‘Burn those cars’ is the only solution to the gridlocks

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THE first sign that Mr. Duterte knew math-based policy was revealed in an interview during the campaign. He was asked about his views on the massive, crippling metropolitan traffic jams and his intemperate remark was reportedly this: “ Burn those cars.” It was intemperate, yes, but it was based on math. An infrastructure-short Metro Manila cannot accommodate more than 200,000 cars that pile up into its gridlocked road network a year. Of the 300,000-plus cars and private vehicles sold yearly, very few are moved to the provinces.

If you cannot rein in the private cars, whose explosive sales and importation/assembly were supported by the Aquino administration, even the most ambitious and inspired infrastructure buildup in Metro Manila won’t suffice against the exploding presence of the fossil-fed hordes. There is simply no other viable traffic management policy available to the political leadership.

The ordinary commuters, and this means the majority of the Metro Manila workforce and student force, were overjoyed by that intemperate remark, which is standard-issue Duterte but very applicable, policy-wise.

Look at these figures. A private vehicle carries on the average one and a half passengers per trip. The huge SUVs usually carries a VIP, a driver and a bodyguard or a total of three. The LRT 3 carries more than 500,000 commuters a day. A bus carries 35 passengers during slow hours and 53 (the seating capacity) or more during peak hours. The metropolitan buses are packed to the rafters, 60-plus passengers, after office hours.


No rules restrict car buyers. It is all about money. A drug lord can walk into one of those fancy car dealerships along EDSA/Greenhills to buy dozens of pricey cars and SUVs. PUV franchises are overly regulated by the government. There is a phase-out policy for old PUVs. The grant of new franchises to provincial operators has been frozen since the 90s except for developmental and missionary routes.

In six years nobody looked at the math and facts. The car-biased policy of the Aquino administration pushed its apparatchiks to neglect the urban rail system (just look at the mess the LRT 3 is in and you will weep) and discriminate against buses, both city and provincial (it cancelled franchises at will and with impunity). The Aquino transport and traffic policies sadly belonged to the 20th century—to the delight of the car-riding punditry. And duly complimented by the car-riding, often pontificating leaders, of the so-called “civil society.”

Now, what is the 21st century transport and traffic policy that works?

Now, what is the thread that binds the transport and traffic policies of the world’s most developed countries? What policies are these countries, whose strategies are mostly based on science and math and engineering, promoting?

Three approaches capture the policy: walk, bike, and enhance the mass transport. There is a fourth—restrict car use. Exhibit A of that policy is Munich, once the “Car Capital of the World.” It is harder to get a car in Munich than to carry an assault rifle in public places in Orlando, Florida. Munich, an iconic city for the car industry, now restricts car ownership and promotes walking, biking and taking the mass transport.

In Asia, what policies are the First World-type countries promoting? Exhibit A is Singapore. The convoy of the Prime Minister yields to passing buses. Buses get the priority in the use of roads.

That you can’t ease metropolitan traffic unless the leadership deals with the explosion of new cars and imposes hardline policies like what much of the developed world implement is a 21st century verity.

This piece started with Mr. Duterte’s math-based statement during the campaign and the practices of First World countries because of the alarming developments at the recently-concluded business forum in Davao City, which was attended by more than 400 nabobs of the industry and where, according to news reports, there was substantial discussion on traffic alleviation.

If the business leaders were really that serious in doing something about our traffic problem, one inexcusable omission was glaring in that Davao City conference. Not one from the transport industry was invited. The head of the metropolitan bus operators was not there. The president of the provincial bus operators was not there. The head of the taxi operators was not there. No one from the jeepney group was there. The UV operators were not represented.

As a tragic consequence, the matters that emerged were the same tired old issues that belonged to the 20th century. Restrict the buses, the de facto mass transport system in the archipelago. Remove them from the city so cars can be king. As if nothing will change under the Duterte administration.

For God’s sake, how can a coherent discussion on traffic alleviation be done without the people who deal with the gridlock every day present and articulating their side and presenting their views. The tragicomic environment under which the metropolitan traffic jams were discussed with no transport people present negated the positive things that came out of the business meeting.

The truth is that Mr. Duterte does need emergency powers. That should be used to curtail the use of cars in Metro Manila, and to prevent car dealers from selling to families with dozens of cars and SUVs already. Hike, bike, take mass transport.

It fits into his math- and science-based campaign pronouncement.

Common terminals for buses? It is anti-poor. It is anti-commuters. It is anti-Duterte.

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19 Comments

  1. julio madiaga on

    build more roads.

    everybody profits when the government builds more roads and bridges, and fly-overs, and footbridges and tunnels.

  2. Amnata Pundit on

    Like I keep saying, ban all private cars during rush hours. As an added measure, tax up their gills the banks who provide very liberal financing for these cars.

