How to solve Metro Manila’s traffic mess

TO no surprise of motorists who ply its avenues every day, Metro Manila has been dubbed as one of the worst places in the world to drive in.

The country’s metropolis is among the lowest ranked cities in the latest Driver Satisfacton Index of the traffic and navigation app, Waze, landing in 170th place among 186 cities included in a worldwide survey.

Other Philippine cities mentioned in the survey are Cebu City, which placed last, and Angeles City in Pampanga which ranked 147th.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has been cited as the worst country to drive in next to El Salvador.

This file photo from Agence France-Presse shows the daily traffic gridlock on EDSA.

Numbeo, the largest database of user-contributed data about cities and countries worldwide, put Manila as the fifth city in the world with the worst traffic conditions this year with a 309.37 traffic index.

In the top four are Kolkata, India; Mumbai, India; Dhaka, Bangladesh and Nairobi, Kenya.

Traffic Index is a composite index of time consumed in traffic because of job commute, estimation of time consumption dissatisfaction, CO2 consumption estimation in traffic and overall inefficiencies in the traffic system.

Increasing vehicle volume

According to the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the average speed a motorist can reach while driving along Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare, EDSA, is only 26 to 27 kilometers (km) per hour.

The agency reported that 326,504 vehicles pass through the 23.8-km highway every day. Out of this number are 12,000 to 15,000 buses.

The Land Transportation Office (LTO), recorded that new registrations for an average of 14,783 multi-wheeled and 14,940 two-wheeled vehicles were issued monthly last year.

It is not unusual for traffic in Metro Manila to stand still for hours, turning the roads into vast parking lots. A supposedly 20-minute ride from Quezon City to Manila could take more than an hour.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said a change in the mindset of motorists could somehow help ease Metro Manila’s traffic mess (File photo from The Manila Times).

Condition of mind

Naturally, the situation of everyday traffic in Metro Manila has earned the persistent ire of motorists.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade for his said earlier that a change in the mindset of motorists could somehow help ease Metro Manila’s traffic mess.

“Even when there was no traffic, people say there was,” Tugade was quoted by Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“A state of mind adds to the problem of traffic,” he added.

He said the traffic problem can only be solved if people will change their mindset.

“On our own, we should change. We must learn to tell the truth. Let’s teach ourselves to be truthful. That will be a good start,” Tugade advised.

Emergency powers

Meanwhile, granting of emergency powers to the executive branch aimed at swiftly solving the traffic mess is being pursued in Congress.

With emergency powers, over P207-billion worth of infrastructure projects are expected to be implemented quickly and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) will be able to secure the commitment of the traffic enforcement arms of all 17 local government units in Metro Manila. These measures are projected to ease traffic congestion in two to three years.

“Once there are emergency powers, the landscape of Metro Manila will dramatically change,” said Oliver Tanesco of the Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG).

Traffic tolls

According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the traffic woes in Metro Manila need to be addressed quickly. If not, the country can lose a whopping P6 billion daily by 2030.

In 2012, JICA said traffic conditions cost the Philippines P2.4 billion daily.

The estimate figures in the value of time lost because of delays, fuel costs, vehicle operating costs, impact on health, and greenhouse gas emissions, according to the University of the Philippines-Diliman’s National Center for Transportation Studies.

More than 10 million people commute in Metro Manila and spend three hours a day in traffic. About 28,000 hours of supposed productive economic activity are wasted a year, which could have been used for earning extra income, spending time with loved ones or relaxation.

Urban planner and architect Felino Palafox Jr. said amending traffic rules, hastening procurement processes, and avoiding delays in resolving right-of-way issues, among others, are just a few possible solutions to Metro Manila’s traffic problem.

It is not unusual for traffic in Metro Manila to stand still for hours, turning the roads into vast parking lots (File photo from The Manila Times).

“Traffic congestion is a confluence of many factors, especially lack of comprehensive urban and regional planning, among others. Traffic congestion cannot be solved only by traffic engineering and management, or by adding more roads, traffic lights, and traffic enforcers. It can be solved only through hollistic and integrated planning. We should look at the demand side of traffic and transportation, which involves the land-use type, density, and location,” he wrote in his column in The Manila Times.

He said the government should prioritize uplifting the quality of urban health, housing and education, especially in other cities and provinces.

Adequate tax incentives should also be given to help develop infrastructure outside Metro Manila that could attract businesses. These will result in new urban growth centers and development corridors outside Metro Manila, he added.

Interim measures

While waiting for the approval of proposed emergency powers, Tugade has decided to strengthen the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic (I-ACT) composed of the MMDA, PNP-HPG, LTO and Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

PNP-HPG head Col. Antonio Gardiola said the aim of the inter-agency group is to unify command over traffic management. The HPG-MMDA partnership is tasked with traffic enforcement.

“The intention of the Secretary [Tugade] is to address the doable or actionable items,” Gardiola said. “We have to solidify the chain of command.”

A seven-minute reduction in travel time has been observed along EDSA—from Monumento in Caloocan City to the Mall of Asia in Pasay City—based on a recent simulation conducted by the MMDA.

Volume reduction

I-ACT has been discussing the ideal vehicle volume reduction scheme to shorten travel times on Metro Manila’s roads.

PNP-HPG spokesperson Supt. Elizabeth Velasquez said a vehicle reduction program is needed, noting that “vehicle volume is the main cause of traffic in Metro Manila’s major thoroughfares.”

Palafox said government officials and decision-makers have been using obsolete urban models for cities.

“Traffic management focuses on the existing traffic conditions, and is limited to existing roads. Traffic engineering focuses on the infrastructure and traffic flow, but usually it does not consider the different modes of transportation; it often designs roads for cars, trains, and least of the times, bicycles. Transportation planning focuses on holistic mobility, including land use which is the demand side of traffic,” he said.


This article appeared in the anniversary issue of The Manila Times on October 10, 2016.


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