Why is traffic along the thoroughfares of Metro Manila getting worse every single day? Is it because of the lack of roads, infrastructures, traffic enforcers, public transportation, discipline or plainly lack of leadership? We at Fast Times gathered data from concerned government agencies and came up with tangible figures to help understand what might be the root cause of these monstrous traffic jams. We also asked leaders from business and government sectors about their insights on what could be the best way to solve the perennial traffic problem in the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila.
A study initiated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2012 found that traffic congestion costs the country some P2.4 billion in potential income as well as lost productivity each and every day. If not addressed, the costs are expected to exceed P6 billion daily by 2030.
Data gathered from the Land Transportation Office (LTO) showed that as of 2013, there were 2.1 million motor vehicles registered in the NCR alone, which include cars, utility vehicles, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), trucks, buses, motorcycles, tricycles and trailers.
LTO records show that in 2010, there were 338,552 new motor vehicle registrations in NCR. Of that number, 199,605 were motorcycles and the rest were a mix of cars, SUVs, trucks and buses. In 2011, the number of grew to 345,711 including 200,538 motorbikes. The following year saw a slight decrease in new registrations with 321,734 new vehicles: 174,741 two-wheelers and 146,993 other vehicles. In 2013, new vehicle registration in NCR rebounded and reached 359,114 — with 199,157 motorcycles and 159,957 cars, trucks and buses. Last year was a banner year for both automobile and motorcycle manufacturers. In Metro Manila alone, new car and truck registrations reached 195,455 units while motorcycle sales topped 200,663 units. For the first trimester of 2015, LTO recorded 118,892 new registrations in the NCR with 59,132 cars and 59,760 motorcycles.
If we were to get the average of LTO’s 2015 “First Trimester” figures, that would relate to 14,783 multi-wheeled vehicles (cars, SUVs, buses and trucks) and 14,940 two-wheeled units that slot in to the already crammed national roads every single month.
The website of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) posted that as of December 15, 2014, the agency maintains a 1,417-kilometer long network of “national roads” in the NCR. A typical national road is between 3.1 to 3.5 meters wide to accommodate various vehicle sizes. If we compute for the total land area of all the national roads in the NCR, it would amount to 4.959 million square meters (1,417 [kilometers]x 1,000 [meters]x 3.5 [meter road width]).
A typical car occupies an area of approximately 12 square meters, a bus 40 square meters and a truck 60 square meters. Meanwhile, a typical-sized motorcycle occupies a space of two square meters. If we were to compute how many vehicles all the national roads in the NCR can accommodate at one given time, it would translate to 413,292 cars, 123,988 buses, 82,658 trucks or 2.479 million motorcycles.
Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) stretches 23.8 kilometers from Balintawak down to the Mall of Asia in Pasay City. It has a total of 12 lanes, six lanes on each direction, and occupies a total land area of 999,600 square meters (23.8 x 12 x 1000 x 3.5), or 21,000 square meters per kilometer (six lanes). At any given time, the entire stretch of EDSA can accommodate 83,300 cars or 24,990 buses or 16,600 trucks or 499,800 motorbikes.
Basing figures from LTO’s 2015 first trimester figures, 14,783 multi-wheeled vehicles (cars, SUVs, buses and trucks) and 14,940 two-wheeled joins the fray along the NCR’s national roads each and every month. The new vehicles that are added to the NCR traffic each and every month translates to occupying a land area of 207,196 square meters, or to make it simpler, the entire 9.9-kilometer, six-lane, north-bound stretch of EDSA from the Mall of Asia in Pasay City to the EDSA Shrine at the corner of Ortigas Avenue. That’s a lot!
Take note that the number still does not include the transient vehicles registered in the adjacent Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite and Laguna areas, that also use the Metro Manila roads. LTO’s 2014 records show that there are 2.497 million motor vehicles registered in the NCR. Industry insiders forecast that vehicle sales (two-wheel and multi-wheel vehicles) will breach the 400,000 mark for 2015, with an average growth of 10-percent year after year. If that keeps up and no measures are put in place, either to add infrastructure or control the number of cars in the NCR, it is imminent that Metro Manila will become one huge parking lot in less than a decade.
New cars just keep on coming
Although the surge in new-car/motorcycle sales figures is a sure sign of the country’s improving economy, the vehicles just add up to the growing volume of road users, while older cars are not being retired. The problem now lies in the lack of roads being constructed to accommodate the swelling volume of vehicles.
Lack of Infrastructure
Obviously, there is a dearth of road infrastructure in the NCR to accommodate the deluge of new motor vehicles. Most of the current government’s ongoing infrastructure projects were planned over a decade ago and were designed for a much smaller amount of vehicles. Even when the new roads and bridges are completed, they will still not be enough to accommodate the surge of new ones.
