A lot riding on ‘recycled’ transport dream plan

In Photo: A Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) officer checks the traffic-monitoring system at MMDA’s Command Control Building in Guadalupe, Makati City.

By Lorenz S. Marasigan, Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco & Catherine N. Pillas

TRANSPORTATION-infrastructure development in the Philippines is about a decade or two behind when compared to its neighbors, making congestion a new norm that could possibly wipe out the gains that the economy has experienced so far.

A ferryboat negotiates the Pasig River in Manila in this September 9, 2014, file photo. The MMDA is promoting the ferry system as an alternative mode of transportation, particularly in the midst of the current traffic congestion.

The traffic situation in Metro Manila is so bad that Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis N. Tolentino even characterized it as bloody.

Signs that the economy is already overheating from the steady economic growth are obvious: from roads, to trains, to airports, to ports.

During rush hours at night, Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa) looks like a scene of bloodbath, as a sea of red lights floods all of its lanes. At worse times, commuters will experience a complete standstill, causing a supposedly 30-minute drive from Ayala in Makati City to Cubao in Quezon City to be tripled.

Beyond capacity

Edsa is also home to the most-congested train line in the Philippines—the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3. It serves roughly 560,000 passengers per day, way beyond its 350,000 capacity.

Its highest single-day passenger count is 620,000. This, despite the train line’s deteriorating state: leaking coaches, unsafe rails, obsolete communication system and unreliable power sources, among others.

Passengers of the MRT are crammed like sardines inside train cars that are already crying for help because of their depleting health.

The artwork on a jeepney reflects the traffic situation in Metro Manila: bloody.
The artwork on a jeepney reflects the traffic situation in Metro Manila: bloody.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), on the other hand, is now on its Dark Days. The airport is expected to handle some 37.78 million passengers this year, way beyond its 30 million annual passenger capacity, and a few notches up from its maximum capacity of 35 million passengers per year.

Congestion can also be felt at the ports in Manila. It took the government a full year to free up the terminal in the capital from overstaying cargoes, whose deliveries were delayed due to the logjam at the ports.

Hence, the government adopted the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (Jica) P4.76-trillion Road Map for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and its Surrounding Areas, otherwise known as the Dream Plan.

It was accepted by President Aquino in 2014, and, as of today, roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of the plan has already been done in terms of design and implementation.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport is expected to handle some 37.78 million passengers this year, way beyond its 30 million annual passenger capacity, and a few notches up from its maximum capacity of 35 million passengers per year.
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport is expected to handle some 37.78 million passengers this year, way beyond its 30 million annual passenger capacity, and a few notches up from its maximum capacity of 35 million passengers per year.

‘Recycled’ road map

Jose Regin F. Regidor, a research fellow at UP Diliman National Center for Transportation Studies, clarified, however, that some of these projects are a carry-over from the previous plans to improve the transportation infrastructure in Metro Manila.

He explained that there exists a 1973 version of the Dream Plan, aptly called the Urban Transport Study in Metropolitan Manila Area.

It was implemented from March 1971 to September 1973, with the assistance of the Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency of Japan.

There was also the Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project of 1977. Commissioned by the Philippine government and funded by the World Bank, it was implemented from January 1976 to February 1977.

“The Dream Plan is not a new plan. It is actually a recycled and updated one. The latest Dream Plan by Jica consists of both road and rail projects that are part of an ideal network for Metro Manila. As far as this Dream Plan is concerned, perhaps we are at 20 percent to 30 percent in terms of design and implementation,” he said in an e-mail interview.

The plan calls for the establishment of a modern, well-integrated, coordinated and affordable transport system for Metro Manila and the adjacent areas of Bulacan, Pampanga, Cavite and Batangas.

The system will consist of expressways, new roads elevated and on ground, railways elevated and on ground, subways, airports and seaports. Near-term components are for completion by 2016, while medium- and longer-term components are for completion by 2020 and 2030, respectively.

When completed, the plan will accomplish at least three objectives: The reduction of traffic congestion in the metropolitan area; the diminution of air pollution in the metropolitan area and its environs; and the reduction of transportation costs to the urban population, especially the poor and other low-income groups.

Completion will result in the reduction of the average travel fare of commuters from the current P42 to P24, and also the lowering of the current average travel time of 80 minutes to 31 minutes.

Mixed results

Transport expert Rene S. Santiago said government agencies have mixed results with regard to the implementation of the projects under them.

“For the short term, much has been done by the Department of Public Works and Highways on roads, very little by the MMDA on traffic signalization, and almost nothing on the part of the Department of Transportation and Communications [DOTC] relative to targets,” he said.

The transport agency handles 12 of the 13 identified projects for the transport-investment program and mass-transit systems to 2016. The bulk of them are rail projects, such as the Light Rail Transit Lines (LRT) 1 and 2’s capacity-augmentation projects; the expansion of the capacity of the MRT 3; and the construction of three Integrated Transport System terminals.

