Metro Manila: Traffic Congestion and Mass Transport Convolution Part 1 of 2 Traffic Blues Have Commuters Seeing Red

The problem of the lack of an efficient and reliable mass transport system could've been avoided if only the infrastructure which existed before the war had been rebuilt after it was destroyed.

One of the campaign promises of then candidate Duterte was the alleviation of Metro Manila's traffic congestion. JICA estimates the daily loss from the current traffic conditions to be up to P3.5B per day as of February 2018. The President has expressed his frustration at Congress for not giving him emergency powers to solve the problem. Just the other day he declared he was giving up saying he can't act on it without the powers he had been asking for.

The childish attitude of the President and Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the Committee on Public Services, smacks of insensitivity to the people's plight as they spend an average of four hours on the road commuting to and from their place of work. Poe has been asking the Department of Transportation for justification in granting the emergency powers. None of what the DOTr has submitted has met with her approval.
There is bad blood between the two because of the President's statements that Poe's controversial citizenship is what compelled him to throw his hat in the Presidential race late in the game.

On the other hand, Poe believes she could've beat Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay if Duterte didn't enter the race at the very last minute. She had been banking on her landslide win as Senator in 2013 and her relatively clean image as a rookie politician to bring her to the highest office in the land.

The bad blood between the two has left the commuting public suffering from extended travel times due to traffic congestion made more miserable when there's a downpour resulting in flooding. This has badly affected the work-life balance of employees and has made their quality of life poorer.

This problem of the lack of an efficient and reliable mass transport system could've been avoided if only the infrastructure which existed before the war had been rebuilt after it was destroyed. For whatever reason the newly independent government had then, it wasn't.

The tranvia operated by Meralco and the rail lines linking Manila to the northern and southern provinces of Luzon weren't fully rehabilitated. Bus companies were established using surplus US Army trucks converted by local tinsmiths using lawanit plywood as material for its body. These buses replaced the rail lines and became the primary carrier of passengers and goods to and from the provinces.

The ubiquitous jeeney was born from what the Americans left behind after the country had been liberated from the Japanese. The jeepneys replaced the tranvia within Manila and suburbs. The buses plied the routes to Marikina, Antipolo and Montalban which used to be served by the Philippine National Railways out of its central terminal in Tutuban.

The Marcos administration technocrats had projected an increasing demand for transportation as the capital was expanding in terms of population as residents and the influx of daytime workers from the nearby provinces.

In 1974, President Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 492 which established the Metro Manila Transit Corporation. The MMTC was tasked with consolidating bus and jeepney routes by providing for public transport services which had identified bus and jeepney stops along each route. It also required independent bus operators to form consortiums based on the routes they plied in order to fully rationalize the route network of public transport in what was then emerging as the Greater Manila Area. The MMTC introduced the first fully-air-conditioned buses in the country called the Love Bus which plied the Escolta-Makati-Cubao-Escolta route.

From 1976 to 1977, a fourteen-month study funded by the World Bank was conducted by Freeman Fox and Associates for the newly created Ministry of Transportation and Communications. The study recommended the establishment of nine light rail lines which would run through the major thoroughfares of Metro Manila from 1981 to 1998. The study took into account a projected increase in demand for mass transport as Metro Manila expanded to include the addition of Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig and Marikina all from the province of Rizal.

The first line was to run the length of Taft Avenue from Pasay all the way to Monumento in Caloocan for a total length of 19.65 kilometers made up to twenty stations. The LRT-1 was inaugurated on December 1, 1984. It was the first light rail system in Asia at that time making it the oldest light rail line in the region now.

The MRT-3 was the next light rail line to be constructed. Ground broke on October 1996 and the whole line length of 16.9 kilometers and 13 stations became fully operational in 2000. The interconnection of MRT-3 with LRT-1 had been delayed by the controversy over the site of the common station. The Monumento to North Avenue extension was completed before the end of the term of the Arroyo administration. The common station had been awarded to the SM Group by the DOTC and the payment had been made for the rights.

The Ayala group which was part of the original MRT-3 consortium managed to obtain a temporary restraining order at the onset of the Aquino administration. It wanted the common station built nearer to its North Triangle development where the MRT depot is located. The issue was finally resolved last year when the common station was again relocated nearer to the Ayala's Trinoma development which would connect MRT-3 and LRT-1 to MRT-7.

About the Author
RG is a seasoned international trade and sales and marketing professional who also dabbles in writing. He was a contributor to Business World in the mid-90s and is also a tech geek.
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