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One of the benefits of being stuck in traffic is that you have more time to think about important things in life. The family, the kids, your next date, what food to eat, where to meet up with a friend, and the list goes on. But with everyday traffic affording you three to four hours or more of crawling time, frustration creeps in and you eventually end up thinking about how to fix slow-moving traffic instead.

As someone who gets stuck day in and day out in gut-wrenching traffic, I’ve come up with 35 ways to possibly fix it once and for all. Bold words, right? But we might as well think big to solve such a monumental problem that has festered over the last 35 years. So, here are some unsolicited suggestions  on how to free ourselves from the suffering of traffic congestion and to bring back some sanity to our every drive. 

Systemic Change

Policy stems from those who are at the helm. But first, there must be a total transformation of how our leaders see the problem.

1. Move people not cars.

Environmental planners have been calling for this for years. Based on lessons from the largest cities around the world, building more roads is likely to cause more cars to use them. More cars lead to more traffic. With private cars moving less people in a given space and time compared to an efficiently run public transportation system, it makes sense to prioritize the establishment of more people-friendly, instead of car-friendly, infrastructure and transportation services. 

2. Develop and adopt a Master Plan 

While there have been a myriad of studies over the last four decades on how the government should deal with the emerging problem of traffic congestion, there is no one action plan that has been published based on these studies that shows where the development of Metro Manila and aother urban centers are headed for. Is the Metro Manila Dream Plan an actual blueprint of what will happen? Or is it just a dream? 
But it is not just about having a road use plan. A long-term land use plan,  and adherence to it, should be implemented now. Relocating factories to provinces instead of being concentrated in Metro Manila should be part of this plan to lessen urban migration to the capital. And let the people know what the plan is, so they can hold the government accountable for its progress. 

3. Demonstrate political will 

Getting things done in spite of criticism , political backlash, opposition, red tape, or initial unpopularity is what having political will is all about. Having a determined and headstrong mindset that seeks to prioritize the welfare of the majority of Filipinos is needed given our twisted obstructionist political culture and crab mentality. 

4. Push for continuity 

Hyperactive patronage politics is the cancer that stunts our country’s growth and development. With many appointed and elected government officials more concerned about votes and a potential elected seat every three years, it is no wonder why every project is tied up to a name. The downside to this is once that government official is no longer in power, the project is delayed, ignored or worse, shelved. All because the new guy wants to leave his own legacy  project. Good government projects that will benefit the people should always be pursued regardless of who started it. 

Addressing the cause

Once we have leaders and government institutions that are truly answerable to the people, and not just to grandstanding individuals, we can move on to tackling the problem of traffic.

5. Reduce the volume of cars 

It is quite obvious that the sheer number of cars on our streets is the ultimate cause of traffic congestion. Reducing the number of vehicles that fill the spaces of our roads should be the mission of our traffic management planners. Everything else follows.

6. Congestion charging 

Controversial as it may be, automatically billing road users who enter certain areas of the NCR  through license plate reading cameras is an easy way to lessen traffic. Makati CBD, BGC, Ortigas or EDSA from North Avenue to Ayala, are just high volume areas where congestion charging can be implemented. The money earned can then be used to maintain or beautify  these roads.

7. Comprehensive insurance for all cars

Traffic accidents, big or small, are some of the usual causes of traffic. The long wait for an inspector to assess the incident creates a roadblock that slows down traffic for kilometers on end. All cars should have compulsory comprehensive insurance and a “no questions asked” provision so that it will be up to the insurance companies to settle the repairs. No more police reports, no more long waits, an exchange of insurance information would do.

8. Incentivize ride sharing for privately owned vehicles

Since their introduction, ride hailing apps have become the preferred service for commuters who value convenience. However, some entrepreneurs made a business out of the app by purchasing fleets of cars and hiring drivers. In effect, causing more traffic. The original idea was for private car owners to share a seat with riders who are going to the same destination. Actual car owners should receive incentives like exemptions from coding and congestion charges, free parking space, fuel discounts if they are willing to share their rides. 

9. Increase parking rates 

Not a car-user friendly initiative, right? But that is the point. By leaving your cars home more often, or more efficiently using them in routes or errands that suit them best, we can reduce the volume of cars on the road and lessen the amount of traffic. 

10. Interconnect transport options 

For people to adopt public transportation,  it should be made easier for them to catch a ride and to switch from one ride to another. With intermodal transport connectors, areas where different types of transportation converge, someone who walks in or alights from a jeepney should be able to transfer to a bus or an MRT with minimal effort. 

11. Restrict entry of provincial buses into Metro Manila 

This has been in the works for a long time already. The original idea was to have a north and south hub where provincial buses can drop off their passengers. They can then transfer to city buses to take them to their destination. Move provincial bus stations outside of the metro so that their buses don’t need to enter the city.

12. Designated bus and jeepney stops  

Another plan that was tried, and eventually fizzled out. But this logical bus route management scheme avoids buses converging in every stop and thereby lessening traffic buildup. By assigning buses specific points to load and unload, skipping other bus stops along the way, and clearly designating them with legible letters, numbers or colors, commuters will easily identify them for a more convenient riding experience. Having specific times for buses, jeeps, and even trains to depart will also help commuters better plan their trips. 

Building Infrastructure

Aside from balancing the use of private vehicles with the implementation of a more rationalized public transport system, traffic congestion can also be alleviated with major infrastructure changes to correct bottlenecks and create alternative means of mobility around the metropolis.

13. Re-engineer Ortigas and Santolan flyovers

An obvious cause of traffic in the Santolan and Ortigas intersections along EDSA is the bottleneck being created when four lanes merge into two. The problem is compounded at the Ortigas flyover network where both east and westbound exits into Ortigas Avenue are on the left sides of both north and southbound EDSA. Vehicles crossing from right to left impede the flow of the fast lanes thus slowing down traffic in the area. 

The exit lanes of the flyovers into Ortigas should be repositioned to the right side. The Santolan flyover should be widened with two more lanes for a more straightforward entry onto the onramp. There must be  painted lane markings about 150-200 meters from the onramp at which point no vehicle is allowed to cross to get up the flyover. A hefty fine for last-minute lane changing should be imposed.

14. Build a proper flyover at C5-Kalayaan 

We’ve heard about crazy problems necessitating crazy solutions but this one has got to take the cake. Instead of a straightforward flyover network over the C5-Kalayaan intersection, we got two elevated U-turn structures that are spaced so close to each other, motorists trip on each other to get on and off the flyovers, further  impeding the flow of traffic. Tear these down and build the original underpass proposal along C-5 similar to Quezon Avenue EDSA and Araneta intersections.

15. Add more MRT lines in and out of Metro Manila 

With the ongoing construction of MRT lines from Bulacan to Quezon City in the north, and LRT-1 extension to Cavite, commuters will soon have a faster and  more comfortable way to go to and from work. These projects should have begun in the 1980s and now they are at crisis-level implementation. Light Rail train service to Rizal and even as far south as Calamba should also now be in the works to help reduce the volume of cars from the province. Better late than never should never be a policy.

16. Make the proposed subway double up as a flood water passageway 

The DOTr is proud of its subway construction. While we admire the determination of the current DOTr administration to see this through, would it be bad to ask if the proposed subway system tunnel can also function as a flood alleviation measure? Kuala Lumpur’s SMART Tunnel was built for that purpose, aside from accommodating vehicular traffic. 

17. Pedestrian-only roads 

Designating specific roads for exclusive pedestrian use is an easy way to take out a chunk of congestion. Aside from promoting good health through walking and cycling, carless roads can also enhance businesses along the route with more pedestrian traffic flowing. Activities such as shopping, outdoor dining, promenading and street performances can enhance the viability of these once traffic-laden roads. What if Dela Rosa street in Makati were permanently off limits to cars? Tomas Morato in Quezon City? Or Emerald street in Ortigas?

18. Create a central traffic command 

Big screens, CCTVs at every major and secondary intersection, real-time monitoring and control of signaling. Most major cities around the world have a centralized traffic management nerve center which oversees the flow of traffic in their jurisdiction. With a command center that can oversee chokepoints and manually intervene to relieve traffic or dispatch enforcers to address  congestion, we can expect less waiting time during commutes.

19. Install a maintenance budget for every infrastructure project 

How many times have we seen government infrastructure slowly crumble to pieces because of lack of maintenance. Potholes and ruts are as much a cause of traffic as they are caused by traffic. Budgeting for maintenance over a period of at least 10 years should be included in every infrastructure project as part of the cost. 

20. Establish a network of smart AI-driven signaling systems in primary and secondary roads. 

It is almost a sin not to make use of modern-day technology to help solve traffic problems in the city. Machine learning technology can handle autonomous operation of signaling systems to manage traffic flow. And while the costs might be high now, investing in these technologies can help ease the flow of traffic until the next IT solution comes our way. 

Educate the Road User

Drivers, commuters and pedestrians alike all play a key role in traffic management. As transportation stakeholders, they must be part of the solution instead of being the problem. Proper education is the key.

21. Cancel all drivers licenses 

We’ve said this before, driving is a privilege and not a right. And one should earn this privilege through proper education, skills training and with the appropriate mindset. Given we cannot determine who is worthy to drive just by looking at their driving licenses, everyone should surrender these and undergo re-education on proper driving and road use. Only those who pass the comprehensive theoretical and practical exercises will be given a driving license. This way, we weed out the undeserving drivers.

22. Conduct online re-examination every two years for all drivers.

Using online examination is one way to curb the corrupt act of memorizing test questionnaires to pass the actual theoretical tests. Impose randomized questioning updated with new rules and regulations each year, time limits to answering each question, and then do this every other year, and we might just have a more literate driving population. Public Utility drivers should have re-examinations every year. 

23. Higher passing rates 

Having a higher passing rate, perhaps 90%, for private motorists and 95% for Public Utility drivers is one way to make sure that they are aware of current road rules. Retakes can be done after 60 days to ensure the driver has studied all the pertinent road rules thoroughly. Fail the exam three times in a year, and the driver cannot renew his license for 365 days. That is one less undeserving driver on the road. 

24. Increase penalties 

It follows that if you supposedly know the rules and still end up violating them, then you should be fined, and fined heavily. There is just no excuse to go against the rules. Lane markings should be followed, traffic signs should not be ignored. And it is not just about order, but safety as well. 

25. Create public awareness campaign on proper road use

The government should continuously broadcast road use infomercials on television, radio, print and online to re-educate citizens on their proper role whether as drivers, commuters or pedestrians. Have a figurehead like the president to bookend each infomercial. We have yet to see this Disiplina Duterte concept  materialize 4 years into this administration.

26. Road users curriculum in high school 

With educational programs currently undergoing an upgrade, a Road Users subject should be  mandatory in public and private schools. Learning road rules, instilling manners, teaching driving etiquette and the various roles one can have as a road user early in school is one way to inculcate the values necessary to create a more disciplined society.

The role of law enforcement

Improving the skills and capabilities of police and their deputies in enforcing traffic rules is long overdue. Respect for the law should be unconditional.

27. Strict implementation of laws 

There are already too many traffic laws and local government road use regulations to enforce. But if road users are to be expected to obey them, they must also see their uniform and consistent implementation. Violators should be apprehended with immediacy, roads and sidewalks should be cleared of obstructions, even street parking should be regulated. Tapping Barangay officials to enforce the rules is one way to expand the reach of  law enforcement.

28. Rid corruption in traffic enforcement 

There should be a harsh law against the bribery of traffic enforcers. Corruption at street level has to stop for any plan to succeed. Even agencies such as the LTO and the LTFRB should cleanse their ranks of unscrupulous individuals who care only for their personal gain and not the welfare of the public. 

29. Undercover HPG 

Will you still be emboldened to run a red light when a car beside you may actually be a traffic cop? Being caught with immediacy is one way justice and karma is served. This will also be a deterrent for habitual violators. Stiff fines, confiscation of licenses, and impounding of vehicles should be on the table for those caught violating traffic signs and rules in the act.

30. Make MMDA a central authority to coordinate enforcement of road rules in Metro Manila 

The Metro Manila Development Authority’s mandate is clear, “The MMDA shall set the policies concerning traffic in Metro Manila, and shall coordinate and regulate the implementation of all programs and projects concerning traffic management specifically pertaining to enforcement, engineering and education.” However, it is often in conflict with Local Government Units in scope and function. A new law should be crafted to give the MMDA the sole authority in creating, planning and enforcing traffic rules in Metro Manila with LGUs following its lead. Consistent application of the law is necessary to lessen confusion and enhance obedience by the citizenry.

31. Emergency powers

The traffic crisis is real. And the time to act was yesterday. But because of the procedural delays inherent in the bureaucracy, the implementation of reforms and the necessary changes have been slow and hampered by challenges. Defining and granting emergency powers to the Executive branch so it can immediately implement measures and contingencies to alleviate the traffic problem is one way to fast track solutions. If checks and balances are the issue, the Emergency Powers law should include provisions on dealing with corruption at all levels involved in solving the traffic problem.

Alternative mobility

Creating avenues for various forms of transportation is necessary to customize mobility to the needs of the community. The government should keep an open mind and encourage alternate forms of transportation that would help the various sectors of society. 

32. Exclusive motorcycle lanes 

Motorcycle sales are in the millions each year. That is why there is a need to recognize their legitimacy as road users. By assigning them their own exclusive lane along major thoroughfares, riders can steadily navigate through the road safely and quickly. A steady speed limit should govern motorcycle use in Metro Manila for the riders’ safety and car drivers’ peace of mind. 

33. Motorcycle training as mandatory prior to purchase 

Almost anyone with a minimum downpayment can bring home a motorcycle. Unfortunately, many are not trained to ride one safely. Nor are they aware of road rules they need to follow. That is why motorcycle training, and having the appropriate license restriction, should be a requirement for motorbike purchases across the country.

34. Create protected bicycle lanes 

The emergence of bicycles as a viable and affordable means of transportation during these COVID-19 times is a welcome development. However, cyclists should be provided with lanes that keep them separated from fast moving cars. Their safety should be paramount as the nature of their rides make them the most vulnerable. Closing off whole roads to cyclists can also be an option to promote this form of transportation. 

35. Make walkways pedestrian friendly

Going back to the goal of reducing the number of cars on the streets, creating wide pedestrian-only avenues, sidewalks and bridges with walk-friendly structures, gardens and rest areas should entice more people to walk than drive. Interconnecting these with elevated, air conditioned, brightly-lit, and well-secured walkways can make walking the preferred means of going around city centers and business districts.

When mobility suddenly ground to a halt last April due to the lockdown, clear blue skies, fresh air and open roads were welcome sights. While cars have a very important role in our everyday lives, we have seen it is quite possible to get by with less of them on our streets. Balancing public transportation with the efficient use of automobiles seems to be the sustainable approach this mega city needs in order to have a better quality of life. If only we can see these happen in this lifetime. 

(This article was written as part of the Philippine Daily Inquirer 35th Anniversary Special)

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