“WHAT we need is a change in mindset, not more infrastructure”—that, in gist, is what a top official of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in connection with government efforts to address the problem of traffic congestion, with experts warning that the Philippines could be losing billions of pesos every day from lost productivity due to traffic jams.
“We’ve seen that it’s hopeless to try to solve the problem of congestion by building more infrastructure. There’s no solution in it,” said Jose Manuel Viegas, secretary general, International Transport Forum OECD, in his speech during the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Transport Forum on Monday with the theme “Transport in the Asian Century.”
Viegas extolled the use of bicycles, walking, and using the train as forms of transportation rather than relying only on cars. “It’s not a shame to have a driving license, but it’s not very rational to drive every time we need to be somewhere. So basically, if we change it from a basic option to an exception, it becomes so much easier and it’s really a change of perception.”
Asia’s economic rise and transformation into a global economic powerhouse has been one of the most successful stories of economic development in recent times, and is also unstoppable and gathering pace.
Within this century, Asia will become home to the majority of the world’s middle class, the world’s largest producer of goods and services, and at the same time the largest consumer.
However, Asia’s continued success is not pre-ordained. In the transport sector, large gaps in the quantity and quality of infrastructure continue to limit access and mobility. Congestion, road crashes, air pollution and greenhouse gases all contribute to environmental and social challenges.
“But it’s sometimes not enough to speak with moral advice. You have to give people the options, they have to see it running, and one of the best things to do is to introduce examples. You do it in this neighborhood and the other city, improve public transport in another city, and if you do it well and advertise the reaction of the people and the politicians, and the shopkeepers and all of that, people start understanding that it is possible,” Viegas said.
He added: “Now in Europe there are more than 50 cities with bike rental schemes, moving and moving further along. Why? Because it was a good idea. You don’t need to have the same card in every city to do that, let diversity get in, but the basic notion is if you supplement the capacity of walking with the capacity of biking, suddenly you are easily mobile, within the radius of something like four to five kilometers, and that represents more than 80 percent of trips in the city. So it’s possible.”
Michael Reploge, founder and managing director for policy, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, called for a more equitable allocation of street space to give priority to buses, pedestrians, and bicycles, “otherwise everyone would suffer.”
On the part of the government, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) spokesperson Michael Arthur Sagcal said in a text message: “There are many approaches to solving traffic. On the part of DOTC, our mandate is to modernize transportation infrastructure and policies. Certainly, a cultural shift in thinking and commuting habits will help. This is why the DOTC promotes non-motorized transportation (NMT) as well as environmentally-sustainable mass transit systems.”
He added: “We do this through major projects, such as introducing the BRT [bus rapid transit]and urban railways, and through smaller initiatives, such as allowing folding bikes on the LRT [Light Rail Tranist] and MRT [Metro Rail Transit] and installing bike racks in their stations.”
Last Friday night, the DOTC awarded its biggest public-private partnership (PPP) project so far, the P65-billion Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1) Cavite Extension (Cavex) Project, to the Light Rail Manila Consortium (LRMC).
It officially awarded the 32-year concession for the LRT-1 project to the LMRC, which consists of Metro Pacific Light Rail Corp., which leads the consortium with a 55-percent stake; AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp. with a 35-percent stake; and Macquarie Infrastructure Holdings (Philippines), Inc. with a 10-percent stake.
DOTC also launched the tender for another PPP project with the publication of its invitation to pre-qualify and bid for the Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2) Operations and Maintenance (O&M) contract.
In accordance with the DOTC’s thrust to modernize the country’s railways and to provide the public with convenient, safe, affordable and reliable mass transport systems, it is looking for potential bidders for the O&M contract for LRT-2.
The 13.8-kilometer long LRT-2 traverses the cities of Manila, San Juan, Quezon City, Marikina, and Pasig and caters to around 200,000 passengers daily.
The winning bidder will take over the O&M of all 11 stations of the existing line, as well as the 4.19-kilometer LRT-2 Masinag Extension, construction of which is scheduled to begin in January 2015. The concession period will be between 10 and 15 years.
The award is subject to the final decision of the Supreme Court (SC) with respect to the Common Station project, which will connect LRT-1, Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) and MRT-7 at the EDSA-North Avenue area.
The LRT-1 Cavex bid included a component for the design of the Common Station in front of Trinoma, the original site for the infrastructure project. SM Prime Holdings, Inc. is contesting this location and has obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the SC in its bid to move the Common Station next to its mall, SM North EDSA, despite the National Economic and Development Authority’s (NEDA) approval of the Trinoma site in 2013.
Construction of the Common Station will be procured separately once the case is resolved.
LRMC may begin construction works and take over LRT-1 operations within a maximum of one year from the signing of the concession agreement, or by October 2015. The project should be fully operational within 54 months, or by May 2019.
A study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency revealed that traffic congestion in key cities, primarily in Metro Manila, will take its toll on the Philippine economy to the tune of about of P6 billion a day starting in 2030.