At a recent high level transport forum in Makati City, prominent government and private sector think tanks agreed that traffic congestion in Metro Manila is a symptom of the real problem: lack of urban transportation.
Organized by the Stratbase Albert Del Rosario (ADR) Institute and CitizenWatch Philippines, the discussion centered on what the government, primarily the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), its attached agencies, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), and LRT/MRT operators, and real estate and property industry, had accomplished under the present administration to enhance public transport, and what else needs to be done.
The forum, entitled “Greater Manila Transport Infrastructure Solutions: Thinking Beyond EDSA”, was held at the Philamlife Tower Club in Makati City.
Opined public transport expert Rene Santiago, the government has been rolling out vehicular reduction programs, road expansion and road building, flyovers, U-turn slots, yellow boxes, bus lanes, etc. “Nothing works because we’re attacking a symptom: traffic congestion,” he said. “We have not addressed the real issue: urban transportation.”
Leading the urban transportation solutions that the forum addressed was using rail to transport people, and goods. Most of the participants concurred that much work needs to be done to improve the efficiency of the current state of the country’s transport infrastructure, particularly its railway system.
Some observers at the closed-door forum suggested a more real estate-driven solution to reduce the burden on the country’s transport systems: move people rather than vehicles. This would involve hard decisions by the government and real estate sector to initiate decent rental housing in the city, rather than the current slow-paced roll-out of housing affordable to poor and middle class employees at the city’s outskirts. This way, people could walk, or take a short transit ride to work. The formula they proposed : “more affordable housing in the right places = less traffic congestion.”
“Most of the housing in our employment centers (the CBDs of Makati, BGC, Eastwood, Cubao, Ortigas, etc.) are currently expensive high-rise condos,” said one participant from the property sector who declined to be identified. “Most of the housing immediately adjacent are expensive, low-density single family housing. It is the harassed factory worker and ‘salary-man’, the ordinary office employee, who could really save time and money if they could live near these work centers. But it is only the rich who can afford to live near where they work.”
Real estate representatives at the forum, pointed out that income segregation in the Philippines’ megacities like Metro Manila, are most visible around CBDs where rich subdivisions are surrounded by slum or slum-like settlements. A participant involved in socialized housing said workers who can least afford to live so far away trade off better housing for the convenience of living near work.
“Landowners in these small strips of land aren’t compelled to improve their properties because the demand for even sub-standard housing is so high,” he said. “ Meanwhile, rent control depresses the market for apartments that rent for P10,000 or below.”
He suggested that to make megacities work for everyone, neighborhoods in and around the country’s employment centers should have higher densities and taller buildings, and these should provide mixed-income housing.
The developer suggested expanding housing supply and expanding affordable housing in specific locations. This means building more housing for poor and middle-income families in the right places which will, in turn, help reduce slums, and alleviate traffic congestion.
“One place we can start is with the sale of large pieces of government land,” he said. “There is no reason why we can’t impose a provision for affordable and mixed-income housing to any land sold by the government to private developers.”
The pending sale of Camp Aguinaldo, strategically located next to the Santolan MRT station, would be an appropriate demonstration, he proposed. The redevelopment of the QC Central Business District would also provide an opportunity if the city needs mixed-income housing on site.
Cargo movers not culprit of traffic
Meanwhile, government authorities blamed the huge volume of cargo containers in major roads as a major cause of traffic congestion, though a representative of large shipyard operator thought otherwise.
“There are no cargo container trucks using EDSA to deliver goods from south to north so truck operators should not be blamed for the snail pace traffic condition,” a representative of a multinational shipyard operator said.
“The lack of connectivity to Manila ports is causing truck operators to lose a lot of money due to traffic condition. It is no brainer that the solution is to establish a railway to deliver the goods by taking advantage of the existing PNR rail tracks,” he said .
“With traffic congestion going to get worse in Metro Manila, shippers/locators could opt to bypass Metro Manila by using the rail system to transport their goods while at the same time truckers can still provide their services when moving the goods from the inland container terminals to the end destination of the goods, or the other way around,” he said.
Santiago said he sees the feasibility of reviving the rail connectivity of economic zones and ports as a potential component of long-term solutions to the congestion problem. “It may be time to consider moving or developing new export processing zones near the railway line with the objective of using the rail system to transport the goods coming from, or going to these export processing zones,” he said.