Home » Customs & Trade, Exclusives, Features, Maritime, Ports/Terminals » PH traffic congestion requires nothing short of comprehensive solution

ALL sectors should hammer out a rationalized, integrated plan to solve traffic congestion in Metro Manila aggravated by a truck ban, according to the general manager of the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT).

Echoing the frustration of most sectors – shippers, motorists, commuters and even pedestrians – that the truck ban is  not ideal, Gonzalez, also the vice president and Asia Region head of International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI), said authorities should take a comprehensive approach to the problem.

Gonzalez, in a wide-ranging interview with PortCalls, said to “know what the real problem is,” one should look at the trucking industry, the empty depot industry, what the  cities in Metro Manila are  doing, initiatives of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), truck routes, the load-bearing capacity of bridges, plus a host of other details.

“To get a cell phone from the exporter in China to a mall in Quezon City, there’s a hundred different links in that chain,” he said. “And if you just look at the high-profile links in that chain, you’ll never get a high optimal solution to get it from the factory to the mall as fast as possible. And the only way to do that is to create a master plan that understands what each of those links are and where the bottleneck in each of those links are.”

He said if there’s a bottleneck at the port, that’s the job of the port operator, but a bottleneck in the streets is the concern of the city government or the DPWH.

One of the more controversial measures resorted to by government to address congestion is the truck ban running from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Sundays and holidays.

The MICT boss said he had been suggesting to a lot of people to talk with depot operators “and see if we can create cooperatives outside of the streets or do something about the truck ban.”

“In order for trade to flow, you need to handle the empties; in order to handle the empties, you need the empty depots; in order for trade to go to the empty depots, you need the trucks. But because of the truck ban and because a lot of these guys are small enterprises (operators), wala namang garahe ang iba, di ba (some don’t have depots, right)? So what’s the missing thing in this whole link? Either you let them flow continuously without a truck ban or we find a proper place for these trucks waiting to visit.”

One solution that Gonzalez cited is the Australian model in which truck trips to the wharves are by appointment only. Cities in Australia such as Brisbane and Sydney, he pointed out, use the “vehicle booking system” that allows trucks to enter a port only when they have a “booking” or appointment.

“They spread the bookings the entire day, and that’s something worthwhile exploring here,” he said. A booking system averts the kind of traffic congestion one normally sees in Manila when container trailers converge around the ports to take out or deliver shipments as soon as the truck ban is over.

To provide parking space for trucks with business at the terminal, MICT has set aside four hectares of its area. “That’s reclaimed land which cost a fortune,” the MICT boss said.

“You can put 4,000 TEUs at one time in there. If you translate that, in one year with an average dwell time of containers of six days, that’s 243,000 TEU in capacity, 243,000 TEU we are  foregoing just for more truck parking so these guys (truckers) have a place to park.”

Gonzalez said the port operator tags all 7,000 trucks using MICT, “at our (ICTSI) cost. That’s P3,400 per truck. More than P20 million and that’s just for the tagging. It’s a P70-80 million project. Why? Just to know when the traffic on the access road is heavy.”

Another problem that could potentially have a “low-hanging fruit” solution is the scores of tricycles clogging approaches to Del Pan Bridge and the access road to the MICT, where most of Luzon’s containerized trade passes.

Solutions that could take much longer to accomplish include connecting ports to the highways, which takes money, a public-private partnership, and right-of-way access. But even with a harbor link road, if the same old bottlenecks like trucks and tricycles clogging the streets remain, the problem would persist, Gonzalez said.

On the issue of diverting volume to Subic and Batangas to decongest Manila, Gonzalez said it’s best to leave at work the law of supply and demand.

Besides, he said in 10 years after the economy has grown and those ports get filled, the same problems would return. What the authorities should do is “sort out the roads and let the economy grow and use all the capacity we have,” Gonzalez said.

“Fill up Subic and Batangas? How long before the only capacity is here again? Ganun din. (It’s the same.)

“By diverting cargo a little bit, you also diverted the problem of Del Pan Bridge, Anda Circle, the truck ban. You just swept it under the rug.”

Gonzalez, said that if traders are not leaving Manila, there is a reason. Using the restaurant setting to illustrate, he said: “(You have) two restaurants close to each other. One has a long queue of customers while the other has none. I’ll wait a bit longer because it’s more delicious here.

“You tell me I have to eat in the other restaurant because the other is full, I’m gonna leave unhappy because I’m gonna have had a lousy meal.”

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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