Another revolution needed along EDSA?
One of the most powerful images of EDSA that sticks to anyone’s mind is one where you see hundreds of thousands of people occupying the sections near what is now a shrine dedicated to the People Power Revolution that led to the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Perhaps a more recent version of this image is another associated with a People Power 2 that ended the term of another Philippine President, Erap Estrada, in 2001. The latter had in the background the newly operational MRT-3 as well as the overpasses at the intersection of EDSA-Ortigas that were built after 1986. These images are now mostly replaced by those depicting EDSA as one huge parking lot for cars during peak periods that seem to stretch beyond the typical morning and afternoon hours. A couple of photos are reproduced below showing day time and night time traffic congestion along the stretch of EDSA from Ortigas to Camp Aguinaldo.
Afternoon congestion along the section of EDSA between Ortigas and Santolan. Note that even the overpasses are full of vehicles. Camp Aguinaldo is the green area on the top right.
Traffic congestion along the same section of EDSA at night. The head and tail lights represent the motor vehicles crawling along the highway.
Already the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has tried so many schemes along EDSA but mostly to regulate bus traffic. These have included various versions of dispatching schemes including a failed foray into the use of RFIDs. The current system that was launched in January is another attempt that we hope to be more successful than the previous ones. Already, the system has been able to weed out drivers with multiple traffic violations. There are many more of these drivers behind the wheels of public transport vehicles who probably shouldn’t be driving such vehicles as they put their passengers at risk of being involved in road crashes. Incidentally, such traffic violations associated with the different private bus companies operating in Metro Manila have been the subject of an interesting discussion during one congressional inquiry on public transport franchises where the MMDA reported hundreds if not thousands of traffic violations attributed to various bus companies.
The MMDA is limited by its mandate in so far as buses are concerned. It is the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), which has the responsibility to address franchise violations and enforce rules in such a way that the agency could influence bus companies to improve their services. However, the MMDA is not at all helpless here as they are in the best position to petition for sanctions against erring bus companies based on their data on traffic violations. Such obviously constitute a violation in the franchise particularly where reckless or irresponsible driving exposes their passengers and the general public to risks in the form of road crashes. Such crashes can translate into losses of lives, injuries or significant damages to property.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has proposed an elevated highway on top of EDSA. This is supposed to have been inspired by similar elevated expressways found in other principal metropolitan areas including those in Tokyo. Would it solve the problem of traffic along EDSA? Probably in the short run after its opening but likely not in the long run as the elevated highway will rapidly become congested much like the experience with C-5. An elevated highway will also require ramps at many of EDSA’s intersections with other major highways and congested on the ground will lead to the condition spreading to the elevated sections.
The planned rehabilitation of EDSA is overdue. However, it has met a lot of opposition and mixed signals from various sectors including the MMDA itself, which is supposed to work with the DPWH in finding a solution for Metro Manila’s busiest thoroughfare. It seems that the MMDA is perhaps more interested in pursuing another elevated highway project, the Skybridge, which would be along a corridor on top of the San Juan River. Curiously, the objective of this other proposal is to have another alternate route to EDSA or simply “to decongest EDSA.” While well meaning, I have the gut feeling it won’t have a tremendous impact as it will still cater mainly to private cars. How about the commuters who comprise 70 to 80 percent of travelers along EDSA but only have about 30 percent of the road? We have to realize that only by keeping people, who do not need to drive, on public transport can we effectively decongest our roads. It is when they start using cars or motorcycles that our road space become all the more limited.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), the agency which is supposed to come up with the solutions to our transport problems has not been as active as it should be on the topic of EDSA. To be fair, the agency seems to be working on the acquisition of additional coaches to address the also overdue capacity expansion for the MRT Line 3. However, it also seems that now worries that the line was poorly planned in the sense that it failed to anticipate the present transport demand, has been validated. MRT Line 3 is really a light rail transit line that was built along EDSA despite the need for a higher capacity system. But is it too late to upgrade this system? Or do we need another to supplement or complement the MRT 3?
Perhaps what is needed along EDSA is another revolution but one of the sustainable transport kind. “Sobra na! Tama na! Palitan na!” were cries in 1986 that are now very much applicable to the transport system we have along EDSA. It will not be an easy nor an inexpensive task to upgrade the MRT-3 into a higher capacity system required along this corridor. But opportunities are now available to ease the burden along the line. The emergence of bus rapid transit (BRT) as a viable option along EDSA would have to be explored. But a BRT cannot be simply installed along the corridor. The government would also have to be firm with the conventional buses plying routes that all seem to be overlapping along EDSA. These routes would have to be simplified along with the numerous companies that would have to be encouraged to form consortia (or cooperatives?) that can participate in a MRT-BRT-bus integrated network. The question now is who will champion or lead such a revolution for transport? Who will be progressive enough to lead us into an era of modern transport that should be inclusive, environment-friendly, and promotes “dignity of travel” for all?