Caught (up) in traffic

Home » 2011 » May » 25

Daily Archives: May 25, 2011

Traffic congestion in Metro Manila: Is the UVVRP still effective? – Part 2

In the past decade, there has been a sharp rise in the motorcycle ownership around the country and especially in Metro Manila. From about 1 million motorcycles registered in 2000, the number has increased to 3.2 million in 2009, a 320% increase over a period of 10 years. Motorcycles have become associated with mobility, in this case the motorized kind, and have become the mode of choice for many who choose to have their own vehicles but cannot afford a four-wheeler. These people also choose not to take public transport for a variety of reasons but mainly as they perceive their mobility to be limited should they use public transport services that are available to them. This rise of the motorcycle is also a response to the restrictions brought about by UVVRP with the scheme not covering motorcycles. In fact, should motorcycles be included in the UVVRP, it would be a nightmare for traffic enforcers to apprehend riders considering how they maneuver in traffic. Add to this the perception and attitude of riders that motorcycles are practically exempt from traffic rules and regulations (and traffic schemes!). One only needs to observe their behavior to validate the argument.

To understand UVVRP, it must also be assessed in the context of its original implementation when Metro Manila had to contend with congestion due to infrastructure projects being constructed everywhere during the 1990’s. EDSA MRT was being constructed, interchanges were also being put up, and a number of bridges were being widened to accommodate the increasing travel demand. Road widening projects generally benefit private vehicle users more than public transport users. In the case of Metro Manila, many areas are already built-up and acquisition of right of way for widening is quite difficult for existing roads. As such, it is very difficult to increase road capacities to accommodate the steady increase in the number of vehicles.

In transportation engineering, when traffic/transport systems management (TEM) techniques are no longer effective or yield marginal improvements we turn to travel demand management (TDM) schemes to alleviate congestion. In the former, we try to address congestion by tweaking the system (i.e., infrastructure) through road widening, adjustment of traffic signal settings, etc. while in the latter, we go to the root of the problem and try to manage the trips emanating from the trip generation characteristics of various land uses interacting with each other. By addressing the trip generation characteristics through restrictions, we influence travel demand and hopefully lessen traffic during the peak periods while distributing these to others.

This is the essence of UVVRP where the coding scheme targets particular groups of private cars (according to the end number on the license plate) each weekday. Meanwhile, the scheme is not implemented during weekends due to the perception that, perhaps, travel demand is less or more spread out during Saturdays and Sundays. However, there is a problem with this approach as the traffic taken away from the peak hours are transferred to other times of the day, thereby causing in some cases the extension of what was originally a peak hour unto a longer period. What was before a morning peak of say 7:30 – 8:30 AM becomes spread out into a peak period of 7:00 – 9:00 AM. The problem here is when you have major traffic generators like central business districts (e.g., Makati and Ortigas) where congestion is experience for more than 2 hours (e.g., 7:00 – 10:00 AM or 4:00 – 7:00 PM).

The UVVRP is not implemented in all of Metro Manila. Several LGUs, particularly those in the outer areas like Marikina City and Pateros. This is simply due to the information and observations of these cities that their roads are not affected by the build-up of traffic since most traffic is bound for the CBDs located in Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Quezon City and Manila. This is the case also for LGUs in the periphery of Metro Manila like the towns in the province of Rizal, which is to the east of the metropolis, where the typical behavior of traffic is outbound in the morning and inbound in the afternoon. The great disparity between inbound and outbound traffic is evident in the traffic along Ortigas Avenue where authorities have even implemented a counterflow scheme to increase westbound road capacity.

There have also been observations of traffic easing up during the mid-day. As such, the MMDA introduced a window from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM to allow all vehicles to travel during that period while retaining the restrictions of the number coding scheme from 7:00 – 10:00 AM and 3:00 – 7:00 PM. However, while many LGUs applied the window, some and particularly those found in central part of the Metropolis like Makati, retained the 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM ban. This stems from their perspective that traffic does not ease up at all (e.g., try driving along Gil Puyat Ave. during lunchtime) along their streets during the window period.

Nowadays, there seems to be the general perception that one can no longer distinguish between traffic during the coding period and the window. Traffic congestion is everywhere and there are few opportunities for road widening. Traffic signal control adjustments are limited to those intersections where signals have been retained (mostly in Makati) since the MMDA replaced signalized intersections with U-turn slots during a past administration where the U-turn was hailed as the solution to the traffic mess.