Whose problem is traffic?

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete - The Freeman

This question requires certain qualifications --mainly on what we really mean by it. In the English language, it is used as a noun --“vehicles moving on a road,” but both the Filipino and Cebuano usage often implies an adjective --a certain condition of traffic, more often on the negative side, like “heavy traffic.” When the road is congested, we simply describe it as “traffic,” meaning traffic is heavy but we drop the “heavy”. By itself, traffic is not a problem, like when it is light. It’s only when it gets congested that it becomes a city dweller's worst nightmare. So how do we deal with it?

A lot of people will disagree, especially those who own or drive cars, but if we get technical about it, then we have to recognize that the number one cause of traffic is private cars. Every car owner will howl upon hearing this, but it won’t change the fact that the major cause of traffic is private cars. I have often used this illustration and will always use it again but let’s say there’s a threat in Talamban which requires us to evacuate all residents to Bulacao in half a day, what do we do? Allow car owners to cause traffic in the Ban-Tal corridor causing a massive traffic jam and making us fail, or use all buses in the city to transport everybody efficiently? Whether we look at it through geometry or physics, nobody can argue, buses are the most efficient carriers of people.

So, whose responsibility is traffic management then? Let’s look particularly in Cebu City. In the early 1990’s we established CITOM, which, some may remember, stands for City Traffic Operations and Management. But as the city grew and came to know better, we realized traffic is not the real problem, transportation is. This led to the creation of a separate office called the Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO). This is a full department whereas CITOM was just attached to the Mayor’s Office. And CCTO covers not just traffic management but the entire transportation sector in and of the city. Actually, not just transportation but the entire mobility sector. As an afterthought, it would have been better if it was named Cebu City Mobility Office. It still can be renamed as such if some councilors will take the cudgels for it.

Today, people are grumbling everytime they pass by Osmeña Blvd. because of the on-going Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane construction causing traffic to become more acute. Many look forward to its completion expecting the situation to get better. Unfortunately, it won’t since the BRT is not a traffic solution. The BRT provides mobility, hopefully for the greater number of our population, but it won’t decrease congestion, which are caused mainly by private cars. Only when the entire service from Talamban to Bulacao is offered will we see noticeable improvement…assuming some car-owners will shift to public transportation, of course. If none would, our traffic situation will remain.

But by that time then, the greater majority would have fast, efficient, timely, comfortable, and economical public transportation across the city. Which was the goal in the first place, not solving “traffic”.

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