Traffic woes! What to do with MMDA?

They haven't solved the problem by any means, but they have demonstrated that simple enforcement is a big part of the answer.

But HPG didn’t bring any magic to the fight. They didn't do anything that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) couldn't have done years ago. I don't believe that the almost overnight improvement in driver behavior is simply due to the fact that HPG enforcers are somehow more "respected" by the public. It's not about guns or big, burly cops. It's about doing the job.

To be honest, HPG just went out there and did the job. MMDA did not.

True, there are too many cars on the road. True, we need more infrastructure. And true, the local mayors don't have to take orders from the MMDA chairman. But what HPG did on their very first day had nothing to do with any of that. HPG put people on the road, and those people enforced the law. They didn't consult, they didn't negotiate, and they didn't have meetings. They just enforced the law.

There is still a long way to go, because the traffic system in Metro Manila is very, very broken. But the way to proceed is crystal clear.

Or is it?

This is, at best, a temporary measure. Managing traffic is not the HPG's responsibility, and sooner or later we're going to have to make some decisions. Do we make this a permanent thing, giving HPG more manpower and budget, and legally changing their tasking? Or do we create a whole new agency, again with appropriate manpower, budget, and legal authority? Or does anybody really believe that, after a month or so, we can just give traffic back to MMDA and somehow the problem will be fixed?

Overextended MMDA

Despite its shortcomings, MMDA is the right agency to handle traffic on Metro Manila's main roads. But definitely not MMDA as it currently operates.

First, the agency is overextended. MMDA should not be involved in beautification projects, film festivals, or even disaster preparedness and recovery. There are other agencies already responsible or better suited for those things.

Flood control should be transferred to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). And the Pasig River ferry operation should be handled by the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), or privatized altogether. Managing Metro Manila traffic is a full time job, and requires MMDA's full time attention.

If we take all those things away, maybe the agency shouldn't even be called Metro Manila "Development" Authority anymore. Maybe it should be called the Metro Manila Traffic Authority. That would be a more appropriate name for an agency solely focused on traffic.

Second, traffic management is a science, with well-established procedures, practices, and standards. Those methods work, if they are properly implemented. Under the current chairman though, MMDA has fallen short in that area. Organizationally, the agency is chaotic, with a multitude of specialized units and overlapping functions. Non-compatible radio systems, poorly trained and poorly supervised enforcers, and a weak legal mandate, all combine to make MMDA dysfunctional at best.

Third, the new "Traffic Authority" should manage all traffic in Metro Manila, even in the LGUs. One traffic agency, one traffic plan, one traffic system. Some things, like traffic, transcend political boundaries, in a way that makes decentralized management impractical. We don't allow LGUs to regulate electricity, do we? Or water, or communications. Like those systems, traffic is a single network, and is best managed as a single network.

Transforming MMDA

The main reason LGUs want control of their own traffic is for the revenue generated by traffic fines. No problem. Any fines collected for a violation inside a particular LGU can still be remitted to that LGU.

Local speed limits, parking regulations, and even the direction of travel on particular roads can all still be regulated by the LGU, but enforcement should be handled by the Metro Manila Traffic Authority. And any policies that impact the flow of traffic on the whole network, like the different coding windows now imposed by some cities, would fall under the Traffic Authority's control.

MMDA already has the manpower, resources, and budget to properly manage traffic. It wouldn't make sense to create a whole new agency, or to transfer the responsibility to the HPG. But it also wouldn't make sense to just let MMDA take over again without making some major changes. With their current structure, and under their current leadership, they are simply not capable of doing the job.

To effectively transform the Metro Manila Development Authority into the Metro Manila Traffic Authority, we first need to appoint an effective leader – someone willing to apply basic, well-established traffic management techniques and methods. We also need to redesign the agency internally, in line with its new mandate to focus entirely on traffic.

Bring in outside help, if necessary, to do proper training and organizational restructuring. And then, once all that is done, transfer the people and resources from the various LGUs to the new agency. It might take a new law, and a bit of paperwork, but it would be worth the trouble.

As I said at the beginning, we can't expect HPG to handle traffic forever. It’s not their job. And MMDA clearly can't handle it in their current form, even though it is their job. We need to be thinking about the next step. – Rappler.com

Michael Brown is a retired member of the US Air Force, and has lived over 16 years in the Philippines. He writes on English, traffic management, law enforcement, and government. Follow him on Twitter at @M_i_c_h_a_e_l   

Car photo from Shutterstock.