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Bramovich: Fixing EDSA, and other ways to combat Manila’s traffic chaos

When recent proposals to charge congestion fees on the Metro’s major arterial carriageway unsurprisingly met with a negative response from the population, one has to wonder why it is that the powers-that-be can’t see the traffic jam for the cars, and insist on taking completely unworkable approaches to solving problems on the roadway. I’ve previously been quite vocal about the infrastructure issue in the Philippines.

There has even been an “enhancement” to the number coding scheme proposed, suggesting that the system be broken down into two-hour blocks. The fact of the matter is that the coding scheme has already failed, and reinventing it is a total waste of time. It is time for Manila and other cities in the Philippines that operate the scheme to accept this and move on.

While it is true that the congestion on the roads is substantially down to the sheer volume of traffic, it also has a lot to do with how that traffic is organised. The buses screaming up and down the road all day picking up and putting down their passengers at a haphazard array of bus stops being a great example of this. Many of those buses originate and/or terminate outside of the Metro area. Step number one would be to stop any bus from outside said area from using metropolitan bus stops. Shortly thereafter implement a dedicated metro-only bus and taxi lane.

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Of course, this won’t work unless more is done with the recently launched Cubao terminal, to bring all buses operating south of the capital into a central terminus. What is now needed is a similar facility to the north, good metropolitan transport connecting the two and the rest of the city, and to force all buses heading north into the Metro to use the Cubao terminal only and all heading south into Pasay.

The reason that none of this is possible at the moment is because of the lack of an effective, cohesive metropolitan transit system. The jeepney was born out of a desire to re-use American war-junk. Now they are being custom built. Why? It’s time for the things to be retired. They don’t have reasonable capacity. They are high polluters and they contribute to the congestion problem all over Manila. How about a government subsidized metro bus system? How to fund the subsidy? A congestion charge.

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Wait, didn’t I just say that a congestion charge is a silly idea? It sure is without effective public transport in place. On the other hand, a congestion charge is a fantastic idea if you provide people with comfortable, reliable and cohesive options that don’t involve private vehicles.

Comparing a sprawling, disorganized city of nearly 13 million to a well organized city state of less than 6 is reaching a bit, honestly.

Proponents of this congestion charge have boldly cited Singapore and London as examples of places where this has been an effective way to manage congestion. The issue is that in both Singapore and London you have the option not to own a car, even if you can afford one. How do I know this? I’ve spent large amounts of time in both, generally not only without a car but also without needing to even use a taxi cab. How was I able to do this? A cohesive metropolitan public transport system.

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A congestion charge for the sake of it without taking steps like this is a fool’s errand. A folly which serves to do no more than delay a real solution to the problem. It is time for the people with the power to resolve the bottleneck on the country’s most important road. Other large cities, such as London and Tokyo, still have traffic problems but they manage them. The lack of a cohesive response to this problem is not only costing the country the inconvenience but also costing the economy, instead of a series of disconnected initiatives it is time for public consultation and to engage planners from cities that have already successfully overcome the issues that the Philippines is facing.

Featured image by Scandi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.