WHEN the empirical studies of experts, basic numeracy and the observations of the naked eye converge on the reasons behind our metro traffic mess, you are looking at the unalloyed truth. No spin. No bias, just the plain truth. The element of doubt is further removed when an entity such as the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) validates the statistical data behind that truth.
What is that truth which, tragically, policymakers are afraid to confront?
That cars and private vehicles are at the root of the Metro Manila traffic jams. That two-thirds of road usage is car-occupied space. And that 200,000 or more of those road-choking species are sold every year, mostly for metro use. The utter lack of efficiency is not a small matter. Cars, on the average, carry one-passenger-and-a-half per trip. Your street-corner pedicab, the padyak sikel that carries three people most of the time has a better load factor.
Once you solve the car problem, once the political will is mustered to regulate car use in Metro Manila and other gridlocked metropolises in the country, the traffic problem would disappear the next day.
We all seem to forget what Candidate Duterte said during the presidential campaign, after journalists asked him to comment on the metropolitan gridlock. “Burn those cars,” he simply said in his usual Duterte-speak. Indeed, what he said then is the only solution available to ease the jammed, clogged roads in an instant. “Burn those cars “simply meant regulating case use, not literally burning “those cars.”
It is this context that makes people wonder why the House of Representatives did the incomprehensible recently, which was to pass an urgent measure seeking to ease metropolitan traffic jams that treats cars and their massive presence on the roads as a subsidiary issue.
The congressmen who passed at committee-level the martial law-sounding Traffic Crisis Act (TCA) failed to factor in the unalloyed truth, the ready solution—which is to figuratively burn the cars—when they made that committee decision. They also failed to factor in Candidate Duterte’s offered solution.
What kind of political culture breeds such kind of lawmaking, many wonder. How can the writing of laws be so oblivious to facts and empirical data? It is a given that when policy ignores the root of the problem when offering a solution to that problem, nothing will work and the TCA will just be one of those shallow, off- tangent and irrelevant pieces of writing by the Congress.
If a solution was not offered, what then was the main theme of the TCA? Easy— push government, via the “traffic czar” that is so central to the TCA work–into the naked display of power. The TCA vests the “czar” with extraordinary powers that are centered on—your guess is right—bidding and contracts. Yes, the usual suspects.
Bidding. Contracts. Franchises. Projects. Those discerning enough can easily see that projects and biddings and franchises—not easing metropolitan traffic—are the preoccupation of the “czar.”
The traffic jams literally kill people. Just imagine the additional trauma of a cardiac arrest victim whose ambulance is caught in a huge traffic pile-up. Billions of pesos are lost daily. The wage-earning potential of workers at their prime (many would rather take low-paying jobs than face the two-hour commute to work) are stunted. Society suffers. So, it boggles the mind that the TCA missed the solution that would work and entered into the realm of bidding, awards, franchises and contracts.
Fast-track the bidding process. Give the “czar” rule-making powers. Only the Supreme Court can receive and rule on issues related to the implementation of infrastructure projects. Only the SC can issue TROs.
But that is hardly the most scary part.
The TCA gives the “czar” the power to cancel existing franchises granted under the Public Service Act. A transport operator that is over a half a century old and is currently run by a third-generation management can get his lines cancelled by a czar who was not yet born when the transport company started operations.
We are talking here of franchises granted to operators that are the backbone of the mass transport system, not an operator with two or three jeepney lines.
So, the TCA has come down to this—a piece of legislation that is about power over contracts and public service franchises. The search for a solution, a solution that can be implemented tomorrow and without much investment from government, has degenerated into a pitiful side issue.
The legislators are probably afraid of the social media bashing that they would get from car owners after a decisive vote to do the right thing and regulate car use. But that is essentially the function of legislation—lead society into the trailblazing path with common good and prudent use of government resources as the main objectives.
But then again, that is a very generous assumption.
The history of our Congress, if we look at it closely, speaks of an inordinate preoccupation with bids, projects and franchises. And the naked exercise of power.