0162B: The Need for a Truly Comprehensive Solution for a Systemic Problem

I have written about possible ways of solving Metro Manila's traffic problems before. In fact, I have written about it a number of times now ranging from the lack of fundamental traffic discipline to the need for transport time tables. I don't even fully understand how we allow FXs to operate. And over time my recommendations become more and more complex, especially with more frequent trips to other countries with actual mass transit systems and not just a hodgepodge of vehicles that try to move people from one part of the city to another while maximizing their potential profit.

But with the city council of Manila deciding to arbitrarily ban all buses without private terminals from the city and recent MMDA proposals like increasing the scope of the unified vehicular reduction scheme to have private vehicles off the road two days out of the week instead of just one, well, I think I need to get some ideas out there just for the heck of it. I'm seeing some great recommendations like this one, which relatively echoes my own thoughts on the matter.

I've dividing my ideas based on how immediately they can be implemented...

Short Term
Implement Existing Traffic Laws - There is no way around it. Until we instill the necessary discipline in commuters, car-owners and public utility vehicles, no proposal will ever work. That means flagging down buses that leave the bus lanes and avoid the right bus stops. It means arresting taxi drivers that slip into bus lanes to move faster. It means reprimanding jeepney drivers that stop for passengers when the light is clearly green and they're blocking everyone else. The list goes on and on.

And really that's the only short term solution left to us.

Medium Term
Restructure Bus Contracts - The number of buses on the roads needs to be based on demand volume and not the number of franchise holders who want to get involved in the game. And once we adhere to actual bus stops, then we can get better data on how many buses are actually needed. This also means re-thinking our entire bus system to and map out new routes instead of massively long routes that try to capture everything. The longer the route, the less stops. Then we can have cities deal with individual bus contracts that service their specific areas - which is like how the Metro buses in Los Angeles are different from the buses that service Santa Monica only.

Reorganize Jeepneys and FXs - At bare minimum, this means implement fixed stops again instead of letting them drop off passengers everywhere. If they're going to claim to be public utility vehicles, then they should behave that way instead of being like cheaper taxis that can stop where you want them to. But if you push things, we need just one transportation solution that addresses our narrower in-roads that cannot possibly support buses. We need the political will to decide if this solution is going to be jeepneys, eJeepneys or FXs. We can't have all of them jockeying for passengers and setting up independent terminals left and right. And yes people, this means that you need to learn how to walk more.

Start Thinking of Mass Transit as a System - Since we're already overhauling the stops, then we should take time to step back and rethink the whole system. People naturally want to transfer from a bus over to the MRT and things like that. Thus the reason why people defy designated bus stops and instead demand that drivers let them down closer to train stations and such. So let's think about how to best do this - what stops can accommodate this? And we should not limit ourselves to buses that wait at the foot of the station - we may need to construct actual bus depots that can better facilitate queues and have people transfer from train to bus and vice versa.

Unify the Mass Transit Payment System - This is already planned across LRT and MRT lines, but why stop there? All buses should be part of the same system. This better enforces universal fares, makes it easier for people to stick to mass transportation options instead of resorting to taxis and personal cars and reinforce how everything is part of one system. We should make it easier for folks to use buses and trains and not make it a horrible experience of queuing for hours on end or madly trying to chase down buses who have decided to skip your stop.

Long Term
Create More Jobs of Value Outside of Metro Manila - This mega city is just way beyond overpopulated. People keep flocking to the city in search of better-paying jobs since wages in the provinces are ridiculous. That means a number of things including increasing the minimum wage, implementing legislation that better protects small businesses and thus encouraging more entrepreneurs around the country and ultimately benefiting the economy as a whole.

Implement Controls on Vehicular Volume - This can mean any number of things. Maybe we need to force-retire cars of a certain age. Perhaps we should implement more toll-like systems so we can  charge folks more to travel during peak periods and thus encourage them to drive during off-peak periods. Perhaps taxes need to be higher for purchasing second and third vehicles.

Automate Traffic Violations - A big challenge in fairly implementing traffic laws is the fact that public utility vehicles either run away from the police or resort to the "head-scratching" defense when caught. And we all know that the MMDA and other traffic enforcers are open to possible bribes plus there simply aren't enough of them to go around. So invest more in traffic cameras and fine the bus operators / franchise holders by mail instead of trying to apprehend folks on an individual basis. Make the operators more accountable for the behavior of their drivers. We don't even need to do this nationwide - we can focus on national roads and key areas. This will supplement existing traffic enforcement but never ultimately replace it. But yes, private citizens can also get a notice in the mail for beating red lights, going in the wrong lane, and double-parking where they're not supposed to. It will still be a heck of a lot cheaper to hire a few guys to watch cameras all day instead of a few more traffic enforcers who will struggle to keep up with the violators.

These are just big ideas that I think could make a serious dent in the level of traffic in the metropolis. We cannot blame one single group alone - instead we need a comprehensive system that has everyone sacrificing a bit in order to have a better experience overall. For now they're big dreams - even for the short term goals. Maybe one day someone will have the political will to do something about the many problems that trouble this city.