But as of today, the DOTC has just awarded the contracts to expand the MRT and the LRT Line 1, as well as the construction of two of the three ITS systems. It has yet to finish the feasibility study for the bus rapid-transit system for C-5 Road, among others.

“We are still at least 15 to 20 years behind in terms of transportation infrastructure, especially compared to our neighbors in the region. With the government’s efforts in the past five years, we expect to see most of our priority projects completed from 2019 to 2022, which will make us competitive with our neighbors for the next 20 years,” Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya conceded.

Economic losses

Aside from requiring the construction of 504 kilometers of intercity and urban expressways, 137 km of other roads and 318 km of railways, the road map also states economic losses due to the chronic traffic in Metro Manila could balloon to P6 billion per day, from the current P2.4 billion, by 2030.

Regidor noted that today losses from traffic jams around Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite are also pegged at about P1 billion daily.

“The economic losses are real and growing. Competitiveness of Metro Manila and quality of life would decline considerably—if these losses are not tamed,” Santiago added.

But for Regidor, economic losses can never be wiped out; they can only be tempered.

“Congestion is a normal occurrence, so we will still lose a lot every day even with the Dream Plan projects in place,” he predicted.

Slowpoke implementation

European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) External Vice President Henry J. Schumacher said it is unfortunate that the present government is finding it hard to quickly implement the projects found in the Dream Plan.

“We are all aware that economic growth is and will suffer from the lack and slow pace of infrastructure development,” he said.

The American Chamber of Commerce, according to its senior advisor John D. Forbes, is, likewise, “greatly disappointed” with the snail-paced growth of infrastructure development in the Philippines.

“Frankly, we are greatly disappointed that not a single new rail line has started construction in almost 20 years since the Ramos administration. Everyone could see that with more growth, the city would become congested with more cars, while jeepneys, buses and trucks compete with them for limited road space. The solutions are well known, but it is a mystery why their implementation is not top priority,” he said.

According to Transportation Undersecretary Rene K. Limcaoco, there are roughly 2.1 million motor vehicles plying different routes in Metro Manila daily.

“The difficulty of addressing Metro Manila’s transport woes, including the seemingly slow pace of project rollout, highlights an even greater need to increase infra investments, ensure that projects are implemented with minimum delay, and hastily develop other eco centers to ease the burden on Metro Manila,” Makati Business Club (MBC) Executive Director Peter Angelo B. Perfecto said.

He added that Metro Manila requires not only the decongestion of traffic, but it also needs to be decongested of “people, business and even national government centers.”

To illustrate their point, the P2-billion Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway was only completed in late July this year. Ayala Corp. cited issues on right-of-way acquisition as the reason for the almost two-year delay.

The Skyway Stage 3—the connector road being built by San Miguel Corp.—is also delayed due to the slow delivery of the required easement to continue with the construction.

“Construction is slow—in many cases because of rights-of-way constraints, and not-in-my-neighborhood mentality of Filipinos. Of course, a big factor is government incompetence,” Santiago explained.

Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center Executive Director Cosette V. Canilao explained that the slow implementation of projects can be traced back to the required time to finish a facility.

“The planning period alone is quite long. Construction is also slow because we also have to manage the traffic that comes with the construction. Today traffic is very bad, given the number of projects under construction,” she said.

Private sector ready to help

Schumacher, Perfecto and Forbes all agreed that the government has been quite incompetent in addressing the infrastructure woes in the Philippines.

“The DOTC has not done well and is unlikely to improve under this administration. The government should enable the private sector to implement—it’s as easy as that,” Schumacher said.

Forbes even called for the replacement of the current transport chief, a close ally of President Aquino.

“Obviously, the DOTC has not done a good job in addressing the Philippines’s transport needs. And the problems at DOTC have been there over a decade. It needed an engineer and not a corrupt chief as secretary. Many people say it still needs an engineer, and many say it should be combined with the DPWH, as it was 30 years ago,” he said.

Perfecto said his group’s most-recent executive survey of national agencies placed the DOTC at the bottom, together with the Office of the Vice President (OVP).

“While the OVP may be suffering from the impact of corruption allegations against the Vice President, the DOTC may be reaping unsatisfactory ratings from our CEO members who may be frustrated with the continuing transport and logistics woes of the country. The 2030 plan is probably not also being communicated properly and enough to business and the wider public. Meantime, there seems to be a lack of action to put in place mitigating measures and projects,” he said.

But, despite all these problems with the government, the private sector is still keen on helping the state address the transport problems in Metro Manila.

