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.