Desperate times, desperate measures

With students trooping back to school in a few days and face-to-face classes about to begin, authorities are now at their wit’s end in figuring out ways of easing traffic and transportation woes in the metropolis.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority alone is expecting heavy traffic when thousands of students join the commuting public with the resumption of in-person classes next week.

Pre-pandemic levels of 405,000 vehicles daily are expected to be breached according to the MMDA. During the two-year pandemic, the agency said about half a million vehicles were added to the streets, with 60 to 70 percent of them entering Metro Manila.

Although infrastructure development was emphasized during the time of former president Rodrigo Duterte, the incumbent administration is under pressure to come up with the right solution to the country’s traffic woes.

As everybody knows, Metro Manila is regarded as having the worst traffic congestion in the world, costing the economy about P3.5 billion in lost opportunities every day, according to the Japan International Coordinating Agency.

Not even the billions of pesos poured into infrastructure and the shifting of manufacturing sites and container ports in Metro Manila helped abate the situation. Although the Skyway has been opened to divert traffic and new modes of transport, such as the Manila subway system, are being introduced, it would probably take long before the public gets a measure of convenience.

One study showed that the National Capital Region’s infrastructure and traffic woes are caused by a range of factors, which include the overreliance on private vehicles, an underdeveloped mass transit system, and the sheer number of residents in the area, which makes it the most congested metropolis in the world.

Improving mass transport, we believe, should be the priority if this administration is to start licking the problem. If mass transport is good, people will no longer have to keep buying vehicles, which will only add to the volume and to the traffic on the streets.

Anywhere in the world where an adequate mass transport system is in place, commuters need not take cabs or their own vehicles, thereby creating less gridlock on the road.

Then, there’s also decentralization where industries or sectors could be moved from Metro Manila to neighboring provinces to spread vehicular volume. A total infrastructure project covering Olongapo to Pampanga, Bulacan, Metro Manila, and CALABARZON can be backed up by a major budgetary allocation according to experts.

Identifying future transportation needs is therefore the key to a long-term solution to the mess we’re in. The disjointed traffic management schemes implemented in every city in the metropolis are a good example of how to confuse private vehicle users, as well as commuters who rely on jeepneys and buses.

It is evident in these strategies that the mentality of traffic management, according to analysts, is still to reduce volume rather than improve the flow of traffic itself. A holistic approach not only to traffic congestion, but also transport infrastructure planning, they say, is thus required.

An integrated approach to transport and traffic management is therefore needed, but we suppose the MMDA cannot provide solely because of the scope of its services, which also include solid waste management, flood control and prevention, and, yes, even organizing the Metro Manila Film festival, among others.

The MMDA, therefore, is not expected to be a dedicated transport organization and its governance is not composed of planning and traffic management experts.

What Metro Manila needs to solve its traffic congestion and management problems, we believe, is to create an entirely new government entity that will be dedicated to identifying traffic management solutions, planning long-term infrastructure needs, and enforcing policies in the NCR that will ease the traffic situation.

This new agency will be one that is independent of any local government unit and, unlike the MMDA, does not fall under the Office of the President.

Having this powerful decision-making body dedicated to transport-related matters is expected to face a lot of opposition, despite potentially having a meaningful impact on the problem of traffic in Metro Manila.

It will require a tremendous amount of political will from the national government, but radical proposals are definitely needed to lick a radical problem like traffic.

As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.

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