Solving Metro traffic woes still a dream
Commuters have pinned their hopes on a new dispensation to slay the traffic monster in Metro Manila that cost more than P2.4 billion daily.
But a year into the new administration, people like Arnel Vasquez have yet to see the promised improved traffic in the metropolis.
In fact, Vasquez said traffic in the capital seemed to be “worsening,” especially with the onset of the rainy season.
Normally, he said that it took him a little over an hour to get from his home in Cainta, Rizal province, to his office in Guadalupe, Makati City, a distance of around 10 kilometers.
He had to leave Cainta before daybreak just to make it in time to the office.
“[D]o we have someone in the country capable of fixing this problem? Sadly, that remains to be seen,” Vasquez said.
To his credit, Tim Orbos, officer in charge of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for the first nine months of the administration, implemented measures like the expanded and extended number coding scheme, opening of government properties as bypass routes and clearing operations of Mabuhay Lanes, an alternate road network from Edsa.
Based on the MMDA’s time-and-motion study in December last year, these initiatives improved by nearly half an hour travel time along Edsa during the holidays, despite an increase of 11,000 cars using the 23.8-kilometer highway.
Orbos also led the clearing and opening up of four lanes of Edsa-Baclaran, which for decades have been occupied by street vendors and illegal transport terminals.
Renting near office
These efforts are not enough for most commuters. Therese Vega, a 22-year-old market research professional, decided to move out of Quezon City to Mandaluyong City, to escape the daily traffic grind.
“I rented a place relatively near my office because there really is no change in the commuting life,” Vega said. “The only way to escape heavy traffic is to not be on the road. That’s why I walk on my way home.”
Vega said the 20-minute walk was better than the 40-minute commute along Shaw Boulevard.
To make the commuting experience in the capital more bearable, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade unveiled infrastructure projects planned to be operational over the next six years.
Among them are the Cavite-Laguna Expressway, Cavite barge terminal, Light Rail Transit (LRT) 2 Masinag extension, northern and southern extension of the Philippine National Railways, Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 7, LRT 1 Cavite extension, MRT-LRT common station and a metro subway system.
While these have yet to be realized, the public is still awaiting short-term solutions to road congestion, especially with the increasing volume of vehicles.
A total of 9.25 million cars, including 2.4 million in Metro Manila, were registered with the Land Transportation Office last year, up from 8.7 million in 2015.
‘No overnight solution’
After assuming the chairmanship of the MMDA in May, Danilo Lim, a retired brigadier general, said he would adopt a “back-to-basics” approach, which meant better enforcement of traffic rules and regulations.
Pressed for a more concrete solution a month into his new role, Lim said there was no quick fix to traffic.
“There is no overnight solution to the traffic situation in this country,” a visibly irked Lim said, who added that the public should not ask timelines from him since he was not “time-bound.”
But for young professional Jef Manalac, simple solutions abound in Metro Manila.
Order in the road
“In Makati and Bonifacio Global City there are dedicated stops that are strictly followed. This can be done in the whole metro. Public utility vehicles (PUVs) contribute to the clogging of roads because of their illegal loading and unloading of passengers,” Manalac said.
In the next three years, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) hopes to see order in the road, especially in the loading and unloading of passengers.
Under the local public transport route plan that will be crafted by local governments, designated stops for PUVs will be set up and strictly enforced.
A drivers’ academy that would help instill discipline and better hone the skills of PUV drivers will also be set up by the LTFRB.
These programs are just a few of the many that sprang from the recent release of the omnibus franchising guidelines (OFG), which lifted the 14-year ban on the release of new public transport franchises.
The OFG’s release signaled the three-year transition to do away with jeepneys and replace them with more commuter-friendly and environmentally compliant vehicles.
There are 234,000 jeepney units all over the country, 70,000 of which are in Metro Manila, according to the LTFRB.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the modernization program would “help clean the air, make commuting safer and contribute to a more rational public transport system.”
At the launch of the financing package offered by the Land Bank of the Philippines for the PUV modernization program, Dominguez acknowledged the resistance to the program.
“We must convince the jeepney drivers and operators that this is the way to go. They must understand that the financing package will make the shift affordable,” he said. “The public must understand, [too], that our well-loved but inefficient dinosaur, the jeepney, must now be relegated to the museum.”
Under the OFG, new franchises can be released once the local governments have submitted their local public transport route plan.
Franchises are to be given only to operators who are part of a transport cooperative and have jeepney units that are either Euro 4-compliant or run on electric or renewable energy.
Anthony Dizon, a jeepney driver in Makati since 1993, said he favored the modernization program as long as he would get to own the unit he would be driving.
If not, he said he hoped that the government could find a way for PUV drivers to earn fixed incomes and be given pensions when they retire.
LTFRB chair Martin Delgra III said the board was working on giving drivers fixed salaries.
He noted that the current boundary system has led to bad practices like reckless driving as drivers race against each other to get more passengers and to roads being used as jeepney terminals.
Dizon said fixed salaries and the opportunity to own the jeepney they drive could change the behavior of drivers on the road as they would become more cautious.
In turn, this could make driving in the metropolis, rated for years as among the worst places to drive in, more bearable and the commuting experience safer and more convenient.
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