The MMDA always reports what it claims as improvements of travel speeds along EDSA that past years. They have pointed to this as evidence that traffic congestion is being addressed and that programs like the UVVRP are effective in curbing congestion. However, many traffic experts have cautioned against making sweeping generalizations pertaining to the effectiveness of schemes especially if the evidence put forward is limited and where data seems to have been collected under undesirable (read: unscientific) circumstances.
The MMDA also has been using and to some extent overextending its use of a micro-simulation software that is employs to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of its proposed traffic schemes. The software has an excellent animation feature that can make the untrained eye believe in what is being shown as The problem here is when one realizes that computer software will only show what the programmer/operator wants, and is perhaps an example where the term “garbage in, garbage out” is very much applicable. And this is especially true should the computer model be uncalibrated and unvalidated according to guidelines that are well established, and extensively discussed and deliberated in a wealth of academic references. The fallacy of employing advanced tools to demonstrate how one’s proposal is better than another was highlighted when the DPWH acquired the same tool and came up with an entirely different result for an analysis being made for the same project by that agency and the MMDA. Surely this resulted in confusion as the outcomes of the simulation efforts of both agencies practically negated each other.
It should be pointed out that such micro-simulation software is unsuitable for the task of determining whether metro-wide schemes such as the UVVRP is still effective given the actions of those affected by the scheme. What is required is a macroscopic model that would take into account the travel characteristics of populations in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas (cities and towns in the provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna). There are quite a few of these models available but most if not all were derived from the one developed under the Metro Manila Urban Transport Integration Study (MMUTIS) that was completed in 1999. The main beneficiary from the outcomes of MMUTIS happens to be the MMDA but for some reason, that agency failed to build capacity for maintaining and updating/upgrading the model. As such, the agency missed a great opportunity to invest in something that they could have used to develop and evaluate traffic schemes to address congestion and other traffic issues in Metro Manila, as well as to assess the impacts of new developments.
Metro Manila has come to a point where its options for alleviating congestion are becoming more and more limited. The combination of a still increasing rate of motorization and private vehicle use have definitely contributed to congestion while there are also perceptions of a decline in public transport use in the metropolis. The share of public transport users in most Philippine cities and municipalities range from 80 – 90 %, while in many highly urbanized cities the tendency seems to be a decline for this share as more people are choosing to purchase motorcycles to enhance their mobility and as a substitute to cars. This trend towards motorcycle use cannot be denied based on the steep increase in ownership and the sheer number of motorcycles we observe in traffic everyday.
Metro Manila needs to retain the substantial public transport share while accepting that motorcycle ownership will continue to chip off commuters. The latter phenomenon can be slowed down should authorities strictly enforce traffic rules and regulations on motorcyclists, effectively erasing the notion that the latter group is “exempted” from such. The bigger and more urgent issue is how to put up long overdue mass transport infrastructure that is direly needed in order to create another opportunity for rationalization transport services. We seem to like that word “rationalization” without really understanding and acting on what is required to once and for all address transport problems in the metropolis. We are not lacking for examples of good practices that are both effective and sustainable including those in the capital cities of our ASEAN neighbors. However, we seem to be unable to deliver on the infrastructure part that we have tended to over-rely on a TDM scheme that has long lost much of its effectiveness. The evidence is quite strong for this conclusion and perhaps we should stop being in denial in as far as the UVVRP’s effectiveness is concerned. Efforts should be turned towards building the necessary infrastructure and making public transport attractive so that private car and motorcycle users will be left with no excuse to shift to public transport use. It is inevitable that at some time they will understand the cost of congestion and that they will have to pay for their part in congestion like what is being done along tollways or, in the more sophisticated and mature example, Singapore. But this cannot be realized if we continue to fail in putting up the infrastructure Metro Manila so direly requires.