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With no emergency powers yet, Duterte turns to traffic superbody

A Palace-created council hopes to solve an old urban problem that has been draining the economy
By: - Reporter / @jovicyeeINQ
/ 01:01 AM October 08, 2016

Over the last 100 days, Congress has failed to pass legislation granting President Duterte the emergency powers which he believes will help ease the crippling traffic crisis in Metro Manila.

While lawmakers are still deliberating on the parameters of such powers, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in August spearheaded the creation of the Interagency Council on Traffic (I-ACT) to consolidate traffic-related agencies into one superbody.

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The integration of five government agencies was meant not only to efficiently coordinate and enforce traffic regulations but also to introduce traffic initiatives. These include the division of Metro Manila into 10 traffic sectors, the removal of “window hours” of the number coding scheme along Edsa and C-5 Road, and the prohibition of weekday mall sales.

Elvira Medina, president of the National Center for Commuters Safety and Protection, said that while the public have “yet to fully feel the changes” brought about by the creation of the I-ACT, the government’s intensified efforts to decongest Metro Manila are already

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laudable.

“The mere fact that we can see that they are working is good enough for us,” Medina said.

Headed by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, the I-ACT is composed of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Land Transportation Office (LTO), Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Philippine National Police’s Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG).

In his first State of the Nation Address, Mr. Duterte pledged that his government would immediately crack down on out-of-line or colorum public utility vehicles (operating without a franchise) and dismantle illegal transport terminals.

Clearing the roads

 

To date, I-ACT has cleared Metro Manila roads of more than 5,000 illegally parked cars and apprehended at least 147 out-of-line and colorum vehicles. At least 23,000 individuals have also been apprehended for various traffic violations, such as disregarding traffic signs.

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In its bid to discourage erring motorists from violating parking rules, I-ACT also transferred the impounding area for towed cars from the LTO main office in Quezon City to a facility in Tarlac City.

For Metro Manila’s traffic situation to improve, the capital should have a road network of 8,295.7 kilometers. But based on MMDA data, it only has a road network of 5,220.76 km.

A study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2014 said that the country was losing P2.4 billion daily due to monster traffic jams and that this figure could balloon to P6 billion by 2030 if the problem is not addressed.

Mr. Duterte acknowledged in July that since the capital lacks roads, the use of existing roads should be maximized.

He then proposed that “there is a need to cooperate and coordinate with local government units to map out secondary routes and to consult various stakeholders, including the public transport operators.”

Concrete traffic solutions

 

While some ideas, like opening subdivision roads and even military camp roads to the public, have been put on the table over the last few months, it remains to be seen when these recommendations will be considered as a concrete traffic solution.

During his report on Thursday regarding DOTr’s accomplishments in the Duterte administration’s first 100 days, Tugade acknowledged that the traffic problems they earlier thought to be “very difficult” turned out to be “extremely difficult.”

One of their key challenges is getting more traffic aides deployed in the roads.

Chief Supt. Antonio Gardiola, head of the PNP-HPG, said at least 13,700 traffic aides are needed to effectively manage traffic in the capital, especially in its 77 choke points. He noted that the HPG has already sought the assistance of various local governments to allow their respective traffic management groups and volunteer groups to be placed under I-ACT’s operational control.

“That’s why there’s a bit of difficulty [in addressing traffic] over the last 100 days. You have to get more enforcers and train them,” Tugade said.

As traffic congestion worsens during the holidays, the I-ACT and mall operators in Metro Manila agreed on Friday that starting Oct. 21 to Jan. 9, 2017, mall sales will not be conducted during weekdays. The malls should also notify and coordinate their traffic measures with I-ACT two weeks before their weekend sales.

Next Thursday, another meeting between I-ACT and mall operators will tackle the possibility of implementing a “midnight-to-5 a.m. delivery period” for goods in Metro Manila.

According to the MMDA, mall sales cause the average vehicle speed to slow down to a mere five kilometers per hour on Edsa, where 16 malls are located.

No more window hours

To further reduce traffic along Edsa and C-5 Road, the MMDA is also doing away with the window hours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) of the number coding scheme. The new policy takes effect from Oct. 31 to Jan. 31, 2017, and a dry run will be conducted on Oct. 27 and 28.

Meanwhile, the LTO has lengthened the validity of driver’s licenses from three years to five years. LTO chief Edgardo Galvante said that starting Monday, the head office will start releasing the five-year licenses.

In terms of mass transport, Noel Kintanar, the transportation undersecretary for rail and toll roads, reported that over the last three months, they were able to bring down the number of times Metro Rail Transit trains stop operations due to technical problems. From 46 in June, the monthly average is now down to 38, he said, attributing the improvement to better train maintenance.

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