Long-term thinking

Published August 14, 2019, 12:49 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Former Vice President Jejomar Binay
Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

I recall that a promise was made early at the start of this administration to give priority to untangling Metro Manila’s traffic mess. High profile meetings were held. Bold proposals were presented to media. And then, like EDSA traffic, everything stood still.

Last month, the national government renewed its focus on Metro traffic. Better late than never, you might say.  But so far, all we are seeing are palliatives. And these palliatives are fuelling cries of discrimination along class lines.

The MMDA’s “yellow lane” policy for city buses is a case in point. The policy restricts the use of the first and second lanes of EDSA to city buses. Or rather, it strictly enforces a rule that city bus drivers have been ignoring. Dubbed by the MMDA as a “discipline” campaign, it was supposed to ease congestion by imposing order in the admittedly chaotic behavior of city bus drivers.

After a week, it seems the unanimous verdict is that the  “yellow lane” policy has worsened traffic congestion. Angry commuters went to the extent of calling the MMDA “anti-poor” for supposedly prioritizing the convenience of car owners.

The MMDA’s provincial bus ban, another short-term initiative, was similarly criticized for discriminating against commuters from the provinces. Critics of the policy cite 2017 data which showed that 247,527 private vehicles use EDSA as compared to only 12,283 city and provincial buses. They argue that if government needs to regulate, then it should regulate private vehicles, not buses.

Opponents of the provincial bus ban have taken the MMDA to court, accusing it of exercising powers it does not have. They may have a point.

In 1995, the MMDA decided to open the gates of exclusive subdivisions in Makati to ease traffic. The resident association of Bel-Air protested and took the MMDA to court. In March 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bel-Air.

The High Court said contrary to its claims, the MMDA is a mere development agency without legislative authority or police power. It also reminded the government about the primacy of the rule of law.

Said the court: “Not infrequently, the government is tempted to take legal shortcuts to solve urgent problems of the people. But even when government is armed with the best of intention, we cannot allow it to run roughshod over the rule of law.”

I pity the MMDA.  As a former chairman, I know that it has to work under conditions that hamper its effectiveness. It may have the best intentions and even the best plans, but the MMDA does not have the mandate and authority, which is reposed by law on the local governments. The agency also needs more technical experts and experienced managers. Like most national offices, the MMDA has been populated with inexperienced or unqualified political appointees.

Solving traffic congestion goes beyond enforcing road discipline. We need more roads and related infrastructure. We need to regulate the number of vehicles and upgrade our mass transit system, among others. These are the responsibilities of other national agencies. It is only fair to ask: what have they been doing all these years?

We have been taught about the three “Es” of traffic management: Enforcement, Education and Engineering. Enforcement and education provide short-term relief. Engineering offers mid-term to long-term solutions.

We have seen, through a succession of administrations, lots of education and enforcement. But where’s the long-term part?

When we talk of long-term solutions, number one on the list should be investing in an efficient mass transport system. We must control the number of new cars choking our streets. We must have an honest to goodness drive against colorum or unlicensed public vehicles. We must revive the Pasig River ferry, utilizing the river artery as an alternative transport system. These fall outside the mandate of the MMDA.

Then there is the major long-term solution: urban dispersal. Moving the seat of government to Clark is a good solution. Yet, after the initial spark of enthusiasm, no other government agency other than the DOTR has transferred its offices.

This failure or inability to think long-term has led us to where we are now. EDSA is symbolic of the gridlock in long-term thinking.

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