After neglecting the problem for nearly six years, it seems like the current government under President Benigno Simeon Aquino is finally addressing or at least acknowledging Metro Manila traffic congestion specially along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) – the notorious highway once famous for street revolutions but is now looking more and more like the world’s biggest parking lot or a car yard not just during rush hour, but especially when it gets flooded. That can mean any time it rains.The situation on EDSA is now so bad that just an hour of heavy downpour already puts traffic at a standstill. When this happens, motorists and commuters weary from a day’s work who get stuck on the road can expect to reach their destination no earlier than 4 a.m. That is enough to cause severe anxiety for some people and put a strain on the country’s economy.
Maybe it was the fact that the Philippines was recently voted the country that has the 5th worst traffic in the world or maybe BS Aquino could not longer pretend that the traffic problem is evidence of “a booming economy” but, whatever the reason, he has lately come up with what he and his men think is a “solution” to the problem, which is to put additional manpower on the road to help the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) personnel manage the traffic.
So far, BS Aquino’s government has assigned Philippine National Police (PNP) Highway Patrol Group (HPG) police officers and members of the Special Action Forces (SAF) in charge of manning six choke points along EDSA to direct traffic and, fingers crossed, keep things moving along. How long they will be deployed to their posts is not clear.
The operative word here is “seems”. It seems like BS Aquino is trying to fix the problem. However, the fact that he is only looking into how to solve the traffic woes in the last few months of his term says a lot about his lack of foresight and lack of commitment to finding a lasting solution to the issue. Like I always say, the solution will present itself once the problem has been identified or at least acknowledged. The President and his men who echo his sentiments were in denial in the last five years that there is a problem. No wonder the situation just went from bad to worse.
If BS Aquino is looking for some kind of legacy after he leaves office, solving the traffic congestion is not going to be it. Not only is he running out of time to come up with something permanent to fix it, he is approaching it the wrong way. Assigning police officers to direct the flow of traffic is not sustainable. First of all, the police officers were not employed or are not trained as traffic managers. It is not their primary function. Second, once they are called to perform their duties as police officers, they will have to abandon their usual duties and man temporary posts managing the traffic. After that gig expires, the situation on the road will likely go back to what it was originally – disorderly (not that the situation will have improved at all, we’re just talking hypothetically).
One police officer manning a particular “chokepoint” in Quezon City already commented that they have had to deal with a lot of drivers and commuters who violated traffic rules, which contributes to the congestion. In other words, the people on the road lack discipline and are themselves causing the traffic problem. The same behavior is evident in all the chokepoints along the highway – more drivers and commuters acting like they are above the law. That is enough proof that once the police officers are gone, the violators will go back to their old ways.
To solve or ease the traffic congestion in Metro Manila, the following needs to be done.
1. Hire an engineer as head of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), not a lawyer.You need the right person who can apply the right thinking in charge to solve the problem. Currently, a lawyer is heading the MMDA. The President needs to fire Chairman Francis Tolentino as soon as possible and replace him with someone who has an engineering background. An engineer can think analytically and find a solution to what is essentially an engineering problem better than a lawyer could. The government should actually hire more engineers in sensitive cabinet posts instead of lawyers. Not that there is anything wrong with lawyers, but lawyers belong in a courtroom, not on the road trying to solve big problems. As they say, engineers are problem solvers. They isolate problems, analyze them, address them and come up with practical ways to change things. Engineers thrive on fixing things and are ‘big picture’ thinkers.
2. The public bus system should be systematically operated and bus drivers should be paid fixed salaries.In most First World countries, buses operate on a schedule. Commuters know exactly what time to expect the bus to arrive at the bus station. There is order and systems in place. The commuters do not feel the need to worry about running after the bus in the middle of the road. That is not the case in the Philippines. At present, privately-owned buses servicing the public have no fixed schedule and compete with one another for passengers, quite often picking them up in the middle of the road. This causes traffic jams and chaos on the road. It doesn’t help that bus operators use incentives on their bus drivers instead of giving them a fixed salary. This makes the drivers more brazen in disregarding traffic rules when picking up and dropping off passengers.
The government can stop this nonsense by issuing a directive or guideline to bus operators to follow a system similar to that in the First World. This means investing in proper bus stations and meeting with bus operators to organize bus schedules. The government can force bus operators to follow the directive because it has the power to revoke the bus operator’s license if they refuse.
3. Improve or upgrade the rail transport system to reduce the cars on the road.Since trains can take the commuting public from point A to B faster than buses and private vehicles, it should be the government’s priority to fix the country’s rail transport system. This includes the Philippine National Railways (PNR), Light Rail Transit Authority (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRT). Unfortunately, BS Aquino’s government had left the rail transport system, particularly the MRT in ruins. Six years of neglect under Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Aguinaldo Abaya has resulted in regular train breakdowns, track problems, air-conditioning problems, near fatal accidents; not to mention commuters routinely suffering long snake-like queues at the train stations.
Sadly, the BS Aquino government doesn’t have the will power to fix the politics behind the maintenance issues of the trains. It is too convoluted to even discuss here. The government’s Public-Private Partnership scheme obviously doesn’t work for commuters. Having an efficient train system can greatly reduce the number of cars on the road.
4. Address lack of discipline on the road by enforcing the law.The Philippines is a country someone described as a society full of “pasaways” — people lacking in discipline. This is very evident on Philippine roads. It’s like every man for himself. Every day reminds you of a scene from the film War of the Worlds or Independence Day – very chaotic. We now call exceptionally bad traffic jams carmageddons. But, really, everyday on Manila’s roads is carmageddon now any hour of the day or night.
The truth of the matter is, BS Aquino’s government felt the need to deploy the cops to manage traffic because the MMDA traffic enforcers weren’t doing their jobs properly. If they did, there wouldn’t be a need to ask for the PNP’s help. Maybe it’s because the MMDA felt like they were pushing the tide or were simply helpless and felt hopeless against unruly motorists and commuters. Either way, they were not effective at all.
When the motorists and commuters see that the traffic enforcers mean business, they will realize that they need to obey the road rules or else. At least, one would hope so. If you think about it though, MMDA or police officers need not be present on the roads all the time. The society just needs to use common sense. Common sense dictates that not following road rules will have consequences like creating traffic jams and accidents that can result in fatalities.
5. Build provisions for bike lanes and footpaths.
This is a long-term solution. The pork barrel politicians use to build basketball courts in the past should be used to build bike lanes and better footpaths on the roads instead. This will encourage more people to ride bikes going to work or school. More people will also consider going for walks when the roads have provisions for footpaths. Bike lanes and footpaths can help reduce the number of cars on the road and help people stay fit.There are other solutions the government can do to ease traffic congestion in Metro Manila. This includes not digging up roads just for the benefit of gaining brownie points before scheduled national elections. Unnecessary road works compound the traffic problem.
If only BS Aquino focused on fixing the traffic congestion in Metro Manila instead of vilifying his enemies from start of his term, the people could have seen great improvements on the roads before he left office. Unfortunately, it was apparent from Day One that BS Aquino is not someone who can think too far ahead.
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