ON Thursday, a cadre of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) officials led by retired general Manuel Gonzalez, head of MMDA’s Security Investigation and Intelligence Office, visited our offices at The Manila Times to tell us what they intend to do about the city’s crippling traffic. Any expectation that we might have had for new solutions to Metro Manila’s timeless problem, however, were quickly dashed.
For the benefit of millions of commuters who die a little each day in the quagmire the metropolis has become, here is a brief summary of what the government is doing about it; although having a leading position in the effort, the MMDA is only one of several agencies involved.
First, an interagency coordinating group comprising the MMDA, the Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group, the Land Transportation Office, and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, along with liaisons from the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Information and Communications Technology has been created under the Department of Transportation. The intent here is to create a single entity controlling all traffic management planning and enforcement, including operational control of local government traffic management personnel, even down to the barangay level. According to the MMDA, the interagency group has secured the endorsement and cooperation of the Metro Manila Council – the mayors and other representatives of the 17 cities that make up the National Capital Region – and has an open-ended timeframe, so presumably could become a permanent government body.
Second, the administration, through the MMDA and its partner agencies in the interagency group, is continuing its push for the grant of “emergency powers” from Congress to deal with the traffic crisis. What that means specifically, since to my knowledge it has not yet been explained very well to the public, is authorization to override local laws and ordinances, such as traffic flow or parking rules imposed by local government units, and the power to place local traffic management personnel under control of the national government by way of the interagency coordinating group. In addition, the “emergency powers” would also help the speed up the development of a uniform ticketing and penalty scheme for traffic violations, although that would probably still require Congressional approval.
That’s as big as the big picture gets, however; in terms of actual steps being taken, the MMDA had little to offer that we haven’t already heard.
The current focus now is on improving traffic flow on Edsa (of course), and along the 17 alternative “mabuhay lane” routes across the city. Efforts involve generally improving enforcement of traffic discipline by deploying more personnel – right now there are about 8,000 of the 18,000 the agency estimates are needed – maximizing the use of CCTV to catch violators, and reduce the potential for abuse by improving training and removing the dubious “quota and commission” system for traffic enforcers. Other efforts include sidewalk clearing of illegal vendors, increased attention to enforcement efforts against “colorum” (out-of-line) buses and other public transportation, aggressive efforts against illegal parking, and removing illegal bus terminals. On the last item, the MMDA said it is working with local governments to enforce a “nose-in, nose-out” policy for terminals; in other words, only terminals that allow a bus to completely turn in from Edsa (or one of the mabuhay lane routes), maneuver, and exit to the street in a normal way (i.e., no reversing out of the terminal into traffic) will be allowed.
Gen. Gonzalez and his posse characterized the efforts as successful, so far, but later on in the conversation,
they candidly admitted that there is a long way to go; in objective terms, the improvement to traffic flow along Edsa was described as, “Point-something…if the average travel speed was, say, 25 kph before, now it’s maybe 27.” And the agency is encountering and still hasn’t quite figured out how to overcome some timeless problems that have always thwarted decongestion efforts, such as the difficulty in removing squatters – whether residents or vendors – from certain areas because of their protection from local authorities.
If this was not the third set of MMDA managers in eight years who I have heard say basically the same things, I would be a little more optimistic that some relief from the traffic nightmare was in the offing. Even so, we are not likely to be any worse off if we give the current team a fair chance; they are fairly new to their jobs – Gen. Gonzalez was appointed to his position a little over a month ago – and any improvement at all, even if it’s only “point-something,” is still progress.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how the current plans can make much of a dent in the fundamental problems of a profoundly unruly population, a grossly insufficient and badly-planned public transit system, and a road network that was outdated a couple decades ago. Unless this government demonstrates the capacity and ambition to think big – which it hasn’t yet – “point-something” is probably the best we can hope for.