Many Metro Manilans are wasting at least six hours of precious time in traffic a day. This also translates to about 2.4 billion pesos of lost economic income a day, according to the study of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). If this persists in Metro Manila, residents will waste 40,000 to 100,000 hours of their economic life in traffic.
Today, after work at about 6:00 pm, it takes one hour just to get out of Makati’s Central Business District (CBD). And another two hours just to get to Cubao. That is a speed of 3-5 kph per hour! Walking is much faster.
Like natural calamities, such as typhoons and earthquakes, traffic can be considered as a man-made calamity.
Mobility, not just traffic and transport
We should stop focusing on traffic, and start focusing on mobility. Traffic refers to the management of movement, both vehicle and people. Mobility on the other hand discusses the type of mode of transportation that people demand, the land-use type and density, as well as the design of buildings and planning of cities that influence motion throughout the country. In short, traffic is for vehicular congestion and mobility is for holistic human movement.
Owning a car is a privilege. It should not be the priority of the roads. Learning from the lessons of the thousands of cities and 67 countries that I’ve visited and observed, public transportation is more democratic than owning a car. Because in the Philippines, only about 5 percent of the entire population have the capacity to own a car while the rest rely on public transportation and walking. So then, why give 95 percent of the road to private car owners? All of us are pedestrians. Once you leave your car, you are a pedestrian.
What causes traffic?
Big houses and gated communities in the periphery of the central business districts; the addition of 120,000 private cars a year; inefficient bus services, with disorganized and inefficient loading terminals along major roads; the placement of never-ending construction of super-regional shopping malls along major highways; widening and adding more roads; and centralization of development in Metro Manila, among others, add to the growing traffic problem.
Traffic is a symptom of inequity and inequality.
Most people who work in Makati CBD, OrtigasCenter, Bonifacio Global City, Quezon City and other major activity centers are priced out of the housing stock. They live as far away as Laguna, Bulacan, Rizal, and Cavite.
When I attended a conference in Boston, USA, it was mentioned that “Big houses or low-density houses inside exclusive, gated communities situated in high-density central business districts, rob others of the opportunity to live in the area.” In progressive cities, leaders in business and politics live in condominium units in the city, and have their houses in the suburbs.
The late Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew adhered to this practice. The Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the Clintons, and the Trumps live in apartments in Manhattan.
Our mass transit systems are very disorganized. They are poorly planned, most especially in the design of the bus terminals. To readily address our traffic and mobility woes, here are some recommendations that we’ve come up with:
Recommendations for the first 100 days [of the new government]
1) Entry to Metro Manila from North and South Luzon Expressways should involve double/triple the toll fee during peak hours. On the other hand, it should be free going out.
2) Congestion-charging on congested roads, like in Singapore, Paris,London, and other progressive cities.
3) Open the gates of gated subdivisions, gated military camps, and gated cemeteries during peak hours.
4) Parking fees should be higher during peak hours.
5) Build pedestrian bicycle bridges every 800 meters, especially across Pasig, San Juan and Marikina Rivers.
6) Build an airconditioned, elevated walkway along the whole length of EDSA.
7) Use water ferries connecting towns and cities along Manila Bay, Pasig-San Juan-Marikina Rivers, and Laguna Lake.
8) Loading and unloading time at bus terminals should be synchronized, and not let bus drivers stop at their own discretion.
9) Jeepneys should have proper terminals, as well tricycles and pedicabs.
10) Walking, biking, and public transits should be top priority transit modes among the 20 urban transport modes.
Implementable in the next 5 years
1) Land-use/transportation plans and traffic schemes and laws should be integrated and coordinated. That should be handled by a regional office in designing and implementing a comprehensive mobility plan. Even franchising of transportation and registration of cars should be handled by one regional agency.
2) All property developments should be required to have a traffic impact assessment, and compliance certificate. Developers should consider traffic, not just profit.
3) Sidewalks should be widened to encourage more pedestrians and more people to use bicycles. Inspiration can be drawn from Paris, New York, London, Tokyo, Singapore, Bogota,and Seoul.
4) Create an integrated Rapid Bus transit system and a multi-modal transport system.
5) Construct more railways like the LRT lines, as identified by the 1977 MMETROPLAN.
6) Move government offices to Clark and embassies to Subic.
7) Move most air traffic to Clark, and utilize other regional/provincial airports for international flights. There should be three international airports in the Manila Bay region alone: one in Metro Manila and the other two in Central Luzon and CALABARZON.
8) Require all buildings in central business districts to create an integrated elevated walkway to serve as an alternate pedestrian walkway, leading to the mass transit stations and connecting major activity centers.
9) Restrict the construction of new Super Regional Malls within congested built-up areas and along major urban road corridors.
10) Build more quality hospitals and schools in other regions, and lower down taxes for business development to encourage decentralization and decongest Metro Manila.
Many of these recommendations have been forwarded since 1976, when I was a Team Leader for the World Bank-funded Metro Manila Transport Land Use and Development Project. The next 90 recommendations will follow in my future articles.