The right diagnosis

The right diagnosis

By Jose Bayani Baylon

August 04, 2017

I READ somewhere that the DPWH is allocating mega billions for infrastructure projects designed to ease the traffic problem besetting much of urban Philippines. I can imagine how a big chunk of that moolah will be devoted to infra projects within Metro Manila - more street widenings, more flyovers, maybe more pedestrian overpasses and underpasses as well as flood control.

Year after year the DPWH is able to get more and more money from the public coffers for more and more infra projects all over our already overly built up cities. And you know what? The traffic problem is not at all solved, and in fact still gets worse. It’s as if more money thrown at the traffic people only results in more traffic! 

From my point of view that’s because the problem is mis-diagnosed. The focus is not on where it is supposed to be. Traffic is not the problem. Traffic is the symptom. The problem lies elsewhere and the solution -- or the medicine -- is not more infra projects. 

Apologies to the contractors who find their livelihood in the unending cycle of construction - and to those who find their livelihood in the commissions made from the infra projects commissioned by successive administrations! 

I was born and grew up at a time when EDSA was a two lane Highway 54 and it was easy to cross Katipunan Avenue even with your eyes closed. The SLEX ended at Alabang; and it was a big day when not only the Candaba viaduct was opened but also the Expressway all the way north up to Mabalacat, Pampanga. 

We were in UP law school when we walked from Crame to the Ortigas Avenue intersection during the 1986 People Power to meet a group of massing tanks, and I also remember how jeepney drivers in Manila protested the plan to open an LRT line along Taft because the “anti-poor” LRT would “kill the jeepneys”. 

And then as if at the flick of a finger I wake up and it’s 2017. You can no longer rumble tanks down EDSA and despite the fact that you have an LRT1 and an LRT 2 and an MRT you still have jeeps everywhere. Oh and the “poor” love the MRT/LRT system, never mind the long lines they have to endure to get a ride.

Despite all of these, Metro Manila can become one big giant parking lot at times. 

From my perspective the problem is not traffic nor the need for wider roads and more skyways. The problem is how to get less people taking less private vehicles and more people taking more public transport. You see the traffic problem is created because people do not want to take public transport if they can. Because public transport is unreliable. So they take private vehicles. One person to a car even. And when population grows so does the number of cars on the road!

Traffic is not the problem. It is the symptom. The problem is the inability of government planners to put in place a world class network of public transport systems that will move people from point A to Z as efficiently and as effectively as possible. So efficient and so effective that you would be nuts to drive your own car. A network that links rapid transit systems to bus systems to even jeepney systems so that a citizen can seamlessly travel to and from any given place at any time of day in all efficiency and safety. 

Put that network of systems in place and the next big business is putting up a parking lot next to a major network interchange. A parking lot for cars and even bicycles. Because that’s where people will drive it bike to before hopping onto the public transport system. 

The problem has been misdiagnosed for years. And the misdiagnosis continues.

One more thing. Our public officials get to travel abroad. Don’t they learn anything? Don’t they experience the ease of travel for example between a Hon Kong or Bangkok or Singapore airport into the city center? Or the ease of hopping on and off networked mass rapid transit and bus networks in a city like Sydney or Singapore or even Atlanta? What do they do when they travel anyway other than shop? If only they could take notes and then see if what they’ve learned from their trips they would apply back home, then who wouldn’t mind their constant traveling?