Caught (up) in traffic

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Too late?

July 2011
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A friend posted her disappointment over what she regularly observed through her condominium window overlooking EDSA Guadalupe. The traffic jams along EDSA seemed to be a 24-hour thing and she lamented about whether  Metro Manila could solve this problem on congestion. She continues to be an active advocate for the environment and we have worked together on the electric jeepney that is now operating a 3rd route in the City of Makati and is also found operating elsewhere in other cities where its applications, to be fair, is still quite limited.

My response to her is something I have also mentioned in other venues including previous posts on this blog and interviews granted to major media networks that have asked me what’s wrong about transport and traffic in our country. It’s really simple – we have failed to build the necessary infrastructure when they needed to be constructed. And we continue to NOT build the infrastructure that could have saved us much in terms of fuel costs alone and perhaps contributed much more to our economy, and definitely outweighing the costs that have often been cited as if it were a deterrent to the realization of a mass transit network for Metro Manila.

Being one who has lived in both Tokyo and Singapore where they have good public transportation systems, I could not help but become excited when, returning from Japan before the turn of the century I came upon plans for Metro Manila’s rail network. I was excited because the decade before I was first exposed to similar plans for MM at a time when other capital cities in Southeast Asia like Bangkok, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur where also planning for their own mass transit systems. In fact, they were also planning expressways in their respective metropolitan areas (i.e., Bangkok Metropolitan Area or BMA and Jakarta-Bogor-Depok-Tangerang-Bekasi or Jabodetabek/Greater Jakarta). Flash forward to the present, it is frustrating, if not depressing, to see that Bangkok and Jakarta were able to implement many of their plans that were critical for the growth of these metropolitan areas and definitely contributed to the overall sustainable development in those countries. Granted, Bangkok and Jakarta still experiences congestion like the legendary jams along urban highways in Bangkok. But which city around the world does not experience congestion? The  key is to provide a viable and more efficient (also convenient and comfortable) alternative to taking one’s car. That should be in the form of a mass transport system that is comprehensive enough that it will allow for both mobility and accessibility to the traveler/commuter. The following figure from the 2005 World Transit Maps envisioned a network that is still now unrealized and, for the existing lines, have become the subject of controversy and other issues that include the absence of a single ticketing system similar to the smart and octopus cards found in other countries.

Can we imagine what could have been the experience of commuting in a Metro Manila where such a rail system would have been in place? My former students have related to me about how it was so convenient to move about in Singapore, Tokyo and Hongkong where the mass transit systems where comprehensive and integrated such that rail and bus systems could provide for the transport needs of commuters. I would like to believe that we have all the plans with us by this time and that the construction of transport infrastructure has long been delayed for our cities (not just Metro Manila but also other metros such as Cebu and Davao) so much so that we continue to suffer from the lack of critical systems that could definitely alleviate congestion and improve the plight of the general public. Perhaps people taking their cars and motorcycles will be convinced to shift to public transport if they see the benefits of doing so. For others who are still captives of our inefficient public transport systems, I am sure that the experience of having improved systems (and an expanded network) will be liberating considering their daily sacrifices just to make ends meet while losing much quality time, productive time stranded in traffic.


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