Philippines resorts to short-term solutions for Metro Manila traffic

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Government officials talk about opportunities and challenges in urban living and development.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 26) — The government settles for short-term solutions to ease Metro Manila traffic for now - as it catches up on infrastructure that should have been built decades ago.

This was the general sentiment of government officials and resource persons who talked about issues in the metro during CNN Philippines' Town Hall on Wednesday.

Architect and urban planner Paulo Alcazaren said traffic "is just a symptom" to the country's perpetual problem. "The problem is the lack of an efficient, integrated transport system."

While the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) agrees, it admits it would take years for the government to fix mass transport.

"Yung traffic sa Metro Manila, it did not happen overnight. This was 30, 40 years behind. We cannot solve this overnight also," MMDA General Manager Jojo Garcia said.

The Philippines, notorious for having one of the worst traffic situations in the world, is estimated to have lost about P3.5 billion due to traffic daily. A study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency projects losses to traffic could go up to P5.4 billion per day by 2035 if no interventions are made.

Garcia said while the government has started building better roads and transport facilities, "we can't wait without doing something."

Carpooling, regulating car purchases?

Carpooling tops the traffic authority's list of short-term solutions.

The MMDA has been pushing for carpooling, saying it would not only enable participants to save money and help reduce air pollution, but it could also bring people closer.

"Baka may crush kayo isabay niyo na… 'Yan ang advantage ng carpooling bukod sa makakatipid ka na, may socialization," Garcia said, drawing laughter from members of the audience who were mostly students of the De La Salle University.

[Translation: "If you have a crush, consider carpooling with that person. This is the advantage of carpooling, aside from saving money, you also socialize."]

The MMDA, however, has put on hold a policy that would further encourage carpooling -- the ban on driver-only vehicles on EDSA during rush hour. This controversial policy drew criticisms even as the MMDA assured it was only a band-aid solution, as big ticket infrastructure projects are underway.

Garcia also mentioned more extreme measures such as regulating the number of cars people can buy. He said many Filipino car owners do not have their own garages for parking, and occupy roads meant for the public.

"Lahat ng tao, yung tapat ng bahay niyo, hindi po inyo yan sa gobyerno yan (The lot in front of your house is not yours, it's the government's)," Garcia said, lamenting that double-parking also causes traffic.

Meanwhile, he said the MMDA is letting go of the modified odd-even scheme it has proposed on EDSA, for now. The coding scheme allows cars on EDSA at a scheduled time only depending on their plate numbers. But he said it might only encourage people to buy more cars.

Catching up on infrastructure

Officials blamed previous administrations for the lack of infrastructure, and poor urban planning specifically on EDSA.

"We have underinvested in infrastructure, so now we have to play catch up," Transport Undersecretary for Planning Benny Reynoso said.

He, however, assured that transport facilities are now on the pipeline, including the first ever subway in Metro Manila, with a groundbreaking set by the end of this year.

"Sa Pilipinas lang walang subway. All countries na maunlad, may subway lahat 'yan," Garcia said.

[Translation: "Only the Philippines has no subway. All developed countries have a subway."]

The P356-billion Metro Manila Subway is a flagship project under the government's "Build, Build, Build" infrastructure program. The 25-kilometer underground railway from Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay, is expected to benefit 370,000 passengers daily.

As for EDSA, Alcazaren said the 24-kilometer stretch was not meant to be dotted with commercial establishments in the first place.

"EDSA was designed as a thoroughfare, no stopping," Alcazaren said.

Even President Rodrigo Duterte has given up on EDSA, as Congress has yet to give him emergency powers to ease traffic on Metro Manila's main highway, which would allow him to bypass bidding procedures.

Call for discipline

But, whatever policy the government comes up with would be useless if people would not cooperate, Garcia said.

He noted an average of 70,000 traffic violations monthly, caught on video through the MMDA's no-contact traffic apprehension policy. Closed-circuit television and digital cameras, and other gadgets across the metro capture erring motorists, who end up on MMDA's "May Huli Ba?" database.

"We can only do so much. We really need the participation of all of you," Garcia said.

MMDA envisions a Metro Manila where traffic enforcers no longer to guard streets because motorists and commuters are disciplined.

"Right now we're not yet ready… You need to intimidate first the public for them to follow the law," Garcia said.