“We believe and advocate that all restrictions on foreign participation in the transportation and construction sectors will bring in more foreign capital and technology to speed up implementation of the plan. It is only logical that when the need for modernized transport is so great that all resources are brought to bear,” Forbes said.

He explained that modern transport infrastructure can expand foreign-investor presence in Manila and surrounding regions, and create many hundreds of thousands of good jobs.

“Competing countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are creating more livable cities. And if Metro Manila falls further behind and does not catch up, it may lose locators due to inefficiency, congestion and pollution,” Forbes added.

For his part, Schumacher said that, while his group is supportive of the infrastructure thrust of the Philippine government, his camp hopes that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) will be willing to implement the law that allows foreign contractors to operate fully in the country.

“Foreign business is ready to help, but both the DTI and the DPWH are not willing to implement the law that allows the full activity of foreign contractors and construction companies,” he said.

The MBC, according to Perfecto, will continue to advocate for the institutionalization of critical legislation that will assist in the implementation of the plan, such as the amendments to the build-operate-transfer law and the right-of-way act.

“We are certain that the larger network of the Philippine Business Groups-Joint Foreign Chambers will also actively advocate for such legislative measures,” he said.

Doable, but…

Implementing the Dream Plan, however, should not be a problem to the government, Santiago said.

“The Dream Plan can be done. Money is not the obstacle to its realization,” he said.

Almec Corp. Chairman Shizuo Iwata, who crafted the road map, even said the Philippines now has enough money to bankroll the Dream Plan, citing the recent growth of the economy.

Jica estimated the country’s local output growth must average at least 6 percent until the end of the Aquino presidency; 7.5 percent in the 2017-2022 period; and 5 percent in the 2023-2030 period for the proposed traffic-management plan to work effectively.

If the country’s growth follows the projected path, the country’s annual infrastructure budget of 5 percent of GDP will reach P1.75 trillion in 2014-2016; P5.3 trillion in 2017-2022; and P9.8 trillion in 2023-2030.

But, despite this, the government should have enough willpower to execute the road map in order to address the chronic traffic congestion in Metro Manila.

“It is the government’s ability to execute them. For example, the plan calls for about 200 km  of rail lines by 2030. But from 2010 to 2016, zero km got built. None of the three provincial bus terminals promised by President Aquino in his first State of the Nation Address will be completed by 2016,” Santiago lamented.

The success of the Dream Plan, Regidor noted, will also depend on the success of Mr. Aquino.

“At this point, the current administration is just starting or planning many major projects in the Dream Plan. Elections are fast approaching and people know that nothing major can be accomplished once the campaign season starts. Some people are counting on a continuation of this administration in the form of a successor admin that is committed to continue plans and programs of the current one,” he said.

Contingency measures

Seeking to ease up the burdens caused by the monstrous traffic jams in the metropolis, the MMDA adopted contingency measures, especially in areas with ongoing roadworks and infrastructure projects.

Tolentino, who personally supervised the traffic in Katipunan near Ateneo de Manila and along SM Megamall on Wednesday (August 26) morning, said the heavy traffic crippling the metropolis was brought about by a confluence of factors: the ongoing major infrastructure projects, which constricted the lanes used by motorists; volume of vehicles plying Edsa; and the flooding of several streets after heavy rains.

Some of the projects that severely affect the flow of vehicular traffic in Metro Manila are the Naia Elevated Expressway project; the Citra Skyway 3 project in Makati and Manila areas; the upgrading of two bridges in Quezon City (Dario Bridge and Congressional Extension), among others.

All these projects are under the DPWH.

“These are long-term infrastructure projects with long periods of construction. If more construction is ongoing, traffic gets worse,” Tolentino said, adding that the number of vehicles plying Edsa, the metropolis’s prime thoroughfare, remains a problem.

Cris Saruca, head of MMDA’s Traffic Discipline Office, said they opened a zipper lane going northbound in the area of Dario Bridge.

Saruca said that additional traffic enforcers, motorcycle and mobile patrol units were deployed in identified chokepoints, particularly in the Naia area.

He identified the chokepoints on Edsa, which include Balintawak, Muñoz, Timog, Monte de Piedad, Aurora, P. Tuazon, Santolan, Ortigas, Shaw, Boni, Guadalupe, Buendia, Ayala, Magallanes and Pasay-Taft. Along C-5, the heavily congested areas are Katipunan, Eastwood, Ortigas, Bagong Ilog and Kalayaan. Likewise, motorists also complain about the heavy traffic on Commonwealth Avenue going to Fairview.

Additional traffic enforcers, numbering 40 to 50, were also deployed in Naia, where traffic gets heavy on Old Domestic Road, Andrews and Sales.

Despite these challenges they are currently facing, Saruca said they are trying their best to do their part to address the traffic problem.

Tolentino, meanwhile, noted that Edsa’s capacity is 160,000 vehicles per direction per day.