Lack of education leads to disorderliness
In the Philippines, traffic education is almost nil. The government still does not support the teaching of a comprehensive road/traffic safety curriculum to students, both young and old. Add to that the fact that anyone, even unqualified (eg… illiterate, under-aged and even blind) drivers can easily get a legal driver’s license from the LTO, for a fee. But the biggest irony here is that these drivers, who do not undergo the regular process of getting the licenses, in fact, possess “Professional” driver’s licenses. The result is disorderliness, if not chaos in the streets.
It is hard to admit but a growing number of Filipino drivers, even the educated ones, are unruly, undisciplined and at times, even arrogant. Besides the fact that public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers drive as if they own the roads, you can see a lot of Gen-X drivers weave in and out of traffic, executives on board their SUVs beating the red light and soccer-moms blocking the intersections with their cross-overs, in total disregard of the “Yellow Box” junction rule. Nowadays, a lot of drivers seem to have that sense of entitlement: with PUV drivers having the notion that they can always break traffic rules because they are either poor or uneducated; as with moneyed drivers who drive with the “I was here first” attitude and believes he or she should never give way, even if he/she blocks the path of other drivers and cause a gridlock.
Recently, President Benigno Aquino 3rd proposed the revival of the “odd-even” scheme to control the volume of cars using the major roads especially during peak hours. According to Aquino, the scheme will be part of a traffic management plan that will be presented to him by his Cabinet, soon.
Suggestions from experts
Bert Suansing, former LTO Chief, lamented that the traffic problem is very complex as “it deals with behavior.” Suansing, who is now the executive director of the Philippines Global Road Safety Partnership, a non-government organization that advocates road safety for kids, said, “What is needed is better traffic management headed by a no-nonsense manager.”
Danny Isla, a well-respected leader in the automotive industry and president of Lexus Manila shared his views on improving the traffic conditions in Manila. “Short term, I believe that the government should rationalize the number of buses and jeepneys. You will see a big number of buses in EDSA who are on the road with very few passengers. It is a waste of fuel and a waste of road space. The same is true for jeepneys who irresponsibly stop anywhere to wait for passengers. Of course, driver discipline is essential which brings me to another point,” he said.
“Longer term, I think understanding road and traffic regulations, driving courtesy and discipline should be incorporated into the educational curriculum even at grade school level, pretty much like what they do in Japan. Starting children young on basic road courtesy and safety will be vital in creating a better driving future,” Isla added.
Adding his take on whether vehicles 15-years or older should no longer be allowed on the road, Isla said, ”There are vehicles which are mature in years but are well-maintained and still fit to be on the road. Realistically speaking, we are still classified as a third-world country in terms of our economic stability. People will always have the desire to have their own means of transportation, thus we have an active market for used vehicles. What I would suggest is to have a stricter evaluation and certification system where older cars as specified are brought to the manufacturer for a warranty of fitness like what is practiced in other countries. The manufacturer must issue the certification to ensure that it is not manipulated and subject to corruption. This should be a strict pre-requisite for the registration of older cars. This ensures that all cars are roadworthy.”
George Chua, a noted banker and car executive, had a list of suggestions for improving the worsening traffic:
Shift from “kotong mentality” to traffic management. We literally have hundreds, if not thousands of traffic enforcement personnel from the Philippine National Police, Metro Manila Development Authority, local government units, LTO, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, etc. It would seem that the priority of these people is to apprehend you for a traffic violation (imagined or real) rather than to make sure that the traffic is moving smoothly and that there are no obstructions on the road;
Shift from apprehension to enforcement. Traffic rules are not enforced by those who are supposed to enforce them. Pedicabs and tricycles are all over Manila and other parts of Metro Manila. Jeepneys and buses stopping too long and blocking all vehicles behind them, pedestrians crossing everywhere, why is this being tolerated by all the traffic enforcers?;
Remove all road obstructions such as stores, barangay facilities like basketball courts, parking on major roads, jeepney and bus terminals and squatters;
Road diggings and repairs should be done expeditiously and with minimal road damage and blockage;
Establish jeepney and bus stops that do not encroach on the road. Meaning that jeeps and buses can no longer stop on the road but a separate cut on the sidewalk or other place should be provided for them.
Other industry experts are recommending that the government adopt a similar method employed by Singapore wherein the government bids out licenses that grants a winning bidder the right to register, own and use a vehicle for a period of 10 years. Cars that exceed the 10-year period are either recycled or sold for use outside Metro Manila.
(LTO figures from VJ Bacungan)