Cai Ordinario | The Business Mirror | May 6, 2016

FRANKFURT, Germany - The Philippine government must put in place an efficient rail system if it wants to ease traffic in Metro Manila, according to a World Bank consultant.

Pedro Ortiz, a senior metropolitan consultant at the World Bank and a former central district mayor of Madrid, Spain, said Metro Manila's semicircular road networks have caused traffic to worsen.

"Making circles in the end creates congestion, because there's a barrier between the edge of the circle and the inside of a circle. The radials then are pulling down cars into the center," Ortiz told the BusinessMirror, after his presentation here.

"You should open up that circular system into a linear [system] but the most important is using the rail tracks to produce a modern rail system," he added.

Based on the 2010 census, Metro Manila, or the National Capital Region (NCR), is home to nearly 12 million Filipinos. If Metro Manila increases its population by 5 percent every year, Ortiz said the metropolis can double in size every 14 years.

He said Metro Manila roads will be more congested if residents will continue to buy cars.

"If Manila is at the level of two cars every 10 people, you must realize that you will have four times more cars in the streets, four times more cars. But if Manila is growing in population, you have to multiply that, as well," Ortiz said.

"The problem with the Philippines, as in many other countries, is that motorization is going very fast. You must know that the saturation point of motorization is eight cars every 10 people. When you reach that level, you don’t buy more cars, you just buy cars to replace the old ones," he added.

He said rail systems not only take advantage of Metro Manila's naturally "linear" landscape but also provide a good alternative for motorists to not buy cars or not use them every day.

Ortiz said rail systems in cities abroad, like New York and Mumbai, are used by 8 million people, which helps ease traffic congestion.

In the Philippines commuters use a number of rail systems to go around Metro Manila and nearby provinces, such as Laguna.

The cheapest rail service is provided by state-owned Philippine National Railways (PNR), the sole operator of the most extensive intra-island railway on Luzon.

PNR is currently seeking to revive the oldest railway system in Southeast Asia via the P170-billion North-South Railway Project, which will connect Metro Manila to underserved areas in Southern Luzon.

Metro Manila riders patronize the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Lines 1 and 2. The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has rolled out MRT Line 7 to extend MRT 3 up to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan.

As for LRT Line 1, the government will extend the existing system southward by an additional 11.7 kilometers. The extension will start from the last station at Baclaran and will traverse the cities of Parañaque and Las Piñas, and reach Bacoor in Cavite.

The DOTC is also extending LRT Line 2 from Barangay Santolan in Pasig City to Sumulong and Marcos Highway in Antipolo City. Local economists, like Eagle Watch senior fellow Alvin Ang, said the traffic problem is one of the "most challenging" concerns that will confront the next administration.

As the country’s economic growth is concentrated in Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon, Ang said the next administration must find means to ease the worsening traffic in the metropolis.

He said traffic in the megacity of 14 million Filipinos is a "threat" to the goal of increasing labor productivity in the country. This is just one of the many economic losses attributed to traffic.

In 2014 the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) estimated that Metro Manila’s traffic costs could balloon to P6 billion a day by 2030. Jica said this is nearly threefold of the current estimate of P2.4 billion a day. Sans timely interventions, traffic would eat up 20 percent of the monthly household income for transport in less than two decades.