  3. Traffic congestion could be greatly improved if:-
    1. Traffic laws were strictly enforced.
    2. Buses, jeepneys etc only stopped at the designated spots not 2 or 3 lanes wide stopping where they want. (see 1).
    3. Hard to walk, cycle etc when there are no or improperly (illegally) used side walks, no cycle lanes and air pollution is so bad.
    4. Philippinos get some manners and or half a brain so stopping the stupid, selfish driving seen on the roads everyday to the inconvenience of everyone including themselves. no, six lanes of vehicles do not go into a single lane u-turn slot!!! (see 1)

  4. Stop selling cars to people without proof of parking space and deny LTO registration of same. Stop importation of used cars, used trucks and motorcycles because we don’t need it, we have a lot of local used cars here for sale. Remove all road blocks such as billboards, illegally parked vehicles, PUV stations near intersections etc.
    These are three things that can be realistically done to ease traffic immediately.

  5. The simple solution is disciplining the Public Utility Vehicles and pedestrians!!!

    Everywhere you go the cause of traffic is Jeepneys, trikes and buses weaving across the road, stopping anywhere, blocking intersections and commuters standing on the streets plus pedestrians jaywalking everywhere!

    Add to that…

    Unfinished or perpetually slow roadworks!!!

    Stop blaming private vehicles. They are not on the road 24/7 so your math is flawed. Once the private vehicles reached their destination, they are no longer on the roads, but the public utility vehicles still are.

    • jose espiritu on

      no, pirvate cars only hold 5-6 people, buses hold more thus can transport more. less private cars is better. the rich should learn to use mass transit. you need more rail & PUB. copy Vietnam, Singapore or hong kong. their system works for a populated metropolis

  6. jose espiritu on

    common bus terminal is not anti-poor, it’s a good solution, BUT we have to fix the bus operators. I’m comparing the system of Vietnam against the Philippines. In Vietnam
    1. the government owns all city buses. private companies own provincial buses.
    2. fares in city buses are subsidized.
    3. all buses, only stop at designated bus stops, and will not stop if no one is getting on/off, unlike in manila where they are allowed to wait and call for passengers to ride.
    4. salaries of the drivers/conductors are paid by the government and is high enough that they don’t need quotas or boundaries to think about
    5. all city buses have a common terminal but are scattered around the city. in perspective, it’s like having terminals in alabang, Fairview, monumento and baclaran.
    6. priority in traffic are always given to city buses

    system in Vietnam is better than in the Philippines

  7. Also the overhead bridges cum fly over seems to be useless, There are few of the motorist using it because of high entry tickets,

    It can be less jam if this entries not killing the motorist pockets.

  8. do not blame the car owners. first of all, why did they buy cars?? aside from pa porma at masabing can afford ka, it is really a necessity in going to work and going home or children going to school. the problem, to my mind, is the gov’t. specifically the last admin of benito, did not add any additional trains in service instead it let the trains deteriorate. by burning the cars, as your column header states, you are adding lots of people to arrive to work late and go home late which is happening right now given the lack of puv especially the overhead rails. the gov’t should solve the elevated trains lack first then move on the strick use of private cars and they can even go after the jeepneys. like cars, these jeepneys cause traffic. using math also, a bus is equivalent, passenger wise, to at least 5 or 6 jeepneys on the road.

  9. More than a decade ago a friend from Singapore told me that it was more difficult to get a second car than a second mistress in their country because of so many requirements.But because of policies like this. Traffic in very densely populated Singapore way much desirable than in Metro Manila.

  10. One solution that the govt ignores or haven’t a clue is to refurbish the commuter train from Tutuban to Calamba City something like that of Japan’s Shinkansen with free wifi, resto, t.v., this will free the Slex from the horrendous traffic. Of course the car companies and the gas stations won’t like it but it’s an idea whose time has come.

    • kotimoy, matagal ng kinalimutan ng gov’t ang train service. arroyo did it but up to alabang only and benito boy sisi aquino’s men let the pnr trains deteriorate like the elevated trains. in fact many residents of alabang ang nearby towns used the trains to go and shop at divisoria specifically the tutuban mall. there were new coaches then. people started using the trains but now, those new coaches are badly maintained. tho you are correct in saying that well maintained train coaches can be an answer to the slex gridlock daily.

    • wrong! for pinoys car is status symbol. mr. marlen needs to revisit the provinces they are full of new cars even in samar one of the poorest islands

  11. One solution could be to make it hard for people to own cars. Tax car manufacturers more and increase sales taxes of cars being sold in the market. The price of private vehicles would then be so prohibitive that few people could afford it.

  12. Very easy to solve. Many cars on the street so make a law 2 days a week number coding. Solve the public transport problem and continue the no contact policy. Just give all violators a ticket. CCTV installed in all public roads. Increase ticket penalty amount. Triple the penalty amounts. I will bet all my marbles , this will immediately solve the problem.

    • Agree. I have same thing in mind. Change coding . Start with 3nos a day. If trafic does not improve make it 4nos a day. Then finally 5nos. But first we have to have more buses or trains.

  13. Develop a capable mass transit system,
    Expand the trains and buses handle the population
    Get rid of the private trikes and jeepney’s.
    Trikes and jeepneys should not be allowed on the road, the passengers are not safe in any way in case of a accident.
    Ban the use of cars in the city center or wherever is needed.
    Build super highways around the cities with massive parking and public transportation available to city center after exiting.
    Hire city planners that can produce impact studies and clean house on the idiots who have been issuing permits to put malls, universities on the main roads and the same idiots who issue permits for businesses that have no parking spaces at all.

    It’s a big job but someone has to do it and do it right.