For several days already during the past two weeks, the stretch of Katipunan beside UP becomes filled with cars, trucks and jeepneys as early as seven in the morning. From social media posts, the traffic seems to stretch up to the end of C5 and the same thing is happening to other major thoroughfares like EDSA.
No one was spared and the slow crawl was aggravated by the onset of the Habagat. The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the city mayors blamed the orders of the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) that relaxed the rules on bus routes and removed the truck ban.
While this may be true for this particular traffic event, the finger pointing should not end with the LTFRB alone. It really is a problem of the whole metropolis and the country as a whole.
While admittedly traffic is a hard problem to solve, it is not made easy if the solutions are being thrown in a seemingly haphazard manner. The LTFRB does one thing and then the MMDA does another. One city implements a car reduction program while the other lets them through.
For one, traffic is not only a problem of the actual flow of cars and trucks on our roads. We should also look at the influx of cars, the lack of mass transport solutions and the overall traffic policy in the country as well.
It is not because of lack of studies on traffic. A wealth of information can be gathered from the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS) at the University of the Philippines. The MMDA and the Department of Public Works and Highways has a wealth of data on the traffic load on our road networks. Even physicists at the UP National Institute of Physics such as Dr. May Lim and her colleagues have been doing studies of U-turns and publishing them in academic journals.
I discovered a lot of information in just an afternoon of browsing the NCTS publications and studies. For one, from a nationwide survey of 120 cities done by Prof. Hussein Lidasan and colleagues, city planners were found to be “not equipped to deal with transport and traffic issues, not just in terms of know-how but also in terms of staffing, equipment, budget, and database.”
There were other studies such as a study to rationalize the bus stops along EDSA, a study that showed an estimated 75% oversupply of buses along EDSA, and of vehicle speeds and traffic safety on major thoroughfares. Interesting information can also be discovered from these papers such as 17.3% of total daily person trips in Metro Manila are work related. Magbanua and Villoria notes that this makes work related trips the second most important trip purpose and a major contributor to traffic since it is obligatory in nature. Also important is the effect of residential condominiums, which were found to directly impact traffic within a 10 km radius while a shopping mall can impact an area of over 50 km in radius.
Traffic has been modeled in physics like a fluid in a pipe, as cellular automata or as granular matter. As cellular automata, we can infer the conditions upon which traffic jams happen and how they propagate through time. As fluids, we can glean the relationships of the density of the fluid, the speed, and the constraints of the pipe. We can study the instabilities in the flow, which in real life are the traffic jams, which can be magnified later on.
Yet for the around 5,000 km of road in Metro Manila we only have 4 mass rail transport systems for the nearly 26 million public transport users. More than 1.6 million or around 35% of the country’s cars are in the Metro. Out of these 157 thousand usually pass along EDSA. Typical speeds along EDSA would be on the average would be 30 km per hour when there are classes.
When more than 60% of our people crowd on our cities, the problem of traffic would be a persistent problem. Government agencies should not end up bickering like the MMDA and the LTFRB whenever a major traffic jam happens. Each policy change should be carefully studied and discussed with all stakeholders. While we cannot prevent the Habagat rains, we can prevent bad policy.
The drive to privatize public services like transportation such as the MRT and LRT did not help in alleviating the problems of solving commuting woes such as traffic. More privatization might not work.
We can reduce traffic load on our roads by building more mass transport solutions for the affordable movement of people and goods. Alternatives should be sought such as maximizing the waterways in and around Metro Manila as alternatives to road travel. At the end, what we need is a serious public sector response to transportation starting with a sound traffic policy.
Giovanni Tapang, PhD, is the Lead Convenor of the Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Sambayanan” (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People). Sometimes, the Prometheus Bound column is written by other scientists in Agham.