“I left the office on September 8 and I arrived home on September 9.”
Thus did an office worker narrate his travails on a rainy night six years ago as EDSA became ground zero of “carmageddon,” a situation of gridlock that stranded thousands of motorists and commuters in Metro Manila’s busiest thoroughfare.
I recall distinctly that on September 8, 2015, I attended a birthday dinner celebration of a friend in a Greenhills restaurant and left before 8 p.m. to fulfill another engagement in Makati. Avoiding EDSA and taking alternative routes through San Juan and Mandaluyong, I crossed over Pasig River to Makati along J. P. Rizal after more than two hours in slow-moving traffic.
It took me another hour to finally get to EDSA corner Pasay Road en route to South Luzon expressway. I called up Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino who, I found out, was stuck on EDSA’s southbound lane toward the Ayala tunnel, which I luckily avoided. He said he had deployed all available traffic enforcers who would stay on duty for as long as it takes to get the stranded commuters and motorists home. I reached home in Muntinlupa after nearly five hours.
The next day, I briefed the Malacañang press corps on the nightmarish traffic jam. According to GMA News this is what I said then:
"The severe traffic congestion that was triggered by heavy rains and flash floods clearly showed the inadequacy of existing road and flood control infrastructure that will take time to be scaled up.”
Fast forward to June 1, 2020. Barely three and a half months into the national health emergency, the government led by the Department of Transportation (DoTr), introduced the inner-lane busway for rapid bus service on EDSA. Recall that previously, the rightmost lane was designated as the bus lane, while all the other lanes were dedicated to private cars.
This paradigm shift was in accordance with the National Transportation Policy (NTP) adopted by the National Economic and Development Authority in 2017.
The lead proponent was Eduardo Yap, chairman of the Management Association of the Philippines’ public transportation policy. Since the EDSA carmageddon experience, Mr. Yap had doggedly pursued public policy initiatives, including the reduction of carbon emissions through the installation of a monitoring station at the Asian Development Bank whose headquarters is located in the Ortigas center just off EDSA in Mandaluyong City.
The NTP, as Mr. Yap points out, prioritizes people mobility through public transportation and bike lanes. Efficient people mobility – instead of private vehicle mobility – is the primary objective. A twin priority program is the capacity expansion of the MRT 3 train line now undergoing complete rehabilitation.
Mr. Yap describes the transformation that has occurred on EDSA:
“The inner lane busway was complemented by bus route reorganization with the novel EDSA carousel line where only accredited buses are allowed, and the new ride transfer system with commuters on feeder lines transferring to the EDSA trunk line. These twin measures unclogged EDSA with a drastically reduced number of bus units. Buses, being confined to the enclosed busway, no longer disturb traffic on other lanes. Commuters are already reaping the benefits from these sweeping reforms in terms of quicker turnaround trips and shorter and predictable travel time.”
Improvement and expansion of other mass transit facilities such as MRT line 1 and line 2 extension, the ongoing construction of MRT 7 along Commonwealth Avenue leading up to San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan, and the rehabilitation of the Philippine National Railways north and south lines complement and enhance the EDSA mass transit service reforms.
Another major initiative is the Green EDSA Movement (GEM) that now counts on the support of major professional, business and civic organizations including the Management Association of the Philippines, Bankers Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Employers Confederation of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Move as One Coalition, Philippine Retailers Association, Guild of Real Estate Entrepreneurs and Professionals and Women’s Business Council.
GEM envisions a greener and cleaner EDSA through the significant reduction in the number of vehicles emitting greenhouse gases. New pockets of greenery could be carved out in the building setback areas that had been previously used or earmarked as additional car lanes. Safe bicycle lanes are also part of the master plan.
Mr. Yap recognizes that much remains to be done. Sustained exercise of political will in carrying out the mandate of the National Transportation Policy is a major factor in ensuring that the ongoing transformation of EDSA will be carried out resolutely until full fruition.