Christmas traffic

December 22, 2016 at 14:00

Christmas traffic

SAN FRANCISCO – My daughter, who works in Redwood City and lives in this city, took over an hour and a half last Thursday for a drive home that normally takes less than an hour. The rush to the city where a lot of the Christmas parties are held must have been why traffic on the 101 had been heavier than usual.

Traffic problems are everywhere, but nowhere nearly as debilitating as back home. Just before we left, it took my wife an hour from the Greenmeadows area to Greenhills and that is just a distance of about six kilometers. As far as I am concerned, I am happy to be away from the congestion to help me soak up the Christmas spirit.

The good news I received as I arrived here last week is that Sen. Grace Poe has reported out on the much awaited emergency power bill to help the Duterte administration deal with Manila’s traffic congestion problem. At the same time, Transport Sec. Art Tugade was finally confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. Our woes may soon start getting addressed in earnest.

Sen. Grace explained that it took her committee a bit of time to write the bill because they had to do the basic background work DOTr should have done. The Senate committee she heads had to interview experts that DOTr should have talked to, the senator said.

And since what DOTr submitted was not specific enough on how they will use emergency powers to fix traffic, Sen.Grace said they had to go through voluminous information materials to come up with a workable law. But they will have to reconcile what they have with the House so the final bill won’t be ready for approval before Christmas.

Indeed, there are many ordinary citizens who are submitting proposals not just to the DOTr and the legislators, but even to journalists like myself. I got one pretty extensive and well thought out proposal from a Filipino engineer who has lived and worked abroad. His conclusion: we need a well organized and efficient bus system to encourage car owners to use public transport. Unless we reduce the volume of vehicles in our streets, nothing else will really work.

Engr. Fernando Guevara quoted a UN study which explained our bus situation: “route coverage is poor because buses concentrate on a few corridors while neglecting other parts of the city.” What we need to do, he said, is to set up bus routes and bus stops located within a 200-meter radius of a residence. This is the international standard, he explained. And the idea is to encourage the public to use the bus and leave their cars at home.

Engr. Guevara knows his proposal works because he has first hand experience when he was living in Chino, a Los Angeles suburb. “On a daily basis from my home, I walk less than 200 meters to the bus stop, ride the bus that takes me to the train station, get off at Glendale train station to a bus that takes me to my office. I never had to use a car.”

The engineer did his homework and found out we have some 5,000 franchised buses in Metro Manila. No wonder it’s chaotic out there. Imagine we effectively have 5000 bus companies going their own merry way. That’s free enterprise gone mad!

Engr. Guevara thinks an initial 16 bus routes can be set up for these buses with 800 bus stops. He also proposes three BRT lines to augment the MRT and LRT. But he wants all routes controlled electronically from a central traffic control center. He has more details on how to implement his plan which he submitted to DOTr.

In very specific terms, Engr. Guevara prescribes the cancellation and reallocation of all bus routes franchises. He also proposes the declaration of all bus routes as national roads and LGUs will have no jurisdiction over those routes. He also thinks it is necessary to subsidize missionary bus routes. He has submitted his plan to DOTr, but there was no response.

Well, the Senate version of the emergency powers measure also took note of the need to revamp our public bus system. It gives DOTr or the traffic crisis manager the right to modify or cancel existing bus franchises as part of a program to streamline the total transport system.

Specifically, the proposed bill gives DOTr the power to modify, revise or revoke franchises issued by the LTFRB and LGUs covering all land transportation vehicles. DOTr will have the power to restructure routes and operating protocols, presumably to include mode of compensating drivers.

The other important provision is the prohibition on the issuance of temporary restraining orders by any court other than the Supreme Court. TROs have been the significant cause of delays of infra projects.

It is a pretty comprehensive bill which shows the amount of time devoted to study implications of its provisions. It is the kind of well thought out work typical of Sen. Grace. I will cover the other important provisions in a future column.

Will it solve or even alleviate our traffic congestion crisis? It all depends on implementation. Hopefully it starts doing what we have neglected to do a long time ago. But I still see roadblocks ahead from parties who are thriving in our chaotic system. What happens next will test the political will of the Duterte administration.


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