Traffic jam, as we know, is not confined anymore to the streets of Metro Manila. Unfortunately, traffic gridlock has now become a problem of all cities and municipalities—check Baguio, Cebu, Tagaytay, etc.—as well as the roads in between, the tollways, and even regular roads near schools on schooldays, and churches on Sundays.
Tricycles slowing the flow of traffic on provincial roads, habal-habals and helmetless motorcycle riders on opposite lanes, overloaded and dilapidated buses and jeepneys stopping anywhere are common scenes of street disorder causing traffic congestion that no vehicular movement is possible. Then you have the many road accidents, the vehicular mishaps, serious injuries and even road deaths. Who manages the traffic on our roads on a national level? Who enforces traffic laws and assures us of not just a rationalized traffic effort but more importantly, general road safety wherever you are in the country?
Clearly, there is a need for a national traffic authority that cuts across geographical boundaries with just traffic management responsibilities. Unfortunately, we have none for now. What we have, instead, are national government agencies and local government units with separate mandates, operating separately and often encroaching on one another’s authority to the confusion of the public. Take the case of the simple question of whether one’s driver’s license can be confiscated or not by any enforcer, or the number coding system. There is some form of coordination especially with the issuances of citations of traffic violation tickets deputized by the Land Transportation Office (LTO), which are the ones used by other government agencies such the MMDA, LGUs and even the private enforcers in the tollways and in the CBDs like Taguig and Makati. There is also the current push towards a single ticketing system by the MMDA and the LGUs that definitely makes sense but understandably is taking time to implement.
There had been attempts in the past to have such national efforts to manage traffic. The closest one would be the last administration’s Inter-Agency Council on Traffic (I-ACT) that incorporated the efforts of several agencies that had the different ingredients for traffic management. This included the LTO to handle the vehicular and motorist driver regulatory aspect, the LTFRB covering public transport regulatory concerns, both under the DOTr; the Highway Patrol Group of the Philippine National Police for the anti-crime and enforcement aspects, the Department of Public Works and Highways for the needed road infrastructure, the MMDA for Metro Manila, and the various public safety and traffic enforcement of the LGUs.
The I-ACT even included a contingent of the Philippine Coast Guard, being under the DOTr, as force multipliers. From its initial run of anti-colorum, anti-smoke belching operations that extended even outside Metro Manila, the idea of having one central agency proved to be effective. Unfortunately, the I-ACT is now confined to being the ground enforcers for the Edsa bus carousel.
The I-ACT was a creation of DOTr by a mere memorandum of agreement. A convention on a national effort would need congressional intervention to give it more teeth. And this national authority should identify and strengthen common grounds while defining boundaries of national and local authorities. A good model would be the MMDA, which is responsible for Metro Manila’s overall traffic chores while coordinating the traffic efforts of the various LGUs within their boundaries.
Definitely there are gaps and areas for improvement considering the discrepancies on certain regulations such as coding days, truck bans and synchronizing traffic lights. This can nevertheless serve as the case study for a possible national traffic authority, with its experience of having more advantages than disadvantages.
In the meantime, while waiting for that possible national traffic authority, there are initiatives that can be available. Aside from revitalizing I-ACT, a good start would be providing all relevant agencies and local government traffic units with a general venue for cooperation and coordination such as a national hotline and traffic data processing system, which we don’t have right now but can easily be embarked on given that the LTO has already the system in place. Also a re-education —a sort of a national traffic academy for all enforcers nationwide on standardized traffic regulations, rules on engagement and enforcement. That national cooperation can be the venue for standardizing traffic signalization and CCTVs, no contact apprehension and other modern traffic technologies.
Yes, traffic is a national concern. With the post-pandemic economy in full swing, we can expect traffic to worsen. The only way to address this is a concerted traffic management effort on a national scale. And it does not cost much to do it because the ingredients that are needed to make it happen are already there.
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