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Capability building for traffic management in Metro Manila

September 2015
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The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has been on the news lately due to the perceived shortcomings of the agency on traffic management in the metropolis. The current administration has designated the Philippine National Police – Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG) to take charge of traffic management/enforcement at six identified choke points along EDSA. EDSA or Circumferential Road 4 has been a battleground of sorts for Metro Manila, representing the capital’s transport and traffic woes with just about all the conceivable problems including severe traffic congestion, high incidence of road crashes and a malfunctioning rail line (MRT Line 3) along the corridor.

The agency was criticized when its head went to Cebu City with a team of enforcement personnel in an apparent effort to augment that city’s traffic personnel. Cebu City has its own traffic management unit in the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (CITOM), which has been managing traffic in that city for quite some time now. They have been actually ahead of Metro Manila with their own traffic engineering center already integrated with CITOM way back in the late 1980s. The traffic signals around the city were already under CITOM when Metro Manila’s Traffic Engineering Center (TEC) was still under the DPWH. It was only in the last decade that the TEC was formally transferred to MMDA and modernised to the current modern facility beside the MMDA headquarters at EDSA-Orense St. in Makati City. People observed that Cebu was already ahead of Metro Manila on this part and that the MMDA already had their hands full with Metro Manila’s traffic woes. The joke among major cities is that they were learning about traffic management and enforcement from Metro Manila by checking what the MMDA was doing. They will do the opposite. These cities in on the joke include Cebu, Davao and Iloilo, which are all highly urbanized cities looking to alleviate their own transport and traffic problems before these become the level of Metro Manila’s.

The MMDA has the capacity for traffic management as it has the resources including staff to manage traffic around Metro Manila. It even has people to spare that the agency can deploy to assist or supplement traffic personnel in adjacent local governments (e.g., in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan). However, capacity does not mean capability. And MMDA clearly has limited capabilities despite the resources at its disposal. In fact, their traffic management group should be integrated if not closely working with their planning group. Transport engineering, planning and enforcement should go together, working cooperatively in order to come up with comprehensive schemes and solutions that address problems that are progressive in nature.

The old Transport Training Center (TTC) of the University of the Philippines was established to build both capacity and capability for government agencies that included the then Constabulary Highway Patrol Group (CHPG) that was under the then Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police (PC/INP) headed by the then Gen. Fidel V. Ramos. The PC/INP became the PNP and the CHPG became the Traffic Management Group (TMG) (later becoming the current HPG) but they all trained under the TTC, which became the National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS).

The MMDA trained under the NCTS since the 1990s but most of those who did so over the years are now out of the agency and working elsewhere (including those who have migrated to other countries). The remaining training graduates have limited capability and some have quite a bit of overconfidence (this probably is a by-product of the BF era when the agency and its staff were basically taught that they were better than their DPWH and DOTC counterparts and everything they did was right). Mix this with what seems to be confusion about what they need to do and the result is quite amusing.

The MMDA recently established an Institute for Traffic Management (ITM) with the intent of providing training for their own staff and those from local government units. This is apparently with the instigation of their consultants who include a few academics  without transport planning and engineering expertise and experience yet dabble in it anyway. I think the ITM is not necessary at this point and it is actually not in the agency’s mandate to provide training programs other than to their own staff.  MMDA should focus instead on capability building. If not under NCTS or other local entities they can probably get the knowledge and skills required to manage Metro Manila traffic elsewhere and abroad. In fact, I would recommend that they explore programs offered by the Land Transportation Authority Academy (LTA Academy) of Singapore. These are professional programs that have been developed in cooperation with leading institutions in Singapore like the National University of Singapore (NUS) that can provide a fresh infusion of knowledge to the MMDA. But attendance in such programs is not an assurance that the agency can be better afterwards. The key ingredient would still have to be an effective and progressive leadership that is not under the influence of politics and is committed to no-nonsense traffic management even without the media covering these activities.

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