KILLER

By James Veloso

TRAFFIC is a killer.

In fact, contrary to what outgoing Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya had said that traffic does not kill the truth is -it in fact could kill both literally and figuratively.

A Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study said that in 2012 the Philippines lost ₱2.6 billion a day due to traffic jams. A new study now says that the country is losing P3 billion daily due to wasted man-hours and opportunities caused traffic congestions.

If traffic does not kill business in particular and the economy in general, then we don’t know what it does.


LIVES LOST

On the other hand, various health studies have confirmed that frequent exposure to pollution caused by traffic jams are one of the main reasons in causing debilitating health conditions especially lung problems for the affected individuals. (Please see lead story for the Health section in this issue)

This is also not to mention the fact that lives were also lost on several occasions due to the so called road rage cases when exasperated motorists vent their ire on fellow motorists even on minor altercations usually caused by maddening traffic jams.


NOT A SIGN OF PROGRESS

Traffic is indeed a killer and not a sign of progress as what former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas once claimed in an attempt to downplay the public’s anger over the government’s failure to address the problem.

 

GATES OF HELL

In his book Inferno, novelist Dan Brown described Manila through the story’s heroine Dr. Sienna Brooks as the gates of hell because of what she saw as extreme poverty and chaotic traffic situation in the big city.

The novel as expected earned widespread condemnation from various sectors especially from government officials shortly after it was published.


LIFE IMITATES ART

As they say, life imitates art and Brown could indeed be just describing what was really happening in our country.

Brown’s heroine Brooks was just stating a fact especially in describing the horrendous daily traffic gridlock in Metro Manila.

Hundreds of thousands of commuters and motorists who have to brave the six hour rush-hour traffic daily just to reach their destinations have no other way to describe it but like hell indeed.

The few elevated train lines that ply major routes in Metro Manila are always packed like sardines, especially during morning and afternoon rush hours but the government is doing nothing to solve the terrible situation.


TRAFFIC CRISIS

Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) which has been diligently doing studies on how to address the traffic congestions in Metro Manila has called on incoming President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a traffic crisis so that he could be given emergency powers to solve the problem.

MAP Gov. Eduardo Yap, who spoke at “The Future of Transportation” panel discussion in Taguig City recently noted that the inconvenience caused by the traffic problem was too much with commuters spending four to six hours on their daily commute.

“People were “getting impatient” over the traffic situation in the metropolis describing the travails of the public as like having to carry their cross daily just like what Jesus Christ did in the cavalry.

Last month, the group highlighted the need for an immediate solution to the traffic problem in the metropolis noting that traffic congestion was continuously affecting businesses, the quality of life and the economy.

Yap said that the emergency powers to be given to Duterte are the best way for him to solve the traffic crisis.


WORLD’S WORST

Metro Manila currently ranks among the cities with the worst traffic situations in the world, according to traffic and navigation app Waze.

According to Waze 2015 Global Driver Satisfaction Index, Manila has the longest average commute time, with 45.5 minutes, while the Philippines rank as the ninth worst place to drive.


HORRENDOUS CONSEQUENCES

And of course, international organizations have already repeatedly warned that Manila’s traffic could have horrendous consequences.

Manila might have more to lose than simply revenue, John Forbes, a senior advisor at the American Chamber of Commerce at the Philippines, has warned earlier this year.

“Metro Manila is at risk of becoming uninhabitable as annual new car growth increases to 500,000 by 2020,” Forbes said.

“While roads are being improved throughout the country, the National Capital Region urgently needs more access roads, especially skyways, and rail.”

 

PALAFOX RECOMMENDATIONS

Noted urban architect and planner Felino “Jun” Palafox estimates that Metro Manila private and government employees waste an average 1,000 hours a year in traffic alone.

“If you have an economic life of 40 years, you would have wasted 40,000 man-hours in your life [stuck in traffic],” he was quoted in a radio interview.

When it comes to Manila’s urban planning, authorities seemed to have followed the American example of emphasis of cars as the main source of transport, Palafox has repeatedly stressed.

However, the example is terribly unsuited for the Philippine landscape, he pointed out. “We’re trying too hard to become like Los Angeles and Detroit, and we don’t even manufacture cars,” he said in a 2014 Zipmatch blog post.

What’s worse, only a fraction of the grandiose road network plans for Metro Manila and its environs – some of which date back to the American occupation – even made it out of the drawing board.

“As a testament to this, the American Corps of Engineers proposed 10 radial and 6 circumferential roads in Metro Manila,” Palafox wrote in a September 2015 Manila Times article. “…However, even after 70 years, C-6 has not even been completed yet.”


INEFFECTIVE MEASURES

And laws intended to ease the traffic burden, including the Unified Vehicle Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP), has ironically only served to increase the number of cars: motor vehicle sales in the Philippines grew from 132,444 units in 2009 to 234,747 units in 2014, nearly doubling in a 5-year span.

Coupled with the currently inefficient mass transport system, all these factors had resulted into one lopsided statistical fact, according to Palafox: while public transport moves 69 percent of Metro Manila residents, private vehicles take up 78 percent of the road space.

This kind of “car-centric” urban planning also has double impacts not only on vehicular traffic but also on pedestrian traffic, Palafox has repeatedly pointed out.

Lack of adequate sidewalks and pedestrian walkways – not to mention the fact that most car owners in Metro Manila would use the sidewalks as their own parking space – meant that pedestrians are forced to walk into the streets, endangering themselves and contributing to the already slow traffic flow in the process.


CHEATING ON A DIET

The outgoing Aquino administration has been bragging about several infrastructure works to ease Metro Manila’s traffic problem such as the NAIA Expressway, the Skyway Stage 3 project, and the NLEX C-5 Link.

But Palafox is not convinced that these construction projects could actually help solve Metro Manila traffic noting that building more skyways is like “cheating on your diet by loosening your belt.”

Palafox instead recommended that the government should have implemented long ago the Metro Manila Transport and Development Plan (MMETROPLAN), a joint project of the government and Freeman Fox and Associates of the United Kingdom between 1975 and 1977.

Among the recommendations in the MMETROPLAN, Palafox has said in his column, included building all eight proposed lines of the Light Rail Transit, improving bus services, and utilizing Metro Manila’s waterways through water transport systems, linking communities along Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay.

Later plans fielded by JICA and other government agencies have also placed heavy emphasis on expanding Manila’s rail networks, including an ambitious plan to put up a subway system in the metropolis.


HIGH EXPECTATIONS

The people have already given up on the ineffective outgoing Aquino government and they are now pinning their hopes on the incoming Duterte regime.

During his campaign stumps, Duterte was repeatedly quoted as saying that he would put priority to solving the traffic mess once he is elected into office.

Those promises endeared him to Metro Manila residents who are clearly fed up with the “hellish” traffic situation.

Duterte’s plans to ease congestion through transferring seaport and airport hubs from Metro Manila to other areas in the country, along with expanding the metropolis’ rail networks, certainly resonate to commuters forced to endure heavy traffic and a broken-down mass transport system.

Yet many are aware that Duterte cannot solve the traffic problem overnight, and until more concrete plans are taken, ordinary Filipinos who rely on public transport will have to suffer a little more.

But with Duterte at the helm, the people are convinced that he could do something and that changes would indeed come along with him.

 

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Tuesday, 21 January 2020
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