Can Metro traffic be solved at all?

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“It’s in the education part that the MMDA can do more.

Who was the politico who said in so many words years ago that we shouldn’t worry too much about traffic congestion in Metro Manila because it’s a sign of progress?
Well, he was correct, but only in a perverted sense. The politico, perhaps after seeing too many new cars on the streets, concluded that more Filipinos are making more money and becoming more affluent. What he failed to mention is that the government, by encouraging the car industry to produce more and more vehicles every year, actually compounds the already bad traffic situation.

Sure, more new cars on the road are an unmistakable sign of progress and government collects hefty taxes from vehicle sellers and registration fees from car owners every year.

But the resulting bedlam in the city streets already filled with cars of every make and description, competing for limited road space with container vans, delivery trucks, buses, jeepneys, motorcycles, tricycles, pedicabs and pushcarts tells us in no uncertain terms that politicians—and government as a whole—are as much to blame for the traffic mess as undisciplined drivers.

It is the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) that should be on top of addressing the traffic problem. But it has been a monumental failure in performing this task because of a number of reasons.

First, the MMDA appears to be saddled with too many functions that encroach on the turf of other agencies. The public expects it not only to manage traffic, but also to prevent and control flooding, lead in disaster risk prevention and management and deliver efficient solid waste management in an area occupied by 15 million people and considered among the most congested cities in the world.

The MMDA is actually misnamed. It shouldn’t even be called a development authority as it has no power nor authority to decide which areas in Metro Mania should be developed or improved. I doubt if its mandate includes drawing up a long-term development plan for Metro Manila which is essential so that vehicular traffic can be efficiently managed.

The MMDA’s jurisdiction, as Chairman Danny Lim told a recent news forum, covers only national roads. That means EDSA, C5, Commonwealth and other major thoroughfares. It’s the responsibility of local government units (LGU) in Metro Manila to manage traffic within their areas of jurisdiction. Therefore, MMDA has no effective control over city and municipal roads that lead to the major thoroughfares. We have here a problem of coordination as LGU have their own traffic rules and their own people paid to enforce them.

And second, the MMDA’s competence in traffic management is likewise circumscribed by other factors.

For the Automobile Association of the Philippines, Metro Manila traffic can be managed only through the three Es: engineering, enforcement and education.

The MMDA’s traffic management function is severely hampered by the fact that there’s no way to expand the existing road network in the city at ground level. We cannot build more roads, perhaps only widen existing ones. Thus, we can only build over existing ones, such as the Skyway or go underground.

“Sure, more new cars on the road are an unmistakable sign of progress.

The MMDA has no say in the construction of new roads and freeways that can substantially reduce traffic congestion. Neither does it have any role in the modernization of the existing MRT-3 or the planning and construction of new light trail transport lines, let alone a subway system running the length and breadth of Metro Manila.

In the engineering part, therefore, the MMDA is limited to putting up road barriers and signs to direct traffic in certain thoroughfares.

In the enforcement part, the MMDA is likewise hampered by turf issues. It’s the LTO that issues drivers’ licenses and ensures that only the qualified can operate motor vehicles. The MMDA can only make erring drivers pay fines and undergo safe driving seminars but not stop the physically and psychologically unfit from driving in city streets.

It’s in the education part that the MMDA can do more. The agency should undertake information, education and information campaigns to assist both motorists and pedestrians as well as the general public on the traffic situation at any given time. We understand that the MMDA has put up a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system with over 300 huge monitors in the MMDA central office where it staff should be on the lookout for traffic build-up requiring immediate intervention by enforcers on the ground. Are the CCTV systems really working and delivering vital information to motorists on which roads to take or to avoid? If not, it’s a big waste of taxpayers’ money.

From where we sit, all that the MMDA has achieved is to react to worsening traffic with palliative or band-aid measures aimed at reducing traffic. We have had the number coding scheme since the 1990s, but has it really helped ease traffic? It definitely has not.

The MMDA now wants driver-only vehicles off EDSA at rush hours and would have begun to implement it on a regular basis had it not been for widespread public resistance to the idea because it unduly penalizes ordinary people for its rank failure to solve the traffic problem.

We have one of the worst cases of traffic congestions in Asia if not in the world and the result is so many billions of pesos worth of fuel, productivity and economic opportunities lost every single day. If the MMDA has nothing to offer but new ways to punish and inconvenience the public with yet another vehicle-reduction scheme that’s not only harebrained but also anti-poor and anti-democratic, then we would be every happy to see it shut down for good and replaced with a more competent agency.

Email: ernhil@yahoo.com

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