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Improving Traffic Situation in Metro Manila

(First of two parts)

I have no illusions about this proposal.

Everything I know about traffic I have learned from being stuck in it so this is really more of a concept that was born out of frustration, common sense, and a few bits of road rage sprinkled here and there. Sometimes impatience does have its virtues.

I doubt that this will ever be implemented much less considered by those in power today because experts never look kindly on proposals from lesser mortals. But then I don’t really care. If what I write just causes them to stop and think and, for a moment, consider my proposal then that is enough for me.

We badly need new perspectives in dealing with traffic. We have been so used to putting out the fires that we have forgotten to look at why the fire started and solve the problem from there. Traffic is not the problem — it is a symptom of a bigger problem. That problem is the absence of a comprehensive plan on how to move the commuters of Metro Manila to and from their destinations.

Building more overpasses, removing bottlenecks, creating and removing u-turns, driver discipline, etc. will never be long-term solutions if we implement them piecemeal and as a knee-jerk reaction. When we do this we only look at particular intersections or stretches of road. But unless we conceptualize a master plan, solving traffic in one area invariably creates traffic in other locations given that the number of vehicles is increasing every year.

We continue to forget that the basic objective of mass transportation is to move people. From here to there. From Fairview to Makati. From Bulacan to Ortigas. From Cavite to Lawton. And back in the evening.

Everything must start from the needs of our commuters. We need to conceptualize, design, and build a single, unified system that brings them to where they want to go and back.

Traffic, traffic, traffic

Traffic is one component of the price we have to pay for living in a city where opportunities and the comforts of life are within reach. At its very basic, it is the result of too many people in too many vehicles wanting to go to a destination at the same time.

It’s not really about infrastructure. There will never be any congestion on a one-lane road to the top of Mt. Makiling if very few people want to go there. But, even a 12-lane highway to Makati will be clogged if everyone wanted to go there at the same time. Look at the 405 during rush hour.

The first solution to a traffic problem would logically be to spread out the destinations as we would be doing if we took the universities out of Manila and relocated them to say, a University City in Clark.

Or if we also developed other centers for business so everybody didn’t want to go to Makati and Fort Bonifacio and Ortigas in the morning and leave those places at night.

But, of course, that is not going to happen. Our free-market society will have its own way of concentrating businesses where traffic will be the rule rather than the exception.

We then need to conceptualize an effective and efficient mass transport system for Metro Manila that will take advantage of what have right here and right now.

The need for efficiency

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that methods of mass transportation should evolve along with increase in population.

As population grows, our system of mass transportation has to become more and more efficient. This is because the system will need to transport a growing number of people on roads that do not automatically widen to accommodate the increase in the volume of users.

The evolution of a transport system

Let’s spend a few moments looking at the evolution of a transport system.

A transport system would evolve this way: First it is a trail that is used by horses and people on foot. Then it becomes an unpaved road with motorcycles and tricycles and 4x4s. Then it becomes a two-lane paved road with tricycles and jeepneys. Later on it becomes a wider boulevard or expressway which even buses can use. Then finally a mass railway system is put into place.

The important thing for us to realize is that at each step of the evolution, the previous mode of mass transport should lose its place on the road because it will no longer be efficient for it to be there.

Has our transport system evolved with the growth of Metro Manila? Well, as long as we have a jeepney route that still goes from Quiapo to Fairview (which was logical in the 1960s and 70s when the Fairview area had fewer residents), I very much doubt it.

It’s a time and space problem. Since everyone wants to go to a destination (work, school) at the same time on roads that do not have the space to handle the volume of traffic, efficiency is of the essence.

In this case, efficiency means assigning a mode of transportation to a route that takes advantage of the strengths of that mode of transport and the size of the road being traveled. Buses, for example, are more efficient carriers on wide roads (like Commonwealth/Quezon Avenue) because they transport more people while taking up less space than jeepneys. They can travel faster, too.

A proposed concept

Looking at the elements of the mass transport system at our disposal today and taking into consideration their strengths and weaknesses, the mass transport system of Metro Manila should work out into something like this:

“The tricycles feed the jeepneys, the jeepneys feed the buses and the buses feed the MRT/LRT.”

The implications are:

  • Tricycles will be limited to subdivisions, narrow streets and areas that jeepneys cannot serve;
  • Buses will service the main Radial and Circumferential Roads (except those with MRT/LRT lines); and
  • Jeepneys will service areas (spaces) in between the main roads.
  • There should be no duplication of mass transport on any of the routes. Where there is the MRT/LRT there should be no buses; where there are buses there should be no jeepneys; and where there are jeepneys there should be no tricycles. To emphasize this with examples, we should take the buses out of EDSA since the MRT is already there and there should be no jeepneys on Commonwealth/Quezon Blvd/Espana since the buses would service the route.

The overall plan would work out like this: From home you take a tricycle to the jeepney route, a jeepney to the bus stop, and a bus to the MRT/LRT and the other way around when you go home. Modes of transportation are then matched with road size and volume of commuters.


Concept, concept, concept

The objective of this article is to present a concept. It does not intend to list down everything that needs to be done to implement this proposal. Going into the nitty-gritty would be useless if the concept is not deemed feasible in the first place.

One way to illustrate this idea is to think of how a water delivery system is designed. It goes from a large diameter pipe to smaller and smaller pipes. Now imagine the MRT/LRT as the larger diameter pipes then the buses then the jeepneys, then the tricycles as the pipe diameters that decrease in size.

We have to match the transportation needs of our commuters to the size and capacity of what we have in our mass transport system. As it is, we have small capacity vehicles (jeepneys) servicing our main routes. Why are we doing it this way?

Redesign bus and jeepney routes

At the very least, there should be a restudy of our present bus and jeepneys routes. Many of the franchises have been there for so many years and may no longer reflect the needs of the population and the size of the streets.

Many of the bus routes are just an excuse to pass through EDSA. If a bus route is Fairview-Alabang, why does the bus need to pass through EDSA? The bus should be bringing commuters from Fairview to Alabang and not from Cubao to Ayala. But then, why should these buses even be bringing commuters from Cubao to Ayala when the MRT is already there?

A lot of the jeepney routes may be too long and were only feasible when they were servicing less people. Assign the jeepneys to secondary roads where their size makes them more efficient in moving people.

“Filling up time”

For medium population destinations, buses won’t work. They would take too long to fill up and the bus will be waiting for passengers half of the day and won’t make money. Jeepneys would be better in servicing these destinations. Same goes with tricycles to far-flung barangays with low populations. Jeepneys also won’t work.

Each of these modes of transport has its advantages and disadvantages but the main determinant as to what mode of transport should be used on a route is population growth. This is what I would call “filling up time.”

Given this situation, why would you need a Quiapo-Fairview jeepney route when the population of the Fairview area has grown big enough to allow for it to become a bus route? Commonwealth/Quezon Blvd/Espana then should be free from jeepneys and become a bus route where the buses only stop at bus stops.

The role of the jeepneys now should be to bring commuters from their homes to these bus stops. In the map then, the spaces in between the main bus routes and the MRT/LRT should become jeepney routes.

Political will

It won’t be easy. We have to expect a lot of resistance from bus and jeepney groups as well as people in government (read: traffic aides and officials on the payroll) out to protect their interests.

But it doesn’t look like any of the drivers of the buses, jeepneys, and tricycles in the metropolis today will lose their means of livelihood. There will be lots of opportunities opened and, once their routes become exclusive for them, more opportunities to make a living.

If we ever want to improve on what we have right now, something has got to give. Which public will matter more: the hundreds of thousands of commuters or the bus and jeepney drivers and operators and their kotong cops?

That is for the government to decide. But if this proposal has any merit, things can surely be worked out. As they say, if there’s a will, there’s a way. Translated to Filipino that goes: “Kung gusto, may paraan; kung ayaw, may dahilan.”




Buddy Resurreccion writes a monthly column for Inquirer Golf magazine. He was a former editor-in-chief of Golf Asia magazine and columnist for the Manila Chronicle. He was a Commissioned Officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.