A perfect storm

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Vehicular volume is the cause of Metro Manila’s horrendous traffic. And if you believe that, you’re more gullible than Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino and his boss, President Noynoy Aquino, combined.

 

And yet, Tolentino decided to go down that stupid way on September 8, blaming the increased volume of vehicles for the gridlock that has been our seemingly immutable fate under this administration. It’s significant that the MMDA chairman has finally used the increased number of vehicles as an excuse for his failure, since he has always been of the belief that he could somehow improve the traffic situation so that he could win a seat in the Senate next year.

Of course, Aquino has also repeatedly used the volume excuse to justify the monumental gridlock in Metro Manila. But the President has also memorably spun the situation into what he thought was a positive, by declaring once that traffic is a sign of economic progress.

But the fact remains that traffic is not really caused by the ever-increasing number of vehicles. The only time that would be true is if the government did nothing to anticipate increased vehicular sales and volume; and sadly, that’s exactly what happened.

What’s beyond argument is that the Aquino government has done nothing by way of infrastructure to accommodate even a fraction of the increased volume. No new roads or bridges were built by this government using its own funds; and the private tollways that were supposed to be built during Aquino’s term are either hamstrung by delays (like the Balintawak-Buendia Skyway) or terribly inadequate (like the Daang Hari connector road).

Meanwhile, the facilities that could have mitigated the traffic mess have been all but abandoned by the government. It was only during this administration’s term that the MRT and LRT train lines have been basically left to deteriorate as they never have before, thus exacerbating the situation instead of taking up the slack caused by the lack of new infrastructure.

The plain truth is, the increase in vehicular volume certainly didn’t happen overnight. The car companies didn’t conspire to dump millions of cars, buses and other sorts of vehicles into Metro Manila in a month or even a year.

Vehicular volume grew more or less predictably over the past five years that Aquino has been in office. But there has been no government response except the one suddenly cobbled together this week, to deploy members of the Highway Patrol Group to Edsa.

No new roads plus the abandonment of the trains plus the growth of vehicular volume, all happening over a five-year period, brought us to where we are right now: to a perfect storm of gridlock that no number of police enforcers can unravel. If the government decided that it had to import the entire Royal Canadian Mounted Police to fix traffic in Metro Manila, that would still not ease traffic.

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The enforcement of traffic rules, after all, is only one of the required components in order to ensure smooth traffic flow. Infrastructure, like the overhead highway network built by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok over a mere five-year period, thus eliminating his capital city’s world-famous traffic jams for good, is still the most basic requirement.

There’s also the education of motorists and pedestrians, which the MMDA has spectacularly failed to do over the past five years. And then there’s the problem of addressing the economics of the transportation system, like finding ways to end the “boundary” system of bus companies and removing vendors from sidewalks, measures that this government has also neglected over the years.

If Aquino, Tolentino and all other government officials who dropped the ball on the traffic situation were truthful, they would admit their mistake and stop insulting us with fake causes like increased vehicular volume and  proclaiming that gridlock is a good thing. They would accept that they either did nothing or - like in the case of the MRT and the LRT - actually did all they could to