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The new administration has gone to work, and one of the first proposals is the giving of emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to solve the worsening traffic in Metro Manila. The somewhat ominously named Transportation Crisis Act of 2016 aims to tackle the problem through alternative means of procurement; barring lower courts from issuing temporary restraining orders on infrastructure projects; and the centralization of traffic management in Metro Manila.


First, though: should we really call it a crisis? Maybe it’s my having my writer’s hat on, but “crisis” sounds so dramatic, so urgent.


But, yes, studies have said that the worsening traffic in Metro Manila is costing the country P2.4 billion every day. And that’s just the big economic stuff: its impact on human lives, to those who drive to work, or those who have to take public transportation, is profound. All those hours lost to sitting (or standing) inside a bus instead of doing something worthwhile to you, or your family, or your work.


The proposal to centralize traffic management in Metro Manila, to the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Department of Transportation, is a sound one. I can imagine bottlenecks are caused, in some instances, by confusing, inconsistent rules that change from one jurisdiction to another. Say, Makati has no number coding “window hours”, but the cities immediately beside it do. It is for the benefit of the driving public to have a consistent set of rules – and a consistent set of enforcers, too.


The proposals on alternative methods of procurement – including selective bidding, direct contracting and repeat ordering – should ensure that the processes are transparent and free from corruption. It should also be ensured that the quality of work is up to par, and not rushed in a race to fix the traffic problem.


But the bill only scratches on the surface, and the risk is we do not solve the traffic problem in the long term. Do more roads ease traffic? Sure, in the short term, but that encourages people to buy more automobiles, which will clog up the roads anyway. The bill should not just look at more (and better) infrastructure as the solution to all our traffic woes. And it’s bound to get crowded as real estate developers shift towards building high-density condominium buildings, putting a burden not just on our roads but on our pathetic public transportation system.


Any effort to address, once and for all, Metro Manila’s traffic problems should not be limited to adding or improving existing infrastructure. Our public transportation system – three paltry train lines; buses and jeepneys where passengers are at the mercy of drivers rather than the other way around; taxis that don’t even want to go to Alabang just because they claim to not be able to get passengers there – should be overhauled. There’s an opportunity to make public transport not just a last-ditch option for the poor, not just something the rich shun, and take begrudgingly when they absolutely have to.

Some of the recommendations of the National Logistics Master Plan include an expanded public transport system, and the enactment of a national transport policy that would define which modes would be given focus. This is a good place to start. But to truly solve our traffic problems, we also ought to look into zoning laws and planning policies. Why do we have bus terminals on the region’s main thoroughfare? Why are trucks forced to pass through narrow side streets? Why do we need to drive a car just to go a kilometer or two away? There are many solutions worth exploring: a bus rapid transit system; better, stricter regulations of buses, jeepneys, taxis and even tricycles and habal-habals; better sidewalks, one that’s more even and preferably with more trees, to promote walking.


Of course, this takes longer than six years, more so the two years of the effectivity of the proposed emergency powers. Unfortunately, traffic has gotten so bad we refuse to be patient about it anymore. So many missed opportunities – and a stubbornness towards new ideas – has led to where we are right now.


And finally: If you’re in Cebu, join us at the first SCMAP Vismin Supply Chain Management Congress, organized by SCMAP’s Visayas chapter. It’s happening this Friday, July 15, from 8am at the Bayfront Hotel at the North Reclamation Area in Cebu City. Hear from speakers including LF Logistics’ Noel Bautista, RFM’s Eric Perdigon and Unilab’s Nestor Felicio. To book your slot, contact Mae Masnayon (09178899455) or Juvy Serban (09234327238). We hope to see you there.


Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines.

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