I was interviewed last week about the traffic congestion generally experienced along major roads in Metro Manila. I was asked whether I thought the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) more popularly known as the number coding scheme was still effective, and I replied that based on what we are experiencing it is obviously not effective anymore. The reasoning here can be traced from the fact that when the scheme was first formulated and implemented, the main assumption was that if the number of license plates on registered vehicles were equally distributed among the 10 digits (1 to 0), then by restricting 2 digits indicated as the end/last number on a plate we could automatically have a 20% reduction in the number vehicles. This rather simplistic assumption was sound at the time but apparently did not take into consideration that eventually, people owning vehicles will be able to adjust to the scheme one way or another.
One way to adjust when the number coding scheme was implemented was to change traveling times. Everyone knew that the scheme was enforced from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM (i.e., there was no 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM window at the time) and so people only had to travel from the origins to their destinations before 7:00 AM. Similarly, they would travel back after 7:00 PM, which partly explains why after 7:00 PM there is usually traffic congestion due to “coding” vehicles coming out to travel. In effect, the “coding” vehicle is not absent from the streets that day. Instead, it is only used during the time outside of the “coding” or restricted period.
Another way that was actually a desired impact of the coding scheme was for people to shift to public transport, at least for the day when their vehicle was “coding.” That way, the vehicle is left at home and there is one less vehicle for every person who opted to take public transport. This, however, was not to be and people did not shift to public transport. Perhaps the quality of services available or provided to them were just not acceptable to most people and so they didn’t take public transport and a significant number instead opted for a third way.
That third way to adjust was one that was the least desirable of the consequences of number coding – people who could afford it bought another vehicle. This was actually a result that could have been expected or foreseen given the trends and direct relationship between increases in income associated with economic growth where people would eventually be able to afford to buy a vehicle. Actually, there is no problem with owning a car. The concern is when one uses it and when he opts to travel. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that people started buying new cars outright, making this something like an overnight phenomenon. It happened over several years and involved a cycle that starts when the wealthier people decide to purchase a new vehicle and discards their old ones. These used vehicles become available on the “second hand” market and are purchased by those with smaller budgets. Some of these may have even older vehicles that they will in turn discard, and eventually be owned by other people with even less budget. Note that in this cycle, very few vehicles are actually retired, if at all considering this country has no retirement policy for old vehicles. The end result? More cars on the roads and consequently, more severe and more frequent congestion.
Below is an excerpt from the news report on News TV Channel 11: