin Santiago is a fellow and member of the editorial board of think tank Stratbase ADR Institute. 

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