Slaying the Metro Manila traffic monster
The title of Manila having the worst traffic in the world, conferred by a global traffic monitoring firm, is affirmation of a known fact that has greatly cost the economy and damaged the welfare of the people. The solution to the severe bus transportation problem on the defunct yellow bus lanes indicates that this multi-decade long traffic problem is similarly not impervious to alleviation. But there is no single silver bullet to slay this traffic monster. Rather, a holistic approach with a paradigm shift in traffic management strategies and practices is essential.
A holistic plan, initiated by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and officially approved by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), proposed that policy must reflect the reality that road space is a finite public resource that must be judiciously and efficiently used to move people, instead of private vehicles. There must be a realization that high occupancy in conveyances and uninterrupted vehicle flow are essential to achieve higher commuter throughput. This was clearly proven in the new Edsa Busway when it achieved a one-day peak ridership of 454,000 passengers on Dec. 27, 2022, with only 550 buses deployed.
On the other hand, the defunct yellow bus lanes proved that over 3,000 public buses only kept commuters stagnated in unmoving buses while traffic congestion was worsened. Adding more road space for private vehicles proved counter-productive, when two road lanes taken from the busway only induced more private vehicles that further congested Edsa. This occurrence validates the Baes paradox and induced traffic phenomenon known to traffic engineers abroad since the 1930s, yet ignored by local traffic managers.
For this paradigm shift to happen, the MAP recommends, as a first step, that a traffic crisis be officially acknowledged and a new traffic management team be constituted to be headed by a traffic czar, and vested with full powers and authority to mobilize, direct and deploy relevant resources of the government, both national and local, during the exigency of this crisis.
Additionally, the MAP recommends a holistic plan be adopted.
Organization and administration
Organize Metro Manila into four traffic management zones to be headed by a qualified zone traffic manager who shall be responsible for traffic management in their respective zone, report to and be accountable to the traffic czar.
Revive the Mabuhay Lanes and optimize their use as alternate routes to relieve traffic congestion along major ring and radial roads and create new ones where none exists. Clear the lanes by disallowing parking during designated peak traffic hours in the morning and evening, subject to towing and impounding of violating vehicles. Revise the direction of traffic flows along Metro Manila streets to minimize traffic conflicts at intersections by limiting left turns and crossings, and disallowing U-turns, except only in suitable locations. Create quick reaction force to clear choke points. Require high-passenger occupancy vehicle practices at high-density zones, such as schools and large event venues. Require off-street drop-off and boarding lanes, and strictly enforce no parking, no loading and unloading rule in school zones located along major routes.
Mass public transport
Shift from car-centric policy and, instead, comply with the National Transport Plan extant since 2017, particularly to prioritize mass public transport over private vehicles. Prioritize allocation of road space for busways. Enhance nonmotorized mobility with the creation and expansion of sidewalks and cycling network. Institute travel demand management through peak-hour travel pricing of public transport fares such that nonpeak hours shall have lower fares. Implement road congestion charges on private vehicles with less than the prescribed occupants in high-volume traffic routes during peak travel hours. Rationalize the jeepney and bus franchising system to institute a one-route, one-franchise system to optimize the efficiency and utilization of vital commuter corridors.
The Edsa Busway system has proven to be the most cost-effective urban mass transit system, but it remains a work in progress. It must be expeditiously completed and upgraded to global standards to increase capacity and convenience for commuters and attract motorists. This can happen under a private concessionaire. Accordingly, the unsolicited proposal on hand should be processed soonest so that the next step, Swiss challenge selection, can promptly proceed.
The system must be expanded and replicated to cover other major thoroughfares, such as Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon Avenue, Sucat Avenue, Alabang Zapote Road and others. Over the soonest medium term, the awarded operator should implement: clean energy system; person with disability-friendly stations; build bus transfer stations to interconnect the carousel line with feeder routes; institute multi-modal connectivity, particularly bus to commuter rail; introduce modern rolling stock, including high-capacity articulated bus trains on rubber wheels; build pay park-and-ride facilities and offer business class service on bus and trains. It must be required to attain gold standard over the most vital and congested stretch, while conforming to globally accepted bus rapid transit standards and best practices for the rest of the line.
MRT 3 and LRT 2 systems
Privatize railway operation and maintenance in order to improve and expand service capacity. Reduce the headway or the gap between trains during peak travel hours to maximize commuter throughput without the need for additional heavy capital expenditures and compromising passenger safety.
Build a new government center and transfer all national offices to the New Clark City and impose a moratorium on building new government offices in Metro Manila, particularly in already congested business districts and a timeline be established for the phased construction of the new center. Develop satellite communities outside Metro Manila linked by rail through the north and south commuter rail system. Adopting the live, work and play concept of mix-use development for walkable and self-sustaining communities that will not burden the public transport system.
Expansion of nautical highway
Fully develop a Pasig River and Laguna Lake passenger ferry system with regular schedule and transfer stations for multi-modal connectivity to jeepneys and buses. Construct and implement roll on-roll off ferry ship system for passenger and cargo across Manila Bay from Cavite to Bataan, to provide an alternate route to decongest C-5, Katipunan Road and North Expressway (NLEx), and thereby bypass Metro Manila.
Other infra measures
Construct more bridges over Pasig River to divert and relieve overconcentration of vehicles at the few existing bridges. Provide more on and off-ramps to improve access to existing skyways, while clearing ground-level traffic to enable vehicles on the skyways to exit. Provide more alternate exits and entry points to the NLEx and South Luzon Expressway to decongest tollgates. Construct more effective and sustainable flood control measures, such as underground large diameter storm drainage tunnels to drain depressed intersections (Edsa corner Ortigas Avenue and Edsa-Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo) to provide resiliency. Construct water interceptors and catchments to prevent rain water from cascading down from surrounding mountains. Construct dedicated car pay parking buildings with tax exemptions and administrative incentives.
MAP will encourage its members to consider, where appropriate, the telecommuting system or work from anywhere on certain days during the exigency of this crisis and other practices that may be applicable, such as ride-sharing or high-occupancy vehicle practice. No effort must be spared to expeditiously provide relief from it. The crisis can be mitigated with strong political will, competent management with resolute short, medium and long-term measures. INQ
(The author is chair of MAP Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who is the proponent of the Edsa Busway. This article reflects the official MAP policy approved by the MAP Board of Governors. Feedback via [email protected] and [email protected].)