Six Implementable Ways Save Manila's Roads

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whether you're a commuter or a car owner, we can both agree that taking to our roads here in Metro Manila is borderline sado-masochistic, often involving lots of pains we've learned to accept as normal. Segments of road that are as short as 500 meters take half an hour to pass through, while the average quality of air throughout EDSA is well above the levels that the whole world complain about during the Beijing Olympics.

It's difficult to believe that as recent as 30 years ago, we still enjoyed one of the best road experiences in South East Asia. (I assume, 30 years ago in other countries they still had problems with dinosaurs running around or something)

What happened? Our population increased, followed by an unprecedented increase in road users, both public and private. Meanwhile, as with most things that aren't organic in nature, our roads didn't grow (despite the amount of watering and "fertilizing" that we give it). In a case of too many chef's spoiling the broth, too many vehicles simply ruined the experience of sane driving in our country.

What should we do about it? I'm not alone in throwing out suggestions in the ring, however, most suggestions we come up with are too impractical given the dependencies of the existing systems that cause our roads to get clogged. We cant, for example, ask our government to nationalize 100% of our transportation since we can't even trust them to keep our basic utilities nationalized. We can't keep on widening our roads either since after one congestion point gets freed, the cars just move on to the next bottleneck.

We can't ask drivers to behave properly either, since most people grew up to be assholes on the road for the reason that other drivers are assholes too, and asking an old dog to learn new tricks is like asking the senate to learn how to do its job of passing laws.

I do have some suggestions. I made these on the assumption that they must pass three criteria:

- Doable within 1-3 years
- Doable with the existing budget
- Doable while minimizing impact on current dependents of the system.

And here's what I was able to come up with:

1. Synchronize traffic lights

One big reason for traffic buildup in Metro Manila is that our intersections are always clogged and too often, because consecutive traffic lights do not change at the same time, cars end up blocking the adjacent roads in the intersections because they have nowhere to go. If you can visit the westbound Quirino-Kalaw stretch of Taft Avenue, sometimes they implement synched lights there, and surprisingly, during those times, even with the heavy volume of vehicles, the flow of traffic is manageable.

How hard is it to interconnect traffic lights that are supposed to be interconnected anyway? If MMDA can spend enough money to construct massive elevated u-turn slots and magical pink lanes on a lot of our sidewalks, I'm sure we can perform a staggered computerization of our traffic lights easily, and for those areas that already have such a technology, we should really start using them more.

2. Limit the release of franchising licenses.

Theoretically, the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board is for, uh franchising and regulating. In practice, that's really what LTRFB does, but the former is being done too much and the latter is being done too little.

One interesting point a colleage of mine raised is that our fare prices is partly artificially inflated, not because of the oil prices, but because too many jeeps are already on the road, and it's so much harder to make a profit because of the toxic competition. Performed right, limiting franchise release prevents saturation of the market - but the appeal of earning more money by release as much licenses as possible has prevented any proper action on this part.

It's too late to revoke franchises, since people already depend on theirs for livelyhood so the only thing we can do for now is to wise up and be more strict for future franchises. Maybe in due time, franchise count will fall back to normal numbers again if we do this.

3. Consider redistributive measures on saturated areas.

Since we can't rob people of their livelihoods, areas that have been oversaturated with competition should be assessed and reallocated, moving some licenses to new areas or other areas that don't have a lot of jeeps yet. Provincial operations should also be considered. The effect of this shall be two pronged - overall average profit of routes will increase, while our roads will be less congested since the time jeeps need to stop to fill up with passengers will be reduced.

As a side product, moving about provinces will be easier as well. Yay, Bulacan.

4. Introduce cumulative tax on cars

Here's a no brainer. What comes in must eventually come out. Food goes into our body, and after a while, it turns into manure. Sexy stars enter showbusiness and after a few years, they exit quietly as glorified escorts. Likewise, in our roads, cars should not remain forever. Most countries in this world have measures to make sure the population of cars remains healthy by ensuring the number of new cars entering is less or equal to the number of cars getting retired.

Not in our country. 'round here, seeing a fourth-hand car is normal. 10-20 year old cars with the efficiency of a carabao-pulled airplane are still road-legal with no apparent reason for them to stop running. The car that I grew up in, an '82 Isuzu Gemini is still running around Metro Manila.

This causes two things: congestion and pollution, since older car engines are a lot mroe inefficient that newer ones. We all know the smoke belching test is just another venue for bribery, so we need stiffer way so discourage old car usage.

If we implement annually increasing registration taxes, eventually it'd be more practical to get a new car than to retain an older one. This will induce a more natural life cycle for cars. It may be a bit harsh, but it's for the best of everybody, both car owners and commuters.

5. Illegalise honking used for any means but emergencies

Less about air pollution and more about noise pollution, passing a regulation against indiscriminate honking will improve the atmosphere of our roads drastically. Also, we get to be more responsive in the event of emergencies because we don't interpret honking in seven different ways. If somebody honks, it must be an emergency.

'Nuff sed.

6. Promote express transportation and a hub-based public utility transport topography.

Lastly, we should start promoting express transports, buses and jeeps that start and stop only at fixed hubs where passengers can disembark and ride shorter trip transportations to their destinations. Currently this is only implemented for some provincial operation buses, and even fewer of them follow it. GTExpress shuttles, are a good example though. This way, buses and jeeps move faster from one point to another without stopping every five meters for the next 10 kilometers. It's been done abroad and I know it can be done here too. People want faster travel, and for as long as people want that, there'd be a market for this kind of system.

These methods aren't foolproof but I think they're worth a thought or two, but hey, who am I to solve the country's problems with just one blog post right?


akosigundam said...

Long-term objectives could include building more LRTs. And demolishing existing ones and replacing them with fully underground lines. MRT3 was a failure; have you ever noticed how close Shaw and Ortigas stations were? Or how most stations were built in the middle of buttfuck? We might as well have it demolished, along with those ghastly flyovers and go underground, like the Paris Metro! Riding trains should be integrated into our culture as much as it is in Britain.

We may not have enough resources to build these lines, but masarap naman mangarap, diba?


I've always thought the trains are a godsend, with me using both LRT and MRT to commute to and from work, and yeah, having more trains would be awesome.

However, with the density of our metropolitan area, and the kind of underground that manila has, with its naturally unstable base, it's just as impractical/dangerous.

One good quick alternative would be to rehabilitate our PNR lines running from Tondo to Bicol, and improving our current Pasig River ferry system.

But yeah, haha libre naman mangarap.

akosigundam said...

We could always level entire blocks if needed be. Like you said, redistribution to the provinces is essential to decongesting Manila. Why, if Atienza got away with demolishing scores of heritage buildings, so can we.

So you ride both lines, eh? Are you a Flash Pass user too? Believe me, that ticket's a real godsend!!

Speaking of PNR, I thought it was supposed to be integrated into the Northrail project. But with the recent scandals involving the Chinese contractors, I doubt if it would ever push through.

rei said...

i think it is hard for our nation to build those.. (i guess) 86.1% of government revenues is intended for Philippine debt service, and 10.87% is for infrastructure and capital expenditures.. I can't figure how much is that 10.87% though.. As I can see from our government, paying debts is more important than infrastructure.

source: VAT Reform Law


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