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Why is business foresight in traffic-weary PH punished?

/ 04:03 AM November 12, 2019

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

This is the situation San Miguel Corp., the operator of the Metro Manila Skyway System, has found itself in after it commenced the construction of a 4-kilometer extension of the elevated roadway.

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The project has caused kilometer-long traffic gridlock on portions of the South Luzon Expressway (SLEx) occupied by heavy construction equipment.

To ease the suffering of motorists affected by the traffic jam, a technical working group of the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) recommended the reduction of the toll for the northbound section of the SLEx.

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The TRB has held in abeyance its decision, pending a review of the justification and financial basis of the proposal.

As expected, SMC objected to the proposal because it would violate its concession agreement with the government and adversely affect investor confidence on the financing agreements it has entered into for the Skyway.

From the looks of it, the toll cut proposal aims to “punish” SMC for its foresight to construct a road extension that would correct a flaw in the Skyway’s design and make provisions for the anticipated increase in traffic volume.

At the rate Laguna, Batangas and other areas in Southern Luzon are experiencing commercial growth, it is just a matter of time before the existing SLEx and Skyway facilities become inadequate to support motorists’ needs.

Thus, from the strategic perspective, it makes good business sense for SMC to undertake the road extension now in preparation for the increase in road traffic in the affected areas.

It does not take a lot of grey matter to understand that any road construction will adversely affect the flow of traffic. Some spaces on the ground have to be taken out of their regular use to make way for construction activities.

Motorists and regulators cannot have their cake and eat it too. If they want to enjoy smooth driving, they should be willing to endure whatever inconveniences may arise on account of the construction work.

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No engineering machine has yet been invented that would allow the construction of road facilities overnight or without disrupting regular traffic flow.

Suppose SMC, in its desire to avoid public criticism, decides to keep things “as is” in the Skyway, only keeping the roads well-maintained and well-lighted. In other words, it does not do anything that would address the expected rise in traffic movement to and from Southern Luzon and, in the process, replicate the traffic gridlock of Edsa.

If that happens, the TRB will no doubt take SMC to task for sleeping on the job and for failure to have the foresight to take proactive measures to make driving at the Skyway a pleasurable experience.

What’s more, some bright boys in the TRB, like the ones who proposed the toll cut, may even recommend the imposition of a heavy fine on SMC for not thinking ahead in planning the continued efficient operation of the Skyway.

In effect, SMC will be damned if it fails to make provisions for the increase in road traffic in the Skyway in the future, and is now being damned for doing that.

By citing the traffic gridlock as justification for the proposed toll cut, the TRB is giving the impression the SLEx and Skyway are the only means to get to and from the southern part of Metro Manila.

No, they’re not. There are service roads and streets near and around the two toll ways that motorists can use. The SLEx and Skyway just happened to be the most convenient way (with occasional traffic buildups on certain times of the day and night) for that purpose.

In other words, motorists have a choice. If they do not want to get caught in the Skyway traffic gridlock, they can take their chances with the service roads or side streets and share the space with jeepneys and tricycles.

Why do I know this? Because I live in the south and commute regularly to the north, and have learned to live with the temporary inconvenience caused by the extension project.

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