A GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED study pinpointed the five recurring causes of road traffic congestion. First, the growth rate of total length of public roads cannot keep up with the current growth of vehicle fleet, and building more road transport infrastructure alone cannot resolve traffic congestion, and to the contrary, may actually induce more demand for vehicle usage and fuel vehicular growth.
Second, there is an excessive number of vehicles slowing down the journey in urban areas. Third, apart from the excessive number of vehicles running on roads, obstruction of traffic is commonly caused by various activities competing for use of road space, such as, the loading/unloading activities of vehicles; picking up/ setting down activities of buses, taxis and private cars; and vehicles circulating on roads looking for on-street parking spaces.
Fourth, the recurring cause of road traffic congestion is management and enforcement issues in that there is a general perception that enforcement against congestion-related offenses is not stringent enough. In other words, spotty implementation of traffic rules and regulations. And lastly, the maintenance and repair of roads or underground public utilities (e.g. water mains, drainage pipes, telecommunication cables, etc.) and other road works as part of infrastructure projects.
If you’re thinking that the road congestion problems just enumerated are about Metro Manila, think again. These were actually the results of a study made years ago by the Hong Kong government of the traffic gridlock being experienced at the time by the former British colony.
Like Hong Kong, Metro Manila and other big cities around the country have very limited options to expand their current road network infrastructure, especially with the very dense urban landscapes in metropolitan areas. Compounding the problem is the almost uncontrolled growth in the number of vehicles plying our streets.
In just a span of five years, the number of cars in Metro Manila, for instance, went from 1.9 million in 2010 to 2.5 million in 2015, up by an alarming 31 percent, according to data from the Land Transportation Office. Meanwhile, Metro Manila’s road network only grew by around 15 percent during the same period (or 3 percent annually). We definitely cannot expand Metro Manila’s road infrastructure at the same rate as the growth of vehicles.
According to an Asian Development Bank study, 78 percent of Metro Manila’s roads are taken up by private vehicles but carry only a little over 20 percent of commuters, while the remaining 20 or so percent of public vehicles transport around 80 percent of daily commuters.
Since private cars are a major source of road congestion, it is only logical that the government restrict its growth, mainly by increasing the cost of buying and maintaining a vehicle. This can be done through increased taxes on motor vehicles for private use and higher annual registration fees. But we’re certain this will not go down well with private car owners and foreign car “manufacturers” in the Philippines.
Aside from reducing demand on the limited road space by reducing private vehicle growth, the government should also maximize the efficiency of available road space by adopting a “user pay principle” whereby toll roads charge motorists higher rates during rush hour to encourage travelers to switch to alternate routes or travel periods.
Of course, one of the most enforceable—and most ignored—measures is the strict enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. We have all seen how both private and public vehicles load and unload—as well as park and double park—on busy roads causing obstruction to normal traffic flow. Yet we see most traffic enforcers turn a blind eye to these types of violations.
We’re certain many thinking Filipinos have other equally sound suggestions to address the daily traffic congestion. But what’s important is that the Duterte administration exercise some political will by taking immediate and drastic actions that do not require “emergency powers” in order to contain road traffic congestion.
The authority and power of the executive branch to harness state resources and discipline local government units are vast enough to ease the daily gridlock experienced by our countrymen. It is up to Transportation Secretary Art Tugade to be creative enough to promptly address Metro Manila’s road congestion without waiting for Congress to pass his long-sought emergency powers bill. Whether he is, or will, is another story.
We cannot overemphasize the urgent need to address the daily traffic gridlock. Road congestion not only costs Filipinos in terms of money but also in terms of quality of life. Increased travel time means less rest period, decreased family time, and lower productivity. And when goods or services cannot be delivered on time, companies and businesses incur additional inventory costs and logistics costs, which are eventually passed on to consumers by way of higher prices. This eventually undermines the country’s attractiveness to foreign investors. The long traffic gridlock also worsens the air quality, which in turn, negatively impacts public health.
If nothing is done to contain traffic congestion, it will only be a matter of time before business in Metro Manila and other highly urbanized centers in the country grind to a halt. This scenario will significantly impact the country’s economic growth, especially with Metro Manila accounting for 36 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In fact, commercial activity in Metro Manila and the adjacent cities in Region III (the Bulacan area) and Region IV-A (Calabarzon) account for 62 percent of national GDP.
With the country’s economy projected to grow until the end of President Duterte’s term in 2022, according to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Amando Tetangco, Jr.—in fact, some economists project a high 7.5 percent GDP growth this year—it would be a sour note if this economic gain is stymied because of the gridlock on our streets.