"Our hardworking people deserve so much more than this."
There is a continuing injustice committed on our roads every day here in Metro Manila.
No, I am not talking about petty street crimes or even heinous criminal activities.
I am referring to the horrendous traffic that is on EDSA every day of the week.
Come to think of it, ordinary employees who work eight hours a day have to leave their house at least two hours ahead to beat the morning traffic or to queue up at the MRT station. At the end of the day, they have to spend another hour or two trying to get a bus ride home or waiting for their turn at the MRT. All in all, that is 12 hours of a 24-hour day.
Not even those who book on Grab are spared, if not from the traffic—from the increased fare surge.
This is an injustice because three to four more hours, in addition to the eight hours of work, is snatching three to four hours less of their family time, or from their well-deserved rest.
I very seldom drive, if at all I do, here in Manila, and every time the car is stuck in rush hour traffic, I try my best not to complain, and I remind myself that it is even worse for those taking public transportation.
The economic cost of traffic congestion in Metro Manila is estimated to amount to P3.5 billion daily, that is according to Follow Up Survey on the Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Greater Capital Region (2017) prepared by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
If interventions are not made, it can get worse to P5.4 billion by 2035.
We have not yet even zeroed in on the physical, social and social toll traffic has caused on workers and their families.
While other megacities are now simulating traffic congestions in 30 to 40 years and building the right infrastructure to address these projections, we are stuck with decades-old problems still wanting of durable solutions.
So, what must be done?
One doesn’t need to be an expert to conjure the possible solutions.
I am not a traffic engineering expert but let me share the lessons that I have learned from the ever-demanding Sims citizens of my favorite computer game SimCity.
If you ask me, we need a mass public transportation system that has least four components: A bus stop system, a unified bus dispatching system, integration of GPS technology and full implementation of the compensation system for bus drivers.
First, a bus stop system is crucial. Without one, buses will stop as they please. Commuters will crowd wherever they want. The worst happens during rush hours when frustrated commuters use up two to three lanes of EDSA rushing to catch up the next bus.
But we need more than just the usual bus stop system. The type of infrastructure is important because as they say, environment shapes behavior. In Jakarta I remember seeing the stations of the bus rapid transport system located in the middle of the highway. One would need to use the overpass to get to the bus station, so no reason anymore for the obstructing crowds by the road side. The bus stops were elevated by almost a meter high, and so were the bus doors. Therefore, it is only possible for a commuter to get on and off the bus only at the designated bus stops.
While waiting for the bus stops to be constructed, our MRT stations could be retrofitted for this purpose.
If we were to apply the same idea to EDSA, then we would have to transfer all city buses to the innermost lane closest to the bus stops now in the middle of the highway, provincial buses on the next lane, leaving three more lanes to private vehicles.
Second, of course a bus stop system alone will not work. We need to have a unified dispatching system. With bus ports at both ends of EDSA, buses must be dispatched at regular intervals so as not to clog up the highway. This proposal has been there for so long—but allow me to make another suggestion—repaint all buses for them to look the same: No markings except for the license plates and bus numbers. All city buses could be painted all-white, and provincial buses in another color. This way, not only will it be easy for commuters to differentiate provincial from city buses, but it will reinforce upon bus drivers and their operators of the fact that transport buses are public utilities. Buses operate on a franchise issued by the government, consequently, they must do business not on their own terms, but in strict compliance with the government.
Granted that we need to rationalize the number of provincial bus stations along EDSA, it is important also that we provide a feasible alternative for our province-based commuters.
Third, we need to enforce traffic laws must efficiently, but with minimum intrusion so as not to create another traffic build-up. Today’s technology offers several ways to solve this—including the integration of GPS technology so that MMDA can monitor the location and speed of each and every public bus plying EDSA. This will allow them to monitor in real-time possible traffic violations, and readily determine the causes of traffic congestion. On the part of the driver, having a GPS-based monitoring system in place will instill discipline, lest they want to risk violating traffic rules. To ensure compliance in the use of the GPS system, buses, without a working GPS system installed, will not be allowed to use the bus stops,
Fourth, of course, we need to ensure the full implementation of fixed compensation system for drivers. With a fixed salary and performance-based incentives in place, we can expect better drivers and safer roads. It may be of cost to operators at the onset, but in the long run, we can look forward to more professional bus drivers commandeering our public buses.
For Congress, one more thing needs to be done to correct the injustice: Give the President the emergency powers needed to address the traffic situation on EDSA. For every hour and day that traffic on EDSA stands still, is one more hour and day of injustice done to our everyday commuters.
Our hardworking ordinary workers deserve much more than this.
Until then, we hope that those who have the responsibility and the opportunity to do so, will haste to do the right thing.
This injustice must end now.