Despite the plethora of traffic solving bills and guidelines, both by staffs of legislators and the executives, more midnight oil must burn in drafting and reconciling a legally binding bill that will allow the Executive, particularly the President and the concerned Departments, to fast track the legal processes [emergency powers] to allow quicker implementation of solutions to the Metro's traffic problems.
In the beginning
Chairman Mel Mathay's record in the Metro Manila Commission in 1974, even if he was acting under the orders of Metro Manila Gov. Imelda R. Marcos, is a very tough act to follow. From the day the MMDA's predecessor was conceived, the MMC, was expected to simultaneously untangle the Greater Manila Area's traffic mess, keep the roads swept clean and landscaped, prevent flooding, collect garbage and keep hawkers and squatters at bay. Not only did Mel have the support of all the mayors of the Metro, but also the support of the National Government through the PNP, DoTC and DPWH and also by the unitary bus franchise holder of the metro, the Metro Manila Transit Corp.
The new Cory administration replaced Mathay with Joey Lina who was to have a difficult time as the government coffers were nearly empty. With little much to spend, roads remain unmended, garbage mounted to near epidemic proportions, floods aggravated, hawkers and squatters abounded. MMC's traffic enforcement duties, like enforcing the yellow lane, had even been assumed by the “chocolate boys” of DoTC Secy. Oscar Orbos. The Ramos era ushered in some hopeful mass transit projects with the MMDA under Chairman Porspero Oreta, now spearheading traffic reduction measures to make way for the construction of the MRT-3 with the Odd-Even ban on EDSA, which later morphed into the UVRRP or coding.
The 21st century
The ERAP administration appointed staunch ally Jejomar Binay to chair the MMDA, while his wife, Dra. Elenita Binay was elected Mayor of Makati City to fill in while Binay cooled his heels waiting for term limits to expire. There wasn't much notable about the Binay term as MMDA chair apart from his band of loyalists who supported ERAP, wreaking havoc in Makati against those who wanted to impeach him. The GMA era was marked by the hyperactive Bayani Fernando or BF. BF introduced many new urban congestion ideas to the Metro; dog-bone U-turns, pink and blue fences, gwapotel, stockades for vagrants and homeless, segregated bus stops, demolition of RROW encroachments and a very tough line against hawkers, vendors and squatters. BF was the first and only MMDA chair who alleviated the plight of the private motorist by suspending coding during the off-school summer months and introducing the 0900-1500hrs. Window.
The Pnoy administration had Francis Tolentino and Emerson Carlos run the MMDA where the two basically fine tuned many of the good ideas implemented by BF. It went further with BF's contact-less traffic violation policing through a network of CCTV's taking photos of offending vehicles and posting the offenders on “mayhuliba” website. A summons is mailed to the owner of the offending vehicle, taking note of the traffic offense and instructing the payment of a fine at a popular bank. It is also during this time that several circumferential and radial roads reached 12 hour saturation. All the more highlighting the need to “build, build, build” as the incoming PRRD administration advances.
So far, the trickiest problem building roads, bridges, flyovers, tunnels and railways is the acquisition of road or rail right-of-way RROW through private property. Here, expediency to push long delayed infra projects for the benefit of the public at large clashes with the enshrined rights of private property owners. Delays and court suits ensue as the compensation to the owners of the property that is to be expropriated under the State's exercise of the Right of Eminent Domain [basically the public interest's supremacy over the individual's property rights] is far from current fair market value. Legislators need to consider raising the compensation and adjusting the parameters of the Commission on Audit [COA] so that the payment to the owners is legally binding and properly evidenced for purposes of transparency. Work in process for the lawyers.
The winning bid
The next problem is the laborious process of vetting and approving bids for infrastructure projects financed under General Appropriations. This is a necessary check and balance, vigilantly audited by COA, to ensure transparency and fairness in meeting the project's bid requirements. BOT [build operate and transfer] projects under the PPP [Public Private Partnership] will also need to accelerate, specially now that there will no longer be an exorbitant franchise premium, over and above the project cost. The current administration is thankfully open to unsolicited proposals, which, like any infra project, needs to speed through the ICC [Investment Coordinating Council] and NEDA approval, before it is subjected to a Swiss Challenge. A recent hurdle is what the President truly means in his proclaimed distaste for lowest bids, which, to him, equates to lowest possible quality. This throws a spanner to accepted practice that awards the project to the lowest bidder. Technocrats have to draft the criteria by which a bid can be considered the winner if the lowest bid is no longer the benchmark.
Traffic can't wait
The two above cited factors, are safeguards of the money entrusted by the public, but like all check and balance safeguards, this takes a lot of time since everyone wants to make sure that these fast track measures do not break the law or put the public at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, the Metro's traffic crisis is a ticking time bomb. With long legal reviews pending, adding more roads to address the space shortage and fast tracking the approval of such projects will not happen overnight. This leaves us with the last crucial stick that we hope the government can wield to address the Traffic Crisis; traffic management.
The PNP HPG chief already estimated that a total complement of 13,000 traffic enforcers, traffic aides and support personnel, sourced from the police and the LGUs, are needed to keep the Metro moving along 24/7. By early 2017, this figure was updated to 22,000. To date, there are at most a little over 2,347 aides, each of which is not guaranteed to be supplied with communications, transport and logistics support. What to do? Get started with the recruiting and training then which the MMDA has done with the help of the private sector. Emergency powers may be needed to fund this Herculean task.
Pass through subdivisions
How about enhanced but limited access to private property subdivision roads and military camps to bypass traffic? The agreement to allow qualified passage through Veterans Memorial Hospital compound, Fort Aguinaldo and a short but vital section of Bel-Air village abutting EDSA are steps in the right direction. It's a matter of sitting down with the village associations and military commanders to assure the residents of their privacy and to commit to repairing/maintaining the relevant roads while enhancing the security, during the periods of time that the public need to transit through the private subdivision roads. Emergency powers may only be needed here for really stubborn subdivisions. But it is incumbent on the government to convince the stakeholders – village associations and the military – that their security will not be compromised.
Coding without a window
As for traffic management in the crowded CBD's and main arterial/service/access roads of Metro Manila, there is a menu of traffic restriction/discrimination measures – coding, odd even, no window – etc., varying as to the degree of restriction to freedom of movement. Right now, the operative restriction is the so called coding from 0700hrs to 2000hrs. The now suspended “window”, an easing of the coding ban introduced by Bayani Fernando in 2008 to allow full access to all vehicles between 0900 and 1600hrs, remains in effect even beyond the initial 01 July 2017 deadline.
Tow-away zones on urban clear-ways
Most effective, if sustained, is the policing of urban clear-ways [feeder roads and alternate routes] or “Mabuhay Lanes” as tow-away zones. Nothing restricts road space more when there are so many violators of the no parking ordinances. In fact, this is more important than any proposed no-garage-no-registration law because you can have such a law passed but if no one polices the no parking laws, you will end up with road space blocked by parked vehicles, all of which are registered claiming to own off street garage space. Unrelenting clearance of vendors, illegal stalls, illegal terminals, illegal parking and obstructions is a must. The recent clearances on Baclaran-Redemptorist Rd. and Balintawak market showed miraculous powers for traffic to flow. For added bite, barangay officials were charged with dereliction of duty if some tow-away zones are not policed for illegal parking.
Staggered work hours, overlapping shifts
Despite all of this, traffic still stalls or moves at a snail's pace. Which leads us to our proposal. What the Metro needs is immediate implementation of staggered working hours which should redistribute commuter traffic to more hours of the day. These staggered hours are on top the standard 0900-1700hrs. Offices must determine their work flow and work load so that employees who cannot telecommute [work out of the office] can be assigned work hours from the following schedules – 0700hrs-1600hrs, 1100hrs – 2000hrs and 1500hrs to 0100hrs of the following day. I know of publishing and design firms who have successfully adapted this since 2003, which was bout the same time that President Arroyo decreed the adoption of such working hours along with novel solutions like the 4-day week and the automatic long weekend embracing either Monday or Friday, closest to the work-free National holiday.
Uncoordinated ancillary services
To make this staggered office hours work, support services like canteens, parking building entry/exit, common area lights, air conditioning and even pedestrian access like subways and foot bridges like those found in the Ayala CBD should remain open, secure and well lit during these staggered and extended office hours, behaving as if it was normal office hours. Sometime ago, when BPO's started spreading in Salcedo Village, it billed itself as 24 hour work place. Unfortunately the pedestrian subways were locked by early evening and most Jolly-Jeeps were shuttered by then too. Worse, some pay parking lots were locked up by mid-evening. All this ancillary support services must stay open to make any staggered hours work program succeed.
The odd-even promise
We are aware that MMDA GM Tim Orbos' focus is for any traffic restriction measure is to bring down the current 1,000 veh/hour over capacity of EDSA and other arterial roads from 7,500 veh/hour to 6,500 veh/hour, for the 13 hours of a working day. Hence, their insistence on not reintroducing the “window”. On the other hand, GM Orbos is sensitive to the plight of the middle class, which forces them to buy an extra car to get around coding. More severe traffic restriction methods like former Chairman Francis Tolentino's 2-consecutive-day ban and the most severe- ODD-EVEN -will meet with valid public resistance. But with staggered office hours, MMDA can now enforce this most drastic traffic reduction.
At a theoretical 50% reduction, Odd-Even reduces traffic more than the actual 1.25% reduction that coding achieved as per a UP study quoted by DoTr career technocrat Usec Anneli Lontok. But in order not to impair the workings of the Metro economy and trigger a subsequent backlash from the private motorist, we propose the following:
ODD EVEN ban based on CALENDAR DATE; i.e. ODD numbered plate number free to travel on ODD date but banned on EVEN date and vice versa
BAN HOURS starts at 0700hrs in the morning and ends at 0900hrs. A variant to this is 0800 to1000hrs or 0700 to1000hrs, depending on how overloaded EDSA is from its max. capacity of 6,500 vehicles/hour. Today it averages 7,500 vehicles/hour, which would surely decrease at a conservative 40% net of exemptions, during the 2 or 3 hour ban period.
At the END of the morning odd-even ban, be it 0900hrs or 1000hrs, ALL vehicles can go through the Metro streets at the start of the “WINDOW”. Re-imposing the window is the best disincentive for the middle class not invest in another car, but can only work with staggered office hours.
EVENING BAN starts at 1700hrs and ends at 2000hrs. MMDA can also adjust this to revert to 1600hrs-1900hrs, depending how overloaded EDSA gets at the evening peak hour.
Taguig, Markina, Valenzuela and all municipalities that do not have a coding ban may continue without an odd-even ban.
Mandaluyong, Makati and municipalities that do not allow a window [0900hrs-1700hrs] between morning and evening ban will be required to change their coding ordinance to align with the rest of the Metro.
A PARK & RIDE EXEMPT ACCESS, similar to the coding free roads leading to NAIA should be imposed if Mandaluyong and Makati cannot accommodate the window. This means that all access routes from the main roads -like EDSA, Buendia, SLEx, Shaw Blvd., Boni, etc. to major pay parking buildings like Megamall, Vista's Starmall, EDSA Shangri-la Mall, EDSA-central, Robinson's Place Guadalupe, Ayala CBD Glorietta-Greenbelt bounded by Ayala Ave., Apartment Ridge, Arnaiz, Paseo de Roxas, Makati Ave., Makati Cinema Square, bounded by Arnaiz, Pasong Tamo and SLEx must be exempt from odd-even ban during the window hours from 0900-1700hrs. This will allow private car motorists to park in paid and safe parking in order to transfer to public transportation to get to office.
Exemptions from the ODD-EVEN ban:
legally franchised buses
Jeepneys on authorized routes
High Occupancy Vehicles [HOV], car pooling with minimum 2 passengers beside driver provided such vehicles DO NOT HAVE HEAVY FRONT WINDSHIELD TINT that would impair traffic aide verification of number of in-car passengers.
School Service bus
Taxis and TNV's like Grab, Uber, Lyft that carry a minimum of 2 passengers besides driver
liveried [clearly identified] Hotel limousines
BJMP vehicles, clearly identified ambulances on call, Diplomatic and Consular corps, clearly identified emergency and rescue vehicles on call
The MMDA [or DoTr or i/ACT]
should impose that traffic aides, policemen and personnel assigned for traffic management duty have daily overlapping 5 or 6 hour shifts from 0600hrs up to 0200hrs of the succeeding day to prevent fatigue. At any one time, street duty on our polluted streets should not exceed 2 hours without a break.
Ensure full complement of traffic management troops specially during the window hours as traffic will be at its worse, experiencing volumes typical before the window was withdrawn in September 2016. Remember, traffic enforcers are not only there to arrest violators of the odd even ban, but to ensure traffic moves during the window hours.
The next step
If this odd-even succeeds, the park and ride exempt access can be applied to the upcoming intermodal bus South Terminal by Uniwide, South West Terminal by ARCO South, North Terminal by Trinoma and the East Terminal wherever it will be built. MMDA can even apply congestion charging to the odd-even ban hours in the event the authorities decide to follow Singapore's ERP [electronic road pricing], albeit in a more simpler way : one-price for an entry all day [0700hrs to 2000hrs] access pass like E-PASS – PHP100.00 for days when your plate number is not banned, PHP 200.00 when your plate number is banned. Again, Sen Poe is wary of getting into ERP until the existing rail network capacity has been beefed up and made truly reliable. So take it from here, Chairman Lim and Gen. Manager Tim.