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Traffic relief

In the last few weeks that the traffic of Metro Manila has taken centerstage, every facet of the issue has been dissected by laymen and so-called traffic experts alike. One writer even wrote that the road is not for vehicles but for the people. The discourse has certainly been very informative in the sense that many practical solutions have been suggested. Some however, are not doable under the circumstance and still others will take years to implement.

The only remaining thing to do now is how to plan and execute the doable solutions. Part of my experience in traffic management is that the Filipino motorist—whether a car owner or a simple commuter relying on public transportation—is not at all difficult to please. As we say in Filipino, mababaw lang ang kaligayahan ng motorista.

And what the ordinary motorist simply wants is a little traffic relief. By this I mean that instead of the two hours it takes to traverse Edsa, if this can be shortened by 20 or 25 minutes,  and vehicles kept moving continuously even at a slow pace, motorists would be happy. What the motorists cannot stand is traffic that grinds to a complete halt. 

Is this doable? I believe so, if our traffic management authorities would just concentrate on immediate remedies. Along Edsa, it was right to ban pedicabs and tricycles. These two are the worst violators of traffic rules. They routinely disregard traffic regulations and endanger other motorists and themselves. In Jakarta, Indonesia, when the traffic authorities decided to ban tricycles during the time of President Suharto, and after a sufficient public information campaign, tricycles caught violating the ban were all confiscated.

Of course we cannot do that here but if we want traffic to flow, we must be strict in enforcement. There was a threat to close the Balintawak market but was later withdrawn. This was a mistake. The market should really be closed permanently. If not for the traffic congestion it is causing, it is for safety and sanitation.  The place is dangerous for fire and health reasons. Rodents are commonly seen running along Edsa. Yet, people flock to the place. Already, the vendors insist on going back and using the sidewalk. The Balintawak problem has always been a seesaw battle between the vendors and traffic authorities with the vendors winning most of the time. With the media attention this time, the traffic authorities appear to be winning. I doubt, however, if this would last long because there is a lot of money to be made in that dirty and unsafe market. This is the reason why it is so difficult to clear the road and sidewalk permanently. We must make up our minds whether we want better traffic flow or allow the vendors to earn a living and let everyone else suffer the daily traffic gridlock.

I passed by Edsa on my own way north a couple of days ago and saw a tricycle at about ten in the morning openly defying the ban. It was not a reassuring sight considering the media hoopla of prohibiting tricycles and vendors. There has to be consistency in enforcement. This I know is hard to do. This is because it has become customary in this country that traffic regulations are routinely violated. Where else can you hear a common expression that a red light is optional?. This is perhaps why Metro Manila has been voted by one study as having the worst traffic in the world.

There is also another curiosity in this country in that the bulk of the work to improve traffic is by enforcement. But it should not be this way. The government cannot provide a traffic enforcer for every road intersection or guard the 90 percent of drivers who routinely violate traffic rules. The rule is that if one has a driver license, that the driver is supposed to know traffic regulations and needs only a minimum of supervision. What is happening, however, is that only a small percentage of drivers obey traffic rules and the rest do not. The result is the gridlock we are seeing on the streets every day.

This is happening, not only in Metro Manila but all over the country. Our traffic authorities should just go back to the basic three Es in traffic management. Strict and consistent Enforcement of traffic laws. For the rich, as well as the poor. Clearing the roads of illegal obstructions is a good Engineering effort. The road should not be converted into repair shops or loading and unloading stations nor should roads and sidewalks be used for dwelling. An immediate survey should be done on all the streets of the Metro area so that traffic signs could be posted and installed. This way, there is bases for many of the apprehensions to be made. The next, which has not been suggested in the past few weeks, is that everyone renewing their driver’s license must retake the written examination and undergo a day or two of seminar. This is necessary in order to improve driver discipline which is causing about 30 percent of the traffic problem. I am sure that a lot will again complain about this but traffic Education is absolutely necessary if we want to improve traffic flow.

These so-called three Es have been discussed before but concentration has been on enforcement, a little on engineering, but none whatsoever on education. The seminar portion can jointly be undertaken by the Highway Patrol Group and the Land Transportation Office, the agency responsible for issuing millions of licenses with so much ease—the cause of lax road discipline.

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