To solve the horrendous traffic problem in Metro Manila, government can try “congestion pricing” through higher parking fees slapped on private cars. However, this has to be accompanied by innovative but common-sensical strategies.
These measures are urgently needed in anticipation of the gridlock created with the “Build, Build, Build” program, which is the proverbial “wheels of progress” that will ironically slow down traffic further or even grind to a halt initially owing to the construction frenzy, worsened by the continuous yearly sales of four-wheeled vehicles now hitting over 400,000 a year.
In short, traffic will get worse before it gets better, unless temporary solutions are done urgently.
What’s unfair with road charges. The road user’s tax may seem fair as the bigger vehicles that put stress on roads get higher road user’s tax. Conversely, smaller private cars pay much less compared to buses or trucks.
However, volume-wise, private cars dominate 80 percent of road space in Metro Manila. In principle, because public roads are funded by public funds, priority must be given to public transport instead of
For using public roads, vehicles are slapped a road user’s tax, but because this is captured only during vehicle registration, it could not regulate daily road usage as a pricing policy. Abuse of public roads gets worse in many side streets, where motorists transform them into personal garages.
Congestion pricing through parking fees. Many big cities the world over apply congestion pricing through higher parking fees for cars alone to reduce traffic.
High parking fees discourage motorists from bringing their cars. Part of the costs of owning cars are the costs of maintaining garages and paying parking fees.
Unlike the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion’s (TRAIN) excise taxes that are regressive as they indirectly affect the poor through higher prices, parking fees only affect motorists, or only those who park in public places.
Although the TRAIN’s excise taxes account less for inflation compared to the effects of global fuel prices and the peso devaluation, the mass psychology triggered its own momentum, giving everyone in the supply chain an excuse to increase prices.
Parking fees are also good sources of revenues, which only affect motorists directly, more so the wealthy who can afford higher fees. Singapore, for example, collects about $6 billion in parking fees. Such fees can help fund transport infrastructure, and can also be shared with local governments.
Whatever it is, congestion pricing is one strategy to ensure private cars are taxed more for using public roads built from people’s money, thus giving public transport more priority to use public roads.
‘Standing policy’ for buses? Motorists will likely oppose congestion pricing, claiming public transport being inefficient does not offer an alternative. Trains, buses or jeepneys are too jampacked and unsafe. Buses, in particular, contribute to traffic at bus stops, as it takes time for them to unload before they could even load new passengers through a single door as both entrance and exit.
A simple solution is to remove seats, but keep a few for the handicapped. From the current 60 seats, at three-seater and two-seater a row, plus 10 to 20 standing along aisles, buses can possibly carry 100-120 passengers without seats.
For easier ingress and egress, two doors can be installed, and two conductors hired. Better still, automatic fare-collection systems be installed to do away with conductors. With faster loading and unloading, and lesser time at bus stops, buses can make more turnovers, which is good for bus operators.
If Metro Rail Transit/Light Rail Transit passengers are made to stand, why not bus passengers? If Singapore, with its smaller population, requires most bus passengers to stand, why not here?
At 1.2 passengers per car on the average, based on a Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) study, against 60 bus passengers seated on a bus, plus 20 more on the aisles, one busload of car owners is equivalent to 50 to 60 cars of road space. Without seats, as many as 80 to 100 cars of road space are freed to improve traffic.
Odd-even better than HOV? The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) policy on Edsa is seen to be ineffective in spotting violators from a distance. An army of spotters and equipment to identify through tainted windshields may be needed but costlier.
More effective will be distributing volume through time-sharing and spatial or space management. This is done by imposing an odd-even scheme on private cars alone during rush hours, say 6 to 7:30 a.m. for odd-ending numbers and 7:30 to 9 a.m. for even numbers, and similar system in the evening rush.
Half of cars are removed from the roads during these hours, thus avoiding gridlocks. It is ironic that, for the same distance, what takes me 20 to 30 minutes before dawn from my place to the Naia, can become a three-hour trip during daytime.
Motorists will therefore be free to use their cars, which is better than total ban coding, but just have to sacrifice and wait for their designated time.
Parking buildings as business? The Jica increased the estimated traffic costs from P2.4 billion a day to P4.1 billion in 2017, and before long this could balloon to P6 billion a day if nothing is done.
It’s time local governments build parking buildings all over the metropolis, requiring those with no garage to park here for a fee. There are technologies now of multiple-layered carparks stacked through elevator systems. What is generated from congestion pricing can be invested here. At least congestion pricing will not hurt the poor, thus avoiding the far-reaching implications of regressive effects of revenues, such as excise taxes.