• Transport woes

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    If you go by their pronouncements, it seemed that Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and Vice-Mayor Isko Moreno have solved the traffic problem in the city with a simple stroke of a pen. They instituted a bus ban in Manila in order to reduce the volume of vehicles on the road.

    As if magic, the bus ban had an immediate effect the day it was implemented. Freely flowing traffic along Espana and other thoroughfares in Manila was observed as buses from Quezon City had to turn around near Welcome Rotonda as they were not welcome anymore in the City of Man.

    The MMDA followed suit by imposing a ban on provincial buses in Metro Manila which created a lot of havoc in its first day of implementation earlier this week. Many commuters from Cavite and other provinces in the south got stranded and confused as
    the MMDA started operations of the Coastal Bus terminal.

    The effect of both bus bans to commuters go beyond inconvenience. It adds burden to the already costly ride to work and school by adding another trip to get to their destination. Despite the reduction in vehicle load, the number of trips one needs to ride everyday increased. One has to drop off at the terminals before entering Manila and go to the center via jeepneys, utility vans or FXs.

    Volume reduction schemes such as the bus ban and the various number coding schemes tend to work because they literally reduce vehicle density by reducing the number of cars and buses on the road. The positive effect is obvious and visual but tend to be skewed to those who would use the roads inside a vehicle such as private car owners. Commuters, who depend on mass transport, tend to be left behind in policies such as the bus ban that limit their options of direct ways to arrive to their destination.

    Most of the MMDA schemes to reduce traffic, as well as those of local government units, tend to be one-sided since while they are looking at ways to reduce the volume of traffic, these government agencies flinch at the thought of government providing fast, cheap and efficient transport for the commuting pedestrian. This type of solutions would entail capital costs to which our government is averse at the moment.

    Such attitude of looking at the private sector for solutions greatly limits their options in truly addressing traffic problems.

    The other mass transport alternative— the MRT and the LRT— is limited in its coverage and, as privatized utilities go, is slated to be more costly in the future due to the announced fare increases. This would make commuting a bigger burden than it is right now. The ubiquitous jeepneys and FXs absorb the load since there is no other alternative for the lowly commuter.

    Manila has in fact hit the wall of government intervention when the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Bureau (LTFRB) reacted to the initial bus ban by pointing out that it violated the franchises that it gave to these buses.

    Vice-mayor Moreno retorted that the LTFRB has never consulted them anyway. But the heart of the matter is that when we privatized and deregulated land transport, we took away government’s power to solve basic issues such as traffic and transportation and gave it to the hands of individuals and businesses whose prime motivation is profit rather than providing service. Manila backed down by limiting their bus ban to colorum buses or those without terminals in the city.

    One pines for a situation similar to Curitiba in Brazil where they have a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system where buses arrive as frequent as one and a half minute between buses at stations that are convenient and comfortable. The success of the BRT can be seen in the fact that 70 percent of the commuters in greater Curitiba use the system to go to work making it one of the most heavily used transit system in the world.

    The BRT was a cheaper alternative to building a rail system since it uses existing urban roadways and had substantially lower capital costs. What was crucial however was the amount of planning and design that went to its implementation. A Master Plan of the city was instituted in 1965 where it was made clear that mass transit was to replace the car as the primary means of transport.

    The BRT is a system of buses that include minibuses that ply through residential areas and bring passengers to conventional bus stations. These conventional buses travel along circumferential routes around the city. The BRT is the main link between these routes and runs through one of the five main arteries leading to the center of the city.

    The buses run along a dedicated lane and stop at stations with loading and unloading times of less than 20 seconds. Passengers pay at the station before they get on the bus. There are transfer areas where different service lines intersect and there is no need to get a new ticket to go to another line.

    Curitiba’s BRT is an example of how foresight rather than stopgap measures solve a problem such as traffic. They planned for a shift from automobile travel to bus travel and synchronized their city growth accordingly. They made the transfer of people and goods a priority which not only resulted to reduced costs for the government but also lower spending of Curitibanos on travel.

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    7 Comments

    1. Excellent article – prioritising solutions for private vehicles over public transport will never work as a long-term transport solution in Manila. There may be a short-term drop in the number of vehicles, but as incomes rise and more people have cars, traffic will reach a standstill.

      In theory stopping provincial buses at the edge of the NCR so people switch to other forms of transport within the city can work, but as the article points out, only if the public transport system within the city is fast, reliable and has good coverage. A BRT system could achieve that for Manila, as it is really just a more efficient and better organised version of the already extensive use of buses.

      Metro Manila needs a vision for where it wants to be, even if the money is not available to make it a reality now. Ad-hoc decision making will lead to chaos.

    2. Could’ve been planned better, but it somehow doesn’t feel awful. Taking it to the rather-extreme “now” than adjusting downwards seems better than planning, planning, even more planning, then some more planning, and so forth… then finally seeing an attempt a decade later running into all sorts of obstacles.

      Our current public transport system (or “culture”, perhaps) is just, well, crap. It’s almost pure chaos and some control exerted, even if it seems too expedient, somehow sounds better than no controls at all.

      I’m also thinking that, in the long term, controls to this degree may have a positive effect. Metro Manila is a mega city that keeps gaining “mega” levels without really having the infrastructure to support it. There eventually has to be some way of bleeding it out and spread out commerce, industry, and people. If its going to be these inconveniences that starts the push, then, draconian as it may seem, I admit that I don’t really feel against it.

      • … Taking it to the rather-extreme “now” *then* adjusting downwards seems…

        English fail, sorry :)

    3. sadly the kind of planning they had in Brazil is what we sorely lack, many in our country are still believers of stop stop gap measures, deeply entrenched in the minds and the smallest society of people. the government has the power to address the culture, only mostly those that are in power posses the same retrogressive culture. we still can do it, if the government can show the people the right way to do it. can’t be relegated to private sectors.

    4. And as for Cebu, I just hope the local government will be so supportive of the BRT programme (both Osmeña and Rama, I heard, support this initiative for Cebu City) which has undergone feasibility studies and more.

      A quote from Mayor Peñalosa of Bogota in Colombia said,
      “For the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), there is no such thing as narrow streets and narrow roads, if such exist in any city, that is the best location to place the BRT!”

    5. Theoretically the bus hub implemented by the MMDA at the Coastal Mall makes sense and should work. But such a project requires a much bigger space and a site specifically and carefully designed to be a massive bus hub that will allow the seamless loading and unloading of passengers.

      The MMDA should suspend the implementation of the bus hub for now and do some more planning and designing. If done correctly, bus hubs at all of Metro Manila’s exit and entry points would greatly ease vehicular traffic in National Capital Region.

      • I totally agree with you, but the problem is with these stup*d implementer that does not study the geography very well. Ginagawa nilang guinea pigs ang mga commuters. The system that Erap made was different from what the MMDA has done. Erap showed political will that they can absolutely control traffic in their City. MMDA’s style is suntok sa buwan, since Tolentino took over puro kapalpakan ang ginagawa nya, although I still appreciate what he is trying to do pero kulang sa study at pabigla bigla ang desisyon that chaos comes after the implementation.