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Expert offers solutions to Metro Manila traffic

April 25, 2011

There are many adjectives used to describe Metro Manila traffic.

Sadly, “fast” and “efficient” are not among them. And in a sentence, words used to illustrate the mess usually comes with the complementary expletive.

Traffic congestion in the bustling metropolis has almost become a fact of life, often met with sighs of resignation on the part of commuters and motorists. The costs of such problem, however, would cause one to jerk in indignation.

An earlier World Bank-commissioned study pegged the toll at P15 billion annually. The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), meanwhile, has estimated the losses to amount to about P140 billion a year. The department explained that the amount represented the cost of wasted fuel because of slow-moving traffic, lost productivity of workers and vehicle maintenance, among others.

And the traffic situation can only get worse as Metro Manila continues to develop with the rapid construction of condominiums and malls as well as the establishment of business districts in several cities within the region.

The prospects are indeed grim but for traffic specialist Antonio Balmori Villegas, the situation is far from hopeless.

Traffic principles

Villegas, the founder and president of the Movement for Efficient Trash and Traffic Road Order, claimed that solving Manila’s traffic problems requires an acute understanding of peculiarities of traffic flow in the region.

“Traffic is the science of numbers—people, vehicles, and buildings eat up and congest narrow spaces,” Villegas explained.

Having observed the flow of traffic for about 20 years as a consultant to the DOTC, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and Land Transportation Office (LTO), among others, he posited that solving the traffic problems requires the widescale coordination of activities of road users.

“Traffic is like an orchestra and it takes only one note off to put everything in disarray. Indeed, it takes only one entry point in one city to bungle and obstruct the entire traffic in the metropolis,” Villegas said.

Among the main causes of the traffic problems that he cited is incorrect zoning. He noted that universities, bus terminals and malls and other commercial establishments were all erected right smack along main arteries of highways. Waiting sheds, meanwhile, were built in sensitive corners, obstructing the flow of traffic for vehicles that must turn right or left.

“Private and public workers and students cross over from one city to another, creating a giant web of traffic congestion,” Villegas said.

Since Metro Manila (Region XIII or the National Capital Region) traffic continues to cause the country to incur massive costs, he offered quick solutions that he also claimed could result in dramatic decongestion of the metropolitan traffic within three months.

Organizing schedules

Villegas also noted that traffic is caused by everyone, including pedestrians, motorists and owners of establishments. This means that solving the traffic problem is not only the government’s concern.

“Therefore, only us, they, me and you meaning all of us, including barangay [village] level officials, mayors and DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government] must be involved in traffic solutions,” he said.

In light of his pronouncements, Villegas proposed a radical shift in scheduling of people’s use of roads.

“We need to have a separate time schedule or staggered time for school, commercial and government sectors,” he explained.

The traffic specialist said, “There is an urgent need to monitor and coordinate and synchronize all efforts for a total commitment and everybody should be concerned about traffic.”

Result of his proposal would be the setting of different schedules for the departure and travel of students and public and private sector employees in order to decongest traffic.

Vehicle reduction

Villegas, a proponent of the color-coding scheme, also seeks stricter implementation of the scheme.

He also claimed that the vehicular reduction scheme manages to reduce 20 percent, or 400,000 vehicles out of the more than 2 million vehicles plying the roads of Metro Manila daily.

Villegas cited that Makati City’s example should be followed. The city is known for its strictness in enforcing the regulation as well as its non-observance of three-hour time windows, which are practiced in other cities.

He strongly suggested the imposition of a daytime truck ban, which he said could reduce traffic congestion to as much as 50 percent.

“We are the only country in Asia that does not observe daytime truck ban. Sixteen to 18 wheelers like garbage trucks should not be on the streets during day time,” Villegas said.

Exceptions to the proposed rule would be trucks carrying fresh food and petroleum products, according to him.

He also suggested that besides those he had mentioned, trucks should only be allowed to use Metro Manila’s roads from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m, Monday to Saturday.

Long-term proposals

Villegas conceded that drastically improving the traffic conditions of Metro Manila would involve effective and well-engineered infrastructure.

He also cited the need to gradually convert to a train-based transportation system such as that used in Japan. Such train lines should be connected, according to the traffic specialist.

Villegas also claimed that Edsa and C5, after all, were originally meant for tram cars, which were then operated before by the Manila Electric Rail Co. He explained that the cited avenues were not designed for the traffic situation at present.

He said that he was hoping that traffic education could be introduced as early as grade school in order to “program” obedience to traffic rules and regulations.

Villegas proposed the creation of a single government agency devoted to the task of managing traffic in Metro Manila.

Umbrella agency

He envisioned an agency that would be made up of representatives from the DOTC, MMDA, LTO, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Philippine National Police as well as the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Such agency, Villegas said, would be similar to the Department of Public Transportation in San Francisco, California. It would be directly responsible for systematizing traffic in Metro Manila, coordinating not only the movement of road users, but also the construction of public works to suit the needs of such movement.

According to a paper by Rogelio Uranza, a former project director of the MMDA, “the provision of transport infrastructure and regulation of transport services within Metro Manila remain a largely inter-agency affair.”

The DPWH, for one, is primarily in charge of road planning that would require an element of traffic engineering. Licensing and vehicle registration, meanwhile, is handled by the LTO while the regulation of public transportation is managed by the LTFRB. The MMDA is mandated to enforce discipline and traffic rules, according to Uranza.

“Despite the presence of a framework of inter-agency committees, such institutional complexity often leads to slow responses to traffic and transport issues, and is one of the main sources of inefficiency in the sector,” he said.

As such, an agency that would have the function of supervising the construction of traffic-engineered infrastructure as well as the enforcement of traffic rules and regulations would cure the seeming lack of coordination in traffic systems that Villegas cited.

Vilegas said that he had submitted his proposals to Congress. He added that it had received positive feedback from legislators who vowed to support such measures.

Indeed, the traffic woes of Metro Manila are as complex as its intersecting roads and avenues. The detours away from the dilemma, as Villegas pointed out, will be paved with political will and perseverance. –FRANK LLOYD TIONGSON REPORTER, Manila Times

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