When the government came up with its plan to decongest the ports due to overstaying cargoes that resulted from the attempt by Manila’s city government to solve the traffic woes, the traffic snarls cost much more economic damage than when the lumbering container trucks were allowed to ply the roads during the so-called window hours.
The solution to the traffic problem was, at best, a Band-Aid attempt to address the problem. This is why irate motorists and citizens, and even business groups, raised their complaints over the temporary solutions to the port congestion foisted in the metropolis, such as the temporary 24-hour dedicated truck lanes; temporary transfer of containers to Subic and Batangas; and other temporary government moves, such as those against colorum trucks and buses.
All these temporary solutions are just that—temporary. For the solutions do not give a permanent fix about the real problem, which is the long-standing issue of capacity to meet the demands of a growing trade and economy. Since the ports are bound to burst at the seams as trade booms, no amount of dedicated lanes nor port transfers can address the problem.
With the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanding by 7 percent for several quarters, dwarfed only at times by China, the trade statistics would have to grow as a result and, with it, an exponential growth in the number of container vans at the ports.
Every percentage-point growth in the GDP represents a corresponding expansion in the volume of trade. That means more international ships docking on Philippines shores to deliver containers of raw materials, supplies and finished goods that later led to the port congestion.
On top of this increase in container vans at the ports is the marked rise in the trips of container vans to their destinations, as well as a higher number of trucks plying the roads and clogging the vital arteries as a result.
Simply put, what the country needs is to increase its infrastructure capacity to meet the volume of trade—not just to address Metro traffic woes. And this is not the same patch-up solution that led to that monstrous traffic jams.
This holistic solution requires planning and integration—just as stakeholders in the port and logistics business have suggested in their position paper that was printed in the papers.
Right now, Manila’s two international ports have a combined capacity of 3.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs): 2.5 million for Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) and 1.2 million for South Harbor.
TEU is the rough measure of the volume of cargo that can be put inside a container 20 feet long; roughly, one TEU means one container. A 40-foot container is measured as two TEUs.
Roughly translated, a capacity of 3.7 million TEUs means that the two ports can handle 3.7 million 20-foot containers in a year, or about 10,000 containers a day.
But this capacity is not yet utilized to the fullest. The industry paper reports that in 2013, the combined throughput at the two international ports in Manila reached 2,718,107 TEUs (1,796,571 for MICT and 921,536 for South Harbor). That’s about 7,400 20-foot containers daily going in and coming out of the two ports.
So what the logistics industry is suggesting—presumably with the concurrence of manufacturers, importers and exporters—is an integrated approach to meet the economic demands by adopting the “city-port”
There are models to look at for this envisioned city-port project. The industry paper titled “Port and Road Infrastructure for Greater Luzon Trade” cites Vancouver in Canada, for instance.
Port Metro Vancouver is Canada’s Pacific Gateway, whose development dates back more than 100 years. Its jurisdiction covers more than 600 kilometers of shoreline on the southwest coast of British Columbia.
As the most diversified port in North America, it serves not only trade, but also tourism, having
facilities for international cruises. It facilitates Canada’s trade with more than 160 world economies, with 95 percent of its volume serving Canada’s export and import markets. Last year, it handled 135 million tons of cargo.
Vancouver’s numbers are a great read. It accounts for 98,800 jobs, $6.1 billion in wages with an average wage of $67,000 per year for direct job, $9.7 billion in GDP, $20.3 billion in economic output and $1.3 billion per year in tax revenues.
Its development has been integrated with the overall development of the 16 municipalities. The port works with elected officials, city staff, residents and businesses to balance the needs of the shipping and tourism industries and
The Vancouver development may be difficult to match for the Philippines. But then, it could serve as its model for which the country could then address the port-congestion woes, as well as traffic problems that come with growing trade.
But it is the concept of building a port city or a port community that the government and the private sector can look at. Manila has that potential. And the industry stakeholders’ recommendations are a good starting point.
It is just a question of integrated infrastructure, which would require master planning. The infrastructure, according to the industry study, would involve, among others, a seamless network of roads that connect the ports to cargo destination within Metro Manila and its environs.
For instance, the proposed North Luzon Expressway-South Luzon Expressway connector should also include a direct connection to the two ports so that trucks headed for and coming out of the ports need not traverse Metro Manila’s narrow roads and snarl traffic.
The Vancouver model is a good start.
Lito U. Gagni / Special to the BusinessMirror