“At present 260,000 vehicles travel in both directions along the main thoroughfare on a daily basis.  So the total number of vehicles traversing Edsa is 520,000 vehicles per day. If there’s a collision or an accident, then expect heavy traffic right away,” he said.

Another factor that worsened the traffic jams, particularly in Manila, was the lifting of the truck ban on designated roads leading to and out of the port area. The move was meant to facilitate the movement of trucks into and out of the Port of Manila using roads in Manila, Makati, Pasay and Parañaque.

Tolentino cited the continued increase in vehicle volume for the coming years, as car sales are expected to reach 250,000 units before the end of the year.

The worsening floods in the metropolis also became a major contributor to the traffic gridlock. Flooding worsened because of the inefficient drainage system. Currently, the DPWH has yet to finish 39 drainage projects, he said.

To make sure that traffic enforcers would still be directing traffic even at night, especially after a downpour, Tolentino said the agency has deployed more traffic enforcers on nighttime shifts, particularly on Edsa and the C-5 Road.

Tolentino said at least 200 traffic enforcers would be deployed every night on three shifts, from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.

The agency also launched in March a mobile app that allows car-pooling. Dubbed Friend Trip, the app aims to offer an alternative solution to the traffic congestion and, at the same time, help ease pollution.

Road map

Tolentino, however, stressed that the answer to the worsening traffic problem in Metro Manila is the Mega Manila Transport Roadmap. The road map defines “Mega Manila” as Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna, which are the main focus in this study.

The transport road map emphasizes the need to establish better north-south connectivity and appropriate hierarchy of different transportation modes, such as roads, railways and other mass-transit systems.

“The road map will be the administration’s guide on what to implement in Metro Manila until 2030,” he said, stressing that Metro Manila still needs an intercity expressway of about 426 km until 2030.

The government is also planning to put up a subway, or the Mass Transit System Loop, which aims to improve intercity linkage by providing a higher-capacity public transportation system.

The subway will start at San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, and end in Dasmariñas, Cavite, traversing the major business districts of Metro Manila.

The study is ongoing and upon approval, it will be implemented in 2017.

The road map study was conducted in close coordination with Jica, Neda, MMDA, DOTC, DPWH and relevant stakeholders and other related agencies.

Pasig River

Tolentino said the agency is also promoting the ferry system as an alternative mode of transportation, particularly in the midst of the current traffic congestion.

At present, the ferry service has 11 stations, which include Pinagbuhatan and San Joaquin in Pasig City; Guadalupe and Valenzuela in Makati City; Hulo in Mandaluyong City; Polytechnic University of the Philippines Santa Mesa, Santa Ana, Lambingan, Escolta, Lawton and Plaza Mexico in Manila, with 10 passenger boats in operation.

The MMDA, the DOTC and the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission revived the Pasig River Ferry System in April last year.

The MMDA chief said the only solution to ease the traffic gridlock is the modernization of the MRT and LRT, as well as the continued operation of the Pasig River ferry.

MAP, ADB proposals

Eduardo H. Yap, chairman of the Traffic, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), said the group came up with a list of recommendations on the traffic woes. The list includes the issuance of an executive order assigning a traffic czar, who will coordinate all matters relating to traffic and empowered to control—when necessary—other national government agencies, including the MMDA, DOTC, DPWH and the LTO, among other offices.

Other recommendations include deputizing a highway patrol group, implementing road-engineering refinements and upgrading major national roads into expressways.

For the Asian Development Bank (ADB), however, the main solution to the country’s traffic woes lies in improved public-transport efficiency.

“Building new urban roads will increase traffic demand and make congestion worse. No city has resolved traffic congestion by just building more roads,” said Valerie Lisack, transport specialist at the ADB, speaking of ADB’s Sustainable Transport initiative.

Among the alternative solutions proposed by Lisack is the “active transport design,” or nonmotorized transport, which will include infrastructure for nonmotorized mobility like greenways.

The ADB’s proposals include a parking-levy scheme, or a fee paid on nonresidential parking spaces, whether utilized or not.

ADB estimates that in the case of the Philippines, if there is a parking levy in Metro Manila at P20 per day per space, the scheme would generate over P15 billion per year that cities can use to fund public-transport improvements.

Discipline

For Manila Archbishop and Caritas Internationalis President Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, “good urban planning, vehicle regulation and discipline” are the three ways to help solve the worsening traffic problem in Metro Manila.

“The traffic problem mirrors our attitude. Are you a giver? Hot-tempered? Do we share the road? Are we  considerate with others?” Tagle asked in an interview over Radio Veritas.

He called on concerned government agencies to provide good urban planning, regulate vehicles and observe discipline on the streets to be able to ease the traffic problem.

 

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes, AP/Aaron Favila, Recto Mercene

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