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Toward Metro Manila’s new age in public transportation

Metro Manila is on the cusp of a new age in mass public transportation. Decades of traumatic public experience with chaotic, dysfunctional public transportation and traffic gridlock, particularly on Edsa, ground zero of carmageddon, had indelibly impressed in the people’s mind the insolubility of these urban problems.

Keen observers, however, see Metro Manila’s public transportation service undergoing transformation through structural policy reforms and projects, some initiated in the past and most others by the current administration, through the Department of Transportation (DOTr) under the Build, Build, Build program.

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These projects, aside from being unprecedented in scope and scale, are aligned with the National Economic and Development Authority’s National Transport Plan (NTP) that prioritizes people mobility through public transportation and bike lanes. Efficient people mobility—instead of private vehicle mobility—is the primary objective.

These projects are being pursued by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, in a determined drive to address the country’s decadeslong underinvestment in public transportation, and, thereby, expunge its unenviable reputation for having the least efficient public transportation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The overarching objective is to relieve commuters of their daily ordeal due to horrendous traffic congestion with heavy consequential social, economic and public health burdens, and to reinforce the foundation for sustained economic growth.

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There are firm indications that this horror story will be relegated to the past and these are supported by the ongoing wide-ranging road and rail transport reforms, particularly on Edsa, the densest and most important traffic corridor in Metro Manila with over 1 million daily commuters. These reforms on Edsa have cascading effects on other major thoroughfares in the metropolis.

Two major developments define the transformation of public transportation on Edsa. First, public bus service reforms and second, capacity expansion of the vital MRT 3 train line now in the final stage of complete rehabilitation.

Transformational bus service reforms

Game-changing bus service transformation came on June 1, 2020, with the introduction of the first-ever inner-lane busway for rapid bus service on Edsa. This was complemented by bus route reorganization with the novel Edsa carousel line where only accredited buses are allowed and the new ride transfer system with commuters on feeder lines transferring to the Edsa trunk line.

These twin measures unclogged Edsa with a drastically reduced number of bus units. Buses, being confined to the enclosed busway, no longer disturb traffic on other lanes. Commuters are already reaping the benefits from these sweeping reforms in terms of quicker turnaround trips and shorter and predictable travel time.

Complementing the bus reforms are the following complementary projects: massive capacity expansion of both short and long-haul train lines involving MRT 3, LRT lines 1 and 2, new MRT 7 to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan; new Edsa grand central train station; rehabilitation of the PNR north and south commuter lines; expected partial operability of the first-ever Mega Manila Subway; fast train to Clark City and airport, and modernization of equally vital jeepneys for last mile connectivity. For active mobility, an extensive bikeway is being developed with over 300 kilometers already in place.

Nationwide improvements in civil aviation also have a positive impact on Metro Manila traffic. Night rating of provincial airports will allow flights in and out of Manila to be spread from dawn to late night hours. New international airports such as Mactan, Bohol, Clark and Bicol, allow direct flights to bypass Manila. These developments spread and reduce traffic load on roads in Manila.

Efficient and reliable train service from Metro Manila has the salutary benefit of relieving the acute housing shortage and decongesting the metropolis. People can live in communities as far as Calamba, Malolos, Bacoor and San Jose del Monte, and conveniently commute to work in the city.

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All these transportation reforms are transformational and they will provide long-term sustainable improvement in people mobility in Metro Manila. Higher commuter throughput will be achieved in a safe, convenient and predictable manner. Finally, system and order in public transportation are at hand.

Improvement in public transportation generates positive impact. Higher operational efficiency reduces public-use vehicles on the road, which, in turn, will reduce the unsustainable demand pressure for more private vehicles and road space.

Clean-powered rolling stock and less traffic congestion will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases and thereby mitigate climate change. These give rise to the opportunity to widen sidewalks for walking, planting of trees and landscaping for a calmer and more pleasant urban atmosphere.

Travel demand management

Daily private vehicle load on Edsa has reached close to prepandemic levels and is causing bumper-to-bumper traffic. The two road lanes added by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) are being overwhelmed by motorists who were induced to use their vehicles. In contrast, the new busway has controlled access and is operating free of traffic congestion.

The solution lies in the NTP for travel demand management through high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) and the imposition of a congestion charge on noncompliant vehicles. This system is proving effective in regulating vehicle volume in Singapore and London, and merits serious consideration by the MMDA given the apparent ineffectiveness of its number coding scheme.

Much work remains to be done to complete and optimize the EDSA busway. Major components remain and they include the missing section from Makati to MOA and PTIX, the Makati bus station, intermediate stations to close long station gaps to improve accessibility and resolving chokepoints, among others.

Mitigating measures

Improvements in public transportation also enable the attainment of another primordial objective: minimizing the harmful effects of global warming and climate change.

The Green Edsa Movement recently issued a public statement that proposed concrete mitigating measures for consideration by the MMDA, DOTr, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Energy, as well as the private sector. The measures include the issuance of a presidential executive order enjoining all relevant government agencies to comply with the National Transport Plan and transferring national government offices to Clark Green City to decongest Metro Manila.

This initiative for efficient public transportation and green environment is supported by the largest business, financial and professional organizations in the country, including the Management Association of the Philippines, Bankers Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Employers Confederation of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Move as One Coalition, Philippine Retailers Association, Guild of Real Estate Entrepreneurs and Professionals and Women’s Business Council.

Transformational changes in Metro Manila’s transportation system will bring about a greener and healthier environment that is truly beneficial for future generations of Filipinos. INQThe author is the advocate of the Edsa busway, conceptualized the new Edsa busway footbridges with concourse, chairman of the traffic and transportation committee of the Management Association of the Philippines, and Green Edsa Movement. This article reflects the advocacies of MAP on transportation matters and green environment, including the recent joint call to heed the United Nations report on climate crisis and Manifesto of the Green Edsa Movement.

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