By Roderick T. dela Cruz | Manila Standard Today | August 29, 2015

Hundreds of commuters formed dizzying queues outside North Ave. station  of Metro Rail Transit Line 3 along Edsa in Quezon City at 8 a.m. of Aug. 28 and endured at least an hour of waiting for their turn to ride the train bound for the southern part of Metro Manila.

By the time they boarded the train at 9 a.m., many of them complained about being late for work or missing their appointment, resulting in lost productivity or opportunity.  The scenario is true in all stations of MRT 3 and the two other overhead rail systems in Metro Manila—the Light Rail Transit Line 1 and LRT Line 2.

It is estimated that millions of man-hours are lost each day, as more than a million people wait for their turn for an hour or more before riding the three rail systems, which are supposed to make travel faster and easier for passengers.  A man-hour refers to an average hour of work performed by an individual.

Passengers in Quezon City, however, chose to endure the long lines, because the other alternative—riding the bus or taxi cab along Edsa would take longer than the MRT 3 trip as the road below is heavily congested, with several stretches of Edsa looking like a parking lot.

Economic losses

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino, citing a study by Japan International Cooperation Agency, said heavy traffic in Metro Manila results in P2.4 billion worth of economic losses each day and this figure may reach P6 billion by 2030, if the government fails to address the heavy traffic.

“Commuters as well as private vehicle owners suffer the monstrous and extremely costly traffic every day in Metro Manila,” Aquino said, as he filed Senate Resolution No. 1532, seeking to review the existing roadmap for transport infrastructure development.

The study shows that lower-income households will be most affected when congestion worsens by 2030, as they are expected to spend at least 20 percent of their monthly household income for transport.

“Without intervention, traffic will likely increase by 13 percent in 2030, and transport cost will be 2.5 percent higher,” Aquino said.

Among the factors that contributed to the worsening traffic condition is the significant population increase in Metro Manila which now stands at 16.5 million.  Over the past five years, more than a million vehicles were added to Philippine roads, as more Filipinos joined the ranks of the middle-class, amid the growing economy.

Not acceptable

The road condition is not acceptable, according to the Management Association of the Philippines, a group of business leaders.

“The severe traffic and transportation problems are not without solutions but they will require immediate, firm and resolute action from the national leadership. The status quo is not acceptable. Inaction is not an option,” MAP executive director Arnold Salvador said in a strongly worded proposal.

MAP proposed a holistic approach on addressing the traffic and transportation problems of Metro Manila.  It said the first step is to recognize the severe traffic and commuter transportation situation in Metro Manila and the great detriment it is causing on the people, the economy and environment.

“Various sectors of society and the economy are reeling from the adverse effects of these urban problems,” the group said, adding that the problems are not totally insurmountable.

MAP asked President Benigno Aquino III, together with the bureaucracy at the national and local levels in Metro Manila, to take the strongest possible measures to immediately and squarely address these twin urban problems of severe traffic and transportation problems.

It said the severe traffic congestion and commuter transportation problems besetting the metropolis are behavioral and structural in nature, and should be addressed accordingly.

“These problems evolved over a long period of time, should be addressed through the three most basic elements of effective traffic management – road engineering, education of all stakeholders and enforcement of traffic rules,” it said.

Twin problems

It said contributing to the traffic and transport problems were severe deficiency in mass transit systems, unsustainable urban development practices and ineffective governance structure of the metropolis.

“MAP recommends a comprehensive and holistic approach consisting of immediate and long-term measures. The immediate measures will yield the earliest relief for motorists and commuters,” the group said.

It said long-term “hard” infrastructure measures, some of which are already being rolled out by the current administration, will address the structural deficiency and, when completed, provide long- term sustainable improvement.

Traffic czar

MAP also called for the appointment of a traffic czar who will be in charge, when gridlock grips the metropolis.  It specifically recommended Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras to be the traffic czar, who will take overall charge of all matters related to or affecting traffic and road management, including the implementation of necessary road engineering refinements, on all national roads.

It said the traffic czar should introduce road engineering refinements. “Good road engineering is essential to effective traffic management and efficient traffic flow. Much common sense, quick and inexpensive road engineering fixes will help control traffic. Such measures must be quickly introduced in major national roads as they have proven to be effective in addressing the previously problematic traffic on Ayala Avenue in the Makati business district and other congested cities elsewhere,” it said.

The group said the government should also upgrade existing major national roads into expressways.  “Urban expressways, being intersection-free, facilitate easy ingress to and egress from busy downtown districts, aside from providing fast circulation for urban traffic,” it said.

MAP said good examples of urban expressways can be found in densely populated Hong Kong, where the HK Island Eastern Corridor stretches through the entire length of the eastern side from one end, going right through the congested downtown central financial and commercial district up to the other end of the island. The well-engineered road has no intersections, road lanes are well defined with international standard markings, signage and concrete delineator to segregate commuter buses from interrupting vehicles on the fast lanes.

MRT rehabilitation

Back to MRT Line 3, MAP said the system needs rehabilitation.  “A train system is the most efficient, convenient and affordable people mover. MRT 3 must be quickly and properly rehabilitated, and its passenger capacity greatly expanded,” it said.

MAP said the MRT 3 system, being in place, provides the fastest option for quickly addressing commuter capacity deficiency on Edsa. “All efforts must be quickly taken to resolve any outstanding issues that stand in the way for such improvement,” it said.

Edsa subway

MAP also proposed a high-capacity subway system under the entire length of Edsa.  “The presence of numerous large shopping malls, government institutions, business districts and massive residential housing complexes along Edsa will ultimately require a high-capacity heavy subway system,” it said.

The group called on the president to issue an executive order to reserve the first underground level as the right of way for a future Edsa subway to pre-empt all possible intersecting subway lines, such as the proposed Bonifacio Global City to MOA subway line that will necessarily traverse Edsa.

“The government must be ahead of the curve and anticipate the heavy future demand of commuters along the entire stretch of Edsa,” it said.