Transport and traffic woes: govt’s epic fail

September 30, 2019

by IBON Foundation

One of President Duterte’s many promises at the start of his term was to resolve Metro Manila’s transport and traffic problems. But three years later, these remain just as bad if not worse than ever. The various programs and schemes that the government has come up with have done little to fix the transport and traffic mess and may be making it even messier. This is because its transport plan is private sector-driven and chaotic as well as lacking moorings in a comprehensive plan for national economic development. It puts the interest of foreign and big business first while defaulting on its responsibility to the riding public and domestic development.

Transport solution misses

The programs and policies being employed by the Duterte administration to address transport and traffic woes, particularly in Metro Manila, are not making a dent and are actually making it worse. Here are a few examples of these misses:

PUV modernization program. The government’s public utility vehicles (PUV) modernization program involves replacing jeepneys with ‘compliant units’ such as Euro-4, electric, solar, or hybrid vehicles. This supposedly: improves fuel efficiency and lessens emissions; increases jeepney drivers/operators’ incomes; and provides a safer, affordable, and more efficient riding experience which encourages more people to take public transport and eases traffic.

But a closer look shows that the modernization program will give the profit-seeking big corporate sector control over PUVs, displace small jeepney drivers and operators from their livelihoods, and lead to fare hikes that many commuters can ill-afford. Jeepneys and smaller vehicles will be restricted from major roads and limited to arterial and local roads. But without an overall plan to improve mass transport on major routes like the metro rail, commuters that rely on PUVs being banned from major roads could be left stranded. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is rushing implementation without the prerequisite of a route rationalization study and pilot phase. Route planning has also been devolved to local government units (LGUs).  This lack of rationalization and planning is limiting transport options and making these more disorganized. (see Corporate capture in jeepney modernization)

Yellow-lane policy. In early August, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) strictly enforced its yellow-lane policy along EDSA. This restricts city buses to the first and second lanes of EDSA while provincial buses and private cars use the remaining three lanes. However, this led to unmoving bumper-to-bumper traffic in the city bus-only lanes while mainly private vehicles breezed through in the other lanes. Many bus commuters just opted to disembark and walk.

The MMDA blamed this on provincial buses using the first and second lanes restricted to just city buses. Many commuters took to social media and pointed out how these policies are “anti-poor” and dismiss the importance of mass transport and the needs of the riding public.

Provincial bus ban. The enforcement of the yellow-lane policy also coincided with the dry-run of the provincial bus ban. Under the ban, provincial buses are not allowed to load and unload passengers along EDSA but at designated terminals. This earned criticism for being inconsiderate of hundreds of thousands of provincial commuters who take the provincial bus regularly to Metro Manila for work and have been subjected to a more complicated and more expensive trip. The ban also ignores the fact that private vehicles make up most of daily EDSA traffic and thus should be prioritized for regulation.

Comprehensive MRT 3 rehabilitation. Last September the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 operations were suspended, affecting 7,302 passengers, due to mechanical failure causing the train’s overhead catenary cables to be cut. This is only the tip of the iceberg because overall, the underdevelopment of Metro Manila rails does not make taking the train a viable alternative for ordinary passengers. The public Philippine National Railways (PNR) has not been restored to its full potential and only runs from Manila to a point in Southern Tagalog. The other public Light Rail Transit systems operate only within Metro Manila, while the private MRT 3 traverses only a part of EDSA and has a record of multiple breakdowns and mishaps due to inefficient management under privatization.

Privatization of the mass transport rail system has minimized government regulation, and made train riding inefficient and unreliable while extracting high user fees from commuters. This has diminished the potential of the MRT 3 as a form of public mass transport, and its role in easing traffic congestion.

These reflect the lack of urban planning that should be aligned with a central plan for national development. It shows how government pushes short-sighted private sector-biased policies and programs that benefit big business instead of ensuring the mobility and productivity of Filipinos that play an important role in national development.

Sustainable public mass transport towards national development

Mass transportation is not an island. It should support and serve a central plan of economic development driven by national industrialization, and vice versa. National industrialization entails developing rural areas for both domestic agriculture and industrial purposes, while developing urban areas for trade and local industrial activities.

Such an economic plan needs to facilitate the efficient mobility of large numbers of people to and from farms, factories and other workplaces, schools, homes, and recreation areas. Sustainable public mass transport should deliver these social and economic benefits for economic development.

Sustainable public mass transport needs to be efficient, reliable, accessible, affordable, safe and environmentally sound (see Advocating a sustainable mass transport system). But to achieve this, government needs to take an active role in providing sustainable public mass transport that serves the public interest. This means having a nationalized mass transport system as part of a comprehensive nationwide transport policy. Transport must also be recognized as a public utility.

Working towards this, some immediate steps government should take include: conducting genuine consultations with affected sectors for all mass transport endeavors; designing comprehensive route rationalization to improve mass transport; checking congestion and pollution brought about by too many private cars; conducting a road and rail safety and environmental audit including the accountability of corporations and agencies involved; and stopping the profit-motivated user-pays system.

The transport and traffic problems will worsen if government continues to prioritize foreign and big business interests over public and national interests. Privatization-driven mass transport is quickly bringing the commuting public to its inevitable destination — an epic fail.