As I submitted my last column, the never-ending conversation surrounding traffic in Metro Manila flared up again.
As you’d expect. It is a never-ending conversation, one that has long-term implications. It’s been a problem for years. It’s a wonder we’re still patient—whatever that means these days—about the whole thing; perhaps we’re seeing some optimism in the government’s efforts to finally add much-needed infrastructure to accommodate higher demand for mobility.
On the flip side, perhaps patience is running low. Some quarters have demanded that government officials be compelled to take public transportation so they can fully understand the struggles of the common commuter. Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo took the challenge for one day, in what really amounts to a publicity stunt. I took public transportation. I was a bit late for work. But, see, otherwise, it’s fine! No transportation crisis.
Another reaction that riled up frustrated travellers came from Alan Peter Cayetano, who claimed that worsening congestion in Metro Manila (and, increasingly, in other urban areas such as Cebu) is proof that the economy is booming. It’s not entirely incorrect, but it still shows a key shortcoming from the public sector, regardless of who’s in charge: the lack of foresight. We have not planned for this. We did not work towards reliable (and comfortable) public transportation options. We did not work towards sensible infrastructure that puts into account various forms (and purposes) of transportation. We did not work towards well-planned cities that doesn’t just encourage high-density residential developments, but rather takes into account quality of life on a human scale.
That lack of foresight—shortcoming that’s exacerbated this situation many times over—means that we’re forever playing catch up with the demands of our own economy, one that continues to pick up pace as consumption accelerates further thanks to an empowered middle class. That means belated efforts to address capacity issues tend to be behind current needs when they are unveiled: take the Skyway extension to Susana Heights, underway as a response to unanticipated bottlenecks those from the south suffer through—and resulting in even worse bottlenecks, at least while construction is underway.
Perhaps more critically, this means efforts to address these issues are presented to the public, unnecessarily, as a result of political will and not as a result of acknowledging current and future needs. Yes, thank you for finally increasing our infrastructure spending to 5% of GDP (well, almost) but do we owe that to you, really? Isn’t that government’s responsibility to begin with? No wonder “konting pasensya lang po” has become an empty reassurance. Do we adjust, again and again? “Leave for work early” makes little sense.
Another issue is that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and each are more than happy to assert their authority (again, for political points?) at the expense of true cooperation. Metro Manila essentially operates as one megacity despite being made up of seventeen different cities and municipalities, and yet the Metro Manila Development Authority struggles to implement rules and reforms in the face of mayors who want their way. So, we end up with local issues being resolved by the national government, and any efforts that do mean well—take the rationalization of PUV routes—end up being somewhat stalled by bureaucracy.
The impact, of course, goes beyond inconvenience for travellers. We lose billions of pesos daily due to traffic—not just in lost productivity, but in actual goods stuck in transit. This has an impact on the well-being of workers as well—imagine spending three hours going to and from work. (And before you say “why not work at home?” I’ll argue that our ICT systems are far from up to speed. I’m writing this column at home, and my Internet connection cut out ten times in the past thirty minute; it’s an issue we’ve raised with our telco for months with no resolution.)
As a writer, I hate repeating myself, but in these cases you can only reiterate what you’ve said before. We need a national transport policy that has the interest of the public in mind, focusing on our right to mobility, as well as businesses’ need to move products and services, and its key role in the economy. We need stronger planning regulations to ensure the development of our towns and cities is sustainable and manageable. More importantly, we need to manage expectations, to remove the need to score political points when addressing congestion, because—and I speak as one of the many travellers from the so-called “south”—it’s clear to us that there is a disconnect between what authorities say and what commuters see. No wonder calls for government officials to take public transportation continue. No wonder “there is no transportation crisis!” became a punchline.
Supply Chain Perspective: We’re happy to announce that Mindanao Development Authority chair Emmanuel Piñol will be our keynote speaker for Supply Chain Perspective, our upcoming event on 15 November at the Apo View Hotel in Davao. Also joining us is Logistikus’ Raymund Acedera. More names will be revealed in the coming days, so register now as a delegate or sponsor at scmap.org.
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. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.