The decision of the Aquino transport people to set aside the award for the North Transport Hub, the third of three proposed hubs for provincial buses, was said to have been influenced by procedural issues, not the soundness of the whole proposition. The government remains fully convinced that building all those transport hubs for provincial buses would be an immediate relief from the monstrous metropolitan traffic jams.
The car-riding population shares this view and car riders often envision the dawning of tolerable traffic on the major roads once the provincial buses shall have been contained in areas far from the main business districts. One competitor for the limited road space of Metro Manila gone.
Will the travel Nirvana really take place once the hubs are put in place and fully operational? Or, simply put: Are the hubs traffic busters? Let us put in the relevant facts.
Sales of cars and light commercial vehicles were more than 320,000 units last year and those sold were mostly cars intended for Metro Manila use. The growth in car sales has been explosive over the past five years. This year, sales are expected to breach 350,000 units. The car, which load factor is one passenger and a half, is King.
Grant of franchises for provincial buses, meanwhile, has been frozen since the early 90s and the franchise rationalization work of government has driven out the colorum operators out of MM roads. Simply put, the number of provincial buses touching MM has decreased, not increased with the purge of the colorum buses. The rationalization work of the LTFRB was actually a winnowing process. On top of the rationalization work, the LTFRB has been cancelling franchises here and there. It is not unusual for a bus operator to get a wholesale cancellation of all, repeat, of all its lines.
There is now a current joke going around in the transport planning circles. Major car dealers, the really humongous ones, have surpassed the number of the country’s SUCs or the state colleges and universities, despite the wont of LGUs to build their own sub-standard, ill-equipped diploma mills they (the LGUs) lovingly call “Pamantasans.”
Ok, this is now where math has to be done. Will there be space for the new cars let loose on the roads at frightening levels in a metropolitan infrastructure system that has barely improved since Johnny and Fidel made that dash for the Camp to seek refuge from the Marcos thugs?
A few hundred kilometers of improvement perhaps. But utterly inadequate for the Wigos, Mirages and Eons that are now sprouting like mushrooms in every nook and corner of the metropolis. That Metro Manila will be unlivable in five years – choked to the death by the traffic jams – is a reality. And the proposed solution in building those transport hubs that will not dent by 1 percent the traffic jams of Metro Manila. Absent a Luzon-wide rail network, the provincial buses serve as the de facto mass carriers in the region.
Cars over mass transport
The idiocy of traffic management is well known. The super idiocy of proposed solutions is not.
If shock has barely registered with the data on car sales and population, here is another. The population of relatively new S-Class vehicles in Metro Manila exceeds the national population of deep-plowing tractors. The combined population of S- Class (Mercedes) and 7-series BMWs exceeds the entire population of deep-plowing tractors and farming combines in the country.
And farming is supposed to be the livelihood of 30 percent of the entire Filipino race. And while car sales explode every year, the Philippines is the kulelat in the Asean region when it comes to the data on farm mechanization. (Full disclosure: My favorite farming implement is still the hoe as in The Man with the Hoe. The hoe is what you use to shower TLC on your plots.)
The fact sheet tells all and sundry that our transport management policy — preferring cars and private vehicles over modes of mass transport in a very limited infrastructure environment — is perhaps the most stupid and archaic in the world. But pursuing it with zeal, without planning to reverse course, adds an element of insanity to the original sin of stupidity.
A dominantly farming country that sells more S-Class and 7-Series cars than deep plowing tractors is the tell-tale that that country is unhinged from reality or real-world needs. But that and other facts don’t even figure out in short, medium-term and long-term plans to ease the monstrous traffic jams in Metro Manila.
Transport and traffic management plans backed by data and science would have pursued the obvious: curb private vehicle use in favor of promoting all forms of mass transport, from buses to trains and trams. Like what Munich, the “Car Capital of the World” does. Like what Singapore, the Asean country now ranked First World, does. The political will and policy bent, bizarrely, are trained on doing the opposite, which is to let car sales run amuck and place the restrictions on mass carriers such as buses.
No sane country in the world does this. Only in the Philippines can traffic managers restrict forms of mass transport and encourage cars without getting a public beating. Here, the crazy policy can go on and on without public sanction.
Were the impact on the survival of Metro Manila merely tangential, the stupidity of transport planning and traffic management would be considered as “one of those things.” Crazy but not fatal to the survival of the country’s economically powerful urban area.
But the statement that Metro Manila would be unlivable after five years if no 21st century traffic management plans are executed starting today is painfully true. Unless the planners reverse course and deal with the private vehicle menace and free up mass transport, we will march inexorably to a gridlocked metropolis inhaling mostly toxic fumes and lethal smoke.