MAKING MOTORING FUN: Mitigating Metro-Manila’s traffic problem

By Gus Lagman

AAP President

Perhaps it’s because of the worsening traffic situation in Metro-Manila, aggravated further by the onset of the rainy season, that these last two weeks, I received so many phone calls from media people, all requesting either for an interview, or asking outright for my views regarding possible solutions to this problem.

A few of them even suggested (tongue in cheek, I imagine) that maybe we ought to stop manufacturing and selling more cars altogether. This is of course too drastic a solution and will surely generate objections from many sectors of the industry.

But we do have a serious problem, considering that there is a continuing increase in the number of vehicles on our roads. And judging from the near absence of junkyards for old vehicles in our country, it should be safe enough to assume that there are more vehicles being added to the existing population, than vehicles being retired.               

The Metro-Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the government agency that is tasked with looking for solutions to the problem, I am quite certain, has analyzed the situation enough, to come up with viable solutions to prevent the possibility of a metro-wide gridlock. Since there is not much mention in media of these solutions, let me enumerate what I think their list might contain.

  • Improve public transport systems to encourage their use. The main goal is not merely to move vehicles, but rather, to move people. And the best way to do that is through “rail”. Underground. Unlike surface roads, there is hardly any conflict when it comes to rail; none at all, if the network is underground. Big metropolises in the world all have subway systems: New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, etc. and relatively recent ones: Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia. (I have not seen it myself, but I understand that in Malaysia, the subways even double up as a drainage system during flooding.) An efficient subway system is the ultimate solution to our traffic woes. A good, clean, and efficient subway system will encourage commuters to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead. (Breaking news: they will start this project late this year. Or so I heard.)

But there are other measures that we, motorists, and traffic enforcers can do as early as now:

  • Follow traffic rules. Know these rules by heart and let them guide our driving. Pretty soon, driving by the rules will become second nature to us.
  • Enforcers should apprehend violators. The reason some motorists continue violating the rules is that they don’t get apprehended anyway. They get away with it. In Subic, inside the base, drivers follow the rules because they know that they will be given a ticket if they don’t. And drivers there, as a matter of habit, follow the traffic rules even if there are no enforcers in sight.
  • Promote road courtesy. It is habit-forming. And if enough of us make this a habit, it won’t take long before it goes viral. That would make driving in Metro-Manila a pleasure.
  • Strict compliance by an applicant before he is issued a driving permit. Presently, it is too easy to get one in the Philippines. The written tests are either too simple, or probably, takers are assisted by LTO personnel themselves.
  • Require buses to have two doors, so loading and unloading of passengers could be done faster, thus obstructing traffic much less.
  • Lower bodies of Metro-Manila buses. These will result in faster “in-and–out” of passengers. They will also benefit physically-disabled commuters.
  • Regulate time to load/unload passengers. Station traffic enforcers in major loading and unloading zones so they can regulate the time public transport stays at those zones.
  • Bus stations should be allowed maneuvers only inside their stations. One of the causes of traffic build-up is when buses maneuver on the carriageways.
  • Where possible, widen sidewalks, so pedestrians don’t stay on the carriageways while waiting for their rides. Of course, such should not eat up from the carriageway, as our vehicle population is also high. It would be nice if we could also plant trees on sidewalks, not only for aesthetic reasons, but to provide shade for pedestrians and commuters.
  • More elevated sidewalks. Elevated sidewalks, similar to those along dela Rosa Street in Makati (in HongKong, they’re even air-conditioned).
  • For easier control, encourage bus owners to merge. Same with jeepney owners.
  • Encourage construction and operation of parking buildings/lots, so vehicles don’t park on streets

These are just some of the measures we can employ in order to ease up, even just a bit, the traffic situation that we are presently suffering from.