Welcome to Inquirer Mobility


If there’s one good thing the lockdowns have done, it is to show us what a better, cleaner and more livable space Metro Manila can be without the pollution brought about by our need for mobility.

For a couple or so months last year, we were blessed with clean air, clear vistas, and quiet streets as cars, buses, trucks, even motorcycles were kept parked during the first Enhanced Community Quarantine.

Perhaps this was only a preview of what could be once we sort out our transportation priorities. A taste of a utopian future when leaving one’s home doesn’t mean breathing in thick carbon emissions. When people can go to their destinations without the stress induced by traffic.

The pandemic also allowed us to experiment with a segregated bus lane along Edsa, a precursor to the yet to be implemented Bus Rapid Transit system earlier envisioned by this government. And while giving buses their own walled highway has kept them from criss-crossing the width of Edsa and causing traffic buildup, it still hasn’t really kept private motorists from once again amassing on the capital region’s main thoroughfare and causing congestion.

The fact of the matter is, there are just too many cars. Congestion is real. And the real culprit of this, as we have seen last year, is our use of cars.

Let me be clear. Owning a car and using it are quite different. One can own a Ferrari and not use it to go to work on weekdays, right? It is the unhampered use of cars that has led to the gridlock we are all experiencing. And with the sorry state and lack of safe, clean and comfortable public transportation, we can’t really blame car owners for driving instead of commuting.

The real solution to traffic, as we have seen in last year’s ECQ, is to remove cars from the road. But that is a dream as far-fetched as the sun not rising from the east.

However, we can reduce the amount of cars at a given time to let traffic flow that bit faster. And this is what the reimposition of the number coding scheme is all about.

Starting this week, private cars will once again be banned along Edsa on weekdays, albeit from 5 pm to 8 pm only to coincide with the early evening rush hour. Exempted from this vehicle volume reduction measure are Public Utility Vehicles, motorcycles, garbage and fuel trucks, vehicles carrying essential and perishable goods, and TNVS or ride hailing services.

The idea stems from the Metro Manila Development Authority’s observation that northbound traffic is worse than that going to the south. With the number of vehicles nearing pre-pandemic figures along Edsa despite the new restricted busway and the availability of Skyway Stage3, Metro Manila mayors passed the resolution to bring this measure back.

I mentioned the two latest solutions that have come online recently to help alleviate traffic. On good days, the restricted bus lanes on Edsa have allowed for faster commuting times. There is no denying that. The Skyway Stage 3 has opened a new corridor for those who have the money to pay for access to this tollway. It was projected to divert around 55,000 cars from Edsa and C5. And yet, despite these measures we still have traffic along Edsa because people who can afford them still prefer to use cars.

When will the powers that be realize that traffic is a mere symptom of the real problems that the NCR has? In order to solve traffic, we must all dig deeper and acknowledge the real socio-economic issues of the capital region.

They must also accept that palliative solutions like this number coding scheme and adding new tollways will never deliver the results they intended simply because the root of the problem was never really addressed. Dare I say, they will even make it worse for all of us.

What we need are action plans and mass transport solutions that will make people ditch their cars going to work. Measures that would make it counterintuitive to use a car and make it more convenient to take the train or bus. Safer, more convenient and more efficient modes of transportation to complement an overall master plan to fix and decongest Metro Manila. That is what we need.

New roads mean more cars on them. Number coding restrictions will only make people drive home later than they have to, or buy another car to have another option to drive instead of to commute. And after all is done, we would be back to where we were.

The next government needs to bring a new way of thinking to the table and take bolder steps if we are to reel in the benefits of progress in the next few decades. Rehashing old ideas that never worked is not only counter-productive, but also inane and stupid.

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