Traffic congestion is a very urgent issue in Metropolitan Manila. The reality in Metro Manila and the rest of the country is that 70 to 80 percent of person trips take public transportation while the rest take some form of private transport including taxis. However, close to 80 percent of our roads are occupied by private vehicles, overstretching the capacity of our infrastructure, leading to severe traffic congestion and rise in frequency of road crashes.
While it has been established everywhere around the world that it is very difficult to convince people to take or shift to public transport, most Filipino do it out of necessity and practicality. But the level of service of our public transportation system leaves much to be desired and does not afford our commuters the dignity of travel due them. It is no wonder then that some have returned to the comfort of their private vehicles.
The transport situation in Metro Manila and perhaps other major Philippine cities can be likened to a computer that has hanged. There are many reasons for a computer to hang. Among them are poor configuration, lack of memory or capacity for computing and even bad sectors. Our transportation system is basically like this: poorly configured (i.e., poorly planned), lacking capacity (i.e., lack of transport infrastructure, inefficient services) and having bad sectors (i.e., lack of discipline). Therefore there is a need to reboot, reconfigure and rationalize in order to significantly and decisively improve Metro Manila’s transport system.
It has often been said the best way to solve Metro Manila’s transport problems is to start from scratch. Perhaps the current government is in a very good position to do just that given its mandate and political capital. Perhaps the current government is in the best position to effect true and lasting transport reform in order to rectify the cumulative mistakes and sustain the gains of the past by expediting transport infrastructure development, rationalizing transport services and strengthening institutional capacities and capabilities in what is now a megalopolis. Such reforms should adhere to principles of transport hierarchy where the system should be people-centric and not vehicle-centric. Pedestrian and cycling facilities also need to be included as urgent elements of this transport system even as major infrastructure such as heavy rail systems and BRTs are being considered for implementation.
Traffic congestion is something that cannot be eliminated, as congestion is also an indicator of economic activity. It just needs to be managed effectively. What most Filipinos experience is undesirable due to the intensity and exposure that people have to endure in their daily commutes. Emergency power may be necessary if the government will be using it wisely, strategically and decisively to effect changes that will lead to a sustainable transport system. Such sustainable transport should be environment- and people-friendly, with features emphasizing safety, equity and efficiency. It is time to reboot, reconfigure and rationalize our transportation system.