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No law yet to deal with Metro Manila traffic

/ 07:40 AM July 06, 2017

Yna de Leon, an account manager for an entertainment production company, prepares each morning for the challenges her work might bring on top of one constant: the long and uncomfortable commute.

De Leon joins about 500,000 passengers who use the creaking and packed Metro Rail Transit Line 3 every day. The trip is a central part of a two-hour journey from her home in Quezon City to her office in Makati, about 14 kilometers away.

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Some of that time is spent queuing outside the train station, but De leon doesn’t mind.

“It’s a toss-up between standing for a long time on a train or sitting for hours in a car going through hell that is Edsa,” she said.

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Frustrating

Heavy traffic is a frustrating way of life for some 12 million people living in Metro Manila. Stories like De Leon’s are common.

President Rodrigo Duterte is well aware of the daunting task of untangling the traffic mess.

Mere weeks after his election victory in May last year, the President’s closest advisers knew something had to be done, and quickly.

The administration coalesced around a plan: to declare traffic a national crisis due to the billions of pesos in production lost daily. In Metro Manila alone, the Japan International Cooperation Agency placed at P2.4 billion daily losses in 2012 from traffic congestion.

The calls for a declaration of a traffic crisis extended to the cities of Cebu and Davao.

The need for emergency powers even made its way to the President’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona). Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade became its chief marketer.

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“[T]his country now needs what we call special laws and emergency powers to address the traffic situation crisis,” Tugade told reporters in July last year.

Bills still pending

One year has passed and the legislation has yet to be passed.

In the House of Representatives, the bill is known as the proposed Traffic Crisis Act of 2016 (HB 4334) while its counterpart in the Senate is the proposed Traffic and Congestion Crisis Act of 2016 (SB 1284).

Both bills are on second reading.

Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento, transportation committee chair, said the bill remained a priority “in light of the unsolved congestion in Metro Manila.”

Hearings will continue after Congress resumes its second regular session toward the end of July, Sarmiento said.

“We hope to resume deliberations upon resumption of session, and of course, as sponsor, I want this bill passed before the year ends,” Sen. Grace Poe said via e-mail.

Broad powers

Both bills are expected to grant broad powers to the traffic crisis manager.

At the heart of the measures is the action plan that the traffic manager will implement to “immediately” ease congestion.

A key step is to streamline the rules and regulations used by the national government on roads like Edsa and C-5 with those adopted by local governments that border those thoroughfares.

This includes synchronized traffic lights,  banning of parking on certain roads, unified fees, and opening up roads in gated communities.

Within six months, a plan to reform and ultimately restructure routes assigned to public utility vehicle (PUV) operators such as bus, jeepney and UV Express companies should be completed.

Part of this is the potential cancellation of franchises, with compensation to the operator, and the relocation of existing PUV terminals, some of which are located on Edsa.

The rules would affect even large real estate projects. The Senate version of the bill would impose a moratorium on “high-density” mixed-use developments located on main avenues.

Mark de Leon, assistant secretary for road transport and infrastructure, said a component called for the “avoidance” of using private cars and shifting people to mass transit, as the volume of cars has exceeded road capacity.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) last year estimated that the volume of cars on Edsa alone had exceeded road capacity by 130 percent.

Both proposed traffic crisis laws recognized the need to rapidly improve transport infrastructure.

The bills would allow the immediate use of negotiated contracts for priority projects.

Ban TROs

Moreover, the measures seek to ban temporary restraining orders (TROs), which have stalled many transport initiatives. The only exception is a TRO issued by the Supreme Court.

The TRO ban would cover activities such as the acquisition of right of way, implementation of transport projects and the opening of roads in private villages.

Despite their shared goals of reducing congestion, the two bills differed in key areas.

There was the type of powers granted, “special” in the House bill versus “emergency” in the Senate bill, with the definition associated with the latter seen to go further.

In the House version, the de facto traffic chief would be the transportation secretary, while the Senate bill would grant the power to Mr. Duterte, who would appoint a traffic crisis manager.

Both bills also differed in areas of coverage and scope.

The House version would cover only “land-based traffic” in Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao, although there is flexibility to expand to other areas.

The Senate bill would put special focus on Metro Manila and Metro Cebu, with the same flexibility on expansion.

But SB 1284 takes its scope further, viewing traffic as an integrated problem that includes airports and seaports.

The Senate bill would also want ICT solutions via “telecommuting” in which employees would be allowed to work away from the office.

In the House version, another layer of legal protection—“Special Traffic Crisis Court”—is being considered to hear cases arising from disputes related to the implementation of the law.

Poe said a “major” concern was the relocation of informal settlers who would be displaced by new transportation projects. She said the Senate bill would provide added funding for relocation.

Low hanging fruits

Not waiting for Congress to grant emergency powers, the DOTr over the past year has focused  on “low hanging fruits.”

Last year, the DOTr assumed control of all traffic issues in Metro Manila after establishing the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic (I-ACT).

Another big step was the signing of the Omnibus Guidelines on Route Identification and Franchise Issuance on the PUV system.

The DOTr’s omnibus guidelines would enlist the help of LGUs in formulating route plans in their respective areas. That responsibility, once guided by the PUV operator, had led to the inefficient release of franchises.

The response then was to place new PUV franchise applications on hold—a policy now 13 years old.

The DOTr wants an overhaul and modernization of the PUVs system. The rules grant a three-year transition period, after which existing franchises will be canceled to make way for the new regime.

Following the establishment of the I-ACT, arrests related to traffic violations, “colorum” operations and sidewalk clearing had gone up significantly, according to De Leon.

But the effect on overall road congestion appears to have been minimal due to the sheer volume of vehicles on our roads.

By the numbers

Following are some statistics gathered by Inquirer Research from its archives as well as the LTO, LTFRB, National Economic Development Authority, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency:

9.25 million: cars nationwide registered with the Land Transportation Office last year, up from 8.7 million in 2015. Of this number, 2.4 million cars were in Metro Manila.

234,000: jeepney units in the country,including 70,000 in Metro Manila

P6 billion: daily cost of traffic congestion in Metro Manila by 2030, from P2.4 billion in 2012

14.5 million: estimated daily trips in Metro Manila by 2030 from 12.8 million in 2012

7.4 million: daily mass-transit ridership in Metro Manila by 2030 from 1.5 million in 2012

463,000: average daily passengers of Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3

280,000: maximum vehicle volume capacity of 23.8-km Edsa

15,300: city and provincial buses plying Edsa daily

530,089: total bus trips in Metro Manila recorded through the bus management and dispatch system in the first quarter of 2017

45: provincial bus terminals (out of 85) in Metro Manila located on Edsa

P2.61 trillion: estimated cost of total investment for the dream plan to solve the traffic congestion in Metro Manila

P4 billion: cost of daily savings from reduced travel time and vehicle operating costs

P18: cost of fare savings in public transport per person a day if the dream plan were realized by 2030

$700 million: estimated cost of proposed subway system to complement the MRT-3

P31.92 million: gross income earned by the MMDA from traffic fines in first quarter of 2017

2,374: MMDA traffic constables deployed as of March 31, 2017

99,881: apprehensions recorded by MMDA in first quarter of 2017

395: anticolorum and out-of-line operators arrested by MMDA in the first quarter of 2017

7,641: impounded vehicles (illegally parked, out-of-line and colorum) in the first quarter of 2017

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TAGS: commuters, heavy traffic, Metro Manila traffic, traffic crisis
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