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01:33 AM December 20th, 2012

By: Conrado R. Banal, December 20th, 2012 01:33 AM

There is a private group that is readying a challenge to the traffic “number coding” scheme in Metro Manila, planning to present its case before the Supreme Court, perhaps aiming to force the government to drop the scheme finally—after about 16 years.

Officially known by its impossible name “Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program,” the scheme was the brainchild of the MMDA. It was actually a “regulation,” meaning, it had the force of law. It has been in effect in Metro Manila since 1996. It banned the use of any vehicle one day in a week.

Supposedly, the scheme would solve the problem of monstrous traffic jams in the metropolis. At least on paper, it should lessen the volume of vehicular traffic by 20 percent at any given workday, from Monday to Friday.

There—20 percent of the traffic problem is already solved!

Not so fast, Caiphas, because as we all know, the scheme did not work at all. Go ahead—just ask those commuters who are stuck in two- to four-hour-long traffic every day.

According to think-tank groups in business—and even those in the academe—the scheme even served to worsen the traffic problem. Tacked into it was an incentive for people and businesses to spend a lot of money for extra vehicles. It only forced people to buy extra cars to replace their regular cars during the “coding” days.

Like it or not, only those who have the money, meaning, the “rich,” could afford to buy the extra cars.

Based on studies conducted by the think-tank groups, the same rich folk also used the “extra” car during the rest of the week. Those thousands of cars only served to add to the road congestion in Metro Manila.

In other words, the scheme created an undesired effect. Because the rich could afford to buy more cars, the scheme created a bigger traffic mess for all of us, including the wage earners who had no choice but to take public transportation.

According to think-tank groups, the scheme only put the lower income groups at a disadvantage. It should therefore be declared a “class legislation,” burdening only the low-income groups—the poor.

From what I gathered, the head of that group itching to challenge the constitutionality of the scheme before the Supreme Court was the most vocal critic of the MMDA coding scheme, none other than former Customs Commissioner Bert Lina.

For several years now, Lina has been waging a one-man campaign against the scheme. A couple of years ago, for instance, at the start of the Aquino (Part II) administration, the DOTC organized a so-called traffic summit. As the lone representative from the private sector to the summit, Lina voiced out his opposition to the MMDA scheme.

Come to think of it, nothing came out of the much-trumpeted summit.

Anyway, Lina happens to be in the logistics business, owning courier service firms Air 21 and Fedex. By his own admission, his companies incur hundreds of millions of pesos in additional costs because of the MMDA “number coding” scheme.

Lina believes that all of the businesses in the metropolis—not only those in logistics—must be incurring additional costs, amounting to hundreds of billions of pesos every year, all because of the MMDA scheme that studies after studies have shown to be useless.

In each day of the week, those companies could not use some 20 percent of their vehicles. Also, those living in the posh subdivisions, which by design of the developers are inaccessible through public transportation, must also have spent a couple of millions of pesos (per household, that is) for the “extra-for-coding” vehicles.

Worse, aside from the hidden cost in idle capital for business, which could have been used for factory upgrading and such, the traffic problem exacted direct higher fuel costs to business, estimated at between P40 billion and P50 billion a year.

And let us not even talk about the lost productivity that could be worth hundreds of billions, or some figures beyond mathematical calculation.

It is true that some 10 years ago, in 2003, the MMDA suspended the implementation of the coding scheme. Naturally, the suspension only served to worsen the traffic. Urban planning experts at that time opined that the suspension was too abrupt a change. It naturally shocked the system.

The group of Bert Lina was poised to propose another system to reduce the volume of vehicular traffic in the metropolis, particularly on critical roads like Edsa and C-5, or on those in the so-called central business districts like Makati and Ortigas Center.

It cited as example the system in Singapore where, if you want to use a private vehicle in certain parts of the territory, you have to pay an amount equivalent to the price of the car—or something like that—for a license.

Anyway, according to the Lina initiative, the lifting of the MMDA coding scheme could easily free up P100 billion in capital that businesses and households used to buy the extra vehicles to skirt the MMDA scheme.

Perhaps the business sector would be willing to use the freed-up capital to buy government bonds that, in turn, could finance the construction of infrastructure, such as more flyovers, which would provide more lasting solutions to the traffic problem.

Infrastructure definitely addresses the problem of the sheer volume of vehicular traffic in Metro Manila. Based on official records, LTO registration of new motor vehicles has been growing by at least 4 percent every year in the past decades, while the road network has not been expanding.

Thus, today, the road network in the metropolis is overloaded. Two vehicles out of every 10 vehicles registered by the LTO all over the country were registered in Metro Manila. And how big is the metropolis? Well, it is not even one percent of the country’s entire land area.

The problem is evident on Edsa, with its more than 8,000 bus trips every day, which are hardly used to full capacity. You can actually see a lot of empty buses on the road, fighting for passengers at every bus stop, blocking the entire road for good measure.

How does the MMDA try to solve the problem? Well, just a few months ago, the authority introduced another “coding” scheme on Edsa—this road is probably the busiest road in the whole world. It was called the “bus segregation scheme,” dividing the buses into three categories, assigning to each category some specific sections of Edsa for loading and unloading.

The experiment did not work. The buses simply stayed longer at their designated loading-unloading zones. Traffic on Edsa is still as harrowing as ever.

By the way, the parking lot we know as Edsa also underwent exorcism rites recently. Some brilliant guys at our beloved MMDA, the sole traffic authority in the metropolis, initiated the rites. They were supposed to be the definitive measure to prevent accidents. What a solution!

Here is the biggest joke of them all. A few months ago, the government invited some experts from Japan to conduct a—get ready for this—“seminar” on how to solve the traffic problem in the metropolis.

According to reports, the head of the DPWH hailed the seminar as “a glint of hope for the commuting public.”

What the… boss, it was just a seminar! It would take more than just some blabbing gabfests to defeat our despair over traffic.

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