Taming Manila traffic: Hits and misses of 2015

Katerina Francisco
Taming Manila traffic: Hits and misses of 2015
Metro Manila's traffic chaos is spiraling out of control, and authorities are scrambling for ways to ease congestion in the Philippine capital region. Rappler rounds up some of the traffic solutions proposed in 2015.

MANILA, Philippines – If you’ve lived in Metro Manila long enough, you’d be no stranger to hours of traffic jams and entire mornings or afternoons spent on the road. You’ve probably had the train break down on you, or even experienced outracing the cars slowly plodding along the length of EDSA. A smartphone is now part of your daily commute essentials, because how else can you check out Waze or tweet about how horrible traffic is?

The Philippines’ chaotic and maddening traffic problem is costing us dearly – to the tune of P2.4 billion a day – and it’s no small laughing matter.

Solving the metro’s traffic woes has now become a popular campaign promise, with politicians – and almost everybody else – having something to say or propose to free up the city’s roads once and for all. (READ: Proposals to fix metro traffic from Roxas, Duterte, Binay, Poe

We still have a long way to go before the Philippines achieves its grand vision of carless cities, bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly streets, and mass transport options that actually work. 

But until then, the only option is to drum up proposals to ease traffic congestion, try out various strategies, and hope for the best. Rappler rounds up some of the many suggestions proposed over the past year – from the feasible ideas to the ones shot down before they ever took off.

Deploying the Highway Patrol Group

 

If there’s one agency that gets all the flak from motorists, it’s the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA). Its enforcers have been slammed for failing to ease the worsening traffic problem, but government also thinks the problem lies in the fact that motorists themselves don’t fear or respect MMDA enforcers.

To try to solve this, Malacañang stepped in and brought back the old “Kings of EDSA” – the Philippine National Police’s Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG), which used to man the thoroughfare in the early 1990s. The government is banking on the reasoning that motorists would be more likely to follow traffic enforcers who could run after them if they break the rules.

The first week of the HPG’s deployment along EDSA drew mostly positive reactions, with motorists also praising the highway police’s clearing operations in areas like the Balintawak market. 

Their deployment, it seems, may have worked – at least for the short term.

Clearing side streets and secondary roads

CONGESTED. To truly free up EDSA, authorities stressed the need to clear secondary roads of illegally parked vehicles and other obstructions.

But improving EDSA won’t make too much of a difference if secondary roads connected to the highway are as congested. From roads, these side streets have been converted into impromptu basketball courts, sari-sari store extensions, and private parking lots for jeeps and tricycles.

The proposed solution: tow illegally-parked vehicles, clear sidewalk vendors, and allow these streets to function the way taxpayers intended them to be: as public roads.

But despite the MMDA and the HPG’s road clearing operations, many vehicle owners remain stubborn, returning after a day or two to again park on the roads. To be effective, national agencies should cooperate with local officials – some of whom have allowed overnight parking on these roads.

Odd-even scheme

NEW SCHEME. The proposed odd-even scheme will take vehicles off the road for around two weeks every month, but the proposal has earned criticism.

After the number coding scheme comes another proposal that’s a little more radical. Instead of just banning cars on the road for one day a week, President Benigno Aquino III proposed an odd-even scheme that adds 6 more days: cars with odd and even plate numbers would take turns every week on the road.

That means motorists can use their cars for about two weeks every month. It’s a proposal that the President himself recognized was bound to draw flak from car owners, most of whom save up for months just to pay for a brand-new vehicle.

There’s another easy loophole to this scheme that the can-afford have long been practicing even with the number coding scheme: just buy more cars. 

Regulating car sales and requiring proof of parking space

REGULATION. To free up the roads, some have called for a regulation of car sales – but the suggestion has its critics.

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s recognizing the fact that there’s just too many vehicles on very limited road space. More than 300,000 vehicles are on EDSA every day, way beyond the 23.9-kilometer highway’s capacity of about 160,000 vehicles.

Because of this, some have called for a proposal to regulate car sales, or at least to mandate every prospective car buyer to first show proof that they have parking space. It’s a proposal which ties up neatly with the MMDA and HPG’s mission to clear side streets of illegally parked vehicles.   

But critics have hit the proposal, saying anyone should have the right to buy and use a car. Others have suggested congestion pricing instead: imposing additional fees for car users, making it more expensive for them to own a vehicle and (ideally) encouraging them to take public transport instead.

The caveat: it would only work if there are reliable mass transit systems.

Fix the bus system and encourage ridership

OVERHAUL. Better public transportation is needed to move more people, and many have called for a restructuring of the current bus system.  

With too many cars on limited road space, EDSA isn’t being used very efficiently to move a lot of people at any given time. That’s why transport officials are encouraging the public to take buses instead. 

Buses occupy the space of about 2 or 3 private cars, yet they transport around 60 passengers. But buses have a bad reputation in Metro Manila: they race with each other, stay too long and block the road, and figure in often-deadly road crashes. 

Many have pointed out that solving traffic means completely fixing the bus system: by providing decent wages to drivers and reorganizing the franchise system, irresponsible operators would be weeded out, and passenger safety drastically improved.

The Philippines is also taking inspiration from Seoul’s successful bus reform program by introducing express buses, and soon, a bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

Carpooling and creating HOV lanes

CARPOOL LANES. Another proposal includes dedicating a lane exclusively for vehicles with more passengers.

Getting people to ditch their cars and ride buses may be one approach, but for those who would still rather drive, here’s a proposal that offers an incentive: allot a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane along EDSA exclusively for cars with 3 or more passengers. This is in line with the government’s goal of transporting more people – not cars – around public roads. 

The government is also encouraging friends and family to share one vehicle going to work or traveling around the metro to maximize road space. Carpooling? There’s an app for that. (READ: It makes sense to carpool)

Relocating industries outside Metro Manila  

DECONGESTING MANILA. Some suggest moving industries outside of Manila to encourage business opportunities there while also decongesting the metro.

With a daytime population of about 12 million, it’s no wonder Metro Manila is so crowded. Many of those who go around the megacity don’t even live in Metro Manila, but come in from nearby provinces like Cavite and Laguna. When the work day is over and people go home, the population drops to 8 million. 

To avoid the influx happening in the first place, some have suggested bringing the jobs outside Metro Manila, and at the same time build more roads and bridges to speed up travel. Not only will traffic ease, but nearby provinces also stand to benefit from increased business opportunities. 

But do we really want to see a decongested Metro Manila? To an urban planner, that might actually be a picture of concern.

Improve and build infrastructure

MORE INFRASTRUCTURE. The DOTC has plans in the works for more rail systems, a BRT system, and infrastructure to keep up with the megacity's demands.  

To move more people, the government needs to invest in better public transportation. The Metro Rail Transit (MRT3) was once a shining example of mass transit, but frequent glitches and breakdowns are what it’s known for these days. But there are plans in place: construction of extended rail lines, a proposed Metro Manila subway, and a BRT system in two areas of Manila.

For those who prefer non-motorized transport, the transportation department is also planinng a bike loop that would lead to central business districts in Metro Manila. In the Ortigas business district, a walkway project is also underway.

Many of these, however, remain at the planning stage or up for approval at the National Economic and Development Authority board. The big-ticket infrastructure projects are expected to be up and running several years from now.

Getting by with technology 

WAZE FOR COMMUTERS. The Sakay.ph app provides commuters with route options to get around the metro. Photo courtesy of Sakay.ph team

While we don’t have the best traffic solutions yet, motorists make do by trying to get around the problem, with apps like Waze, Sakay.ph, and MMDA’s own app – all designed to tell motorists not only how to get from Point A to B, but also which roads to avoid if you don’t want to spend hours in traffic.

MMDA’s app shows real-time traffic data, while Waze plans out the best route based on live reports from other users. Sakay.ph is like Waze for commuters, mapping out how to get around the metro with the myriad of public transport options out there.

Got any more suggestions to ease metro traffic? Share your thoughts in the comments below. – Rappler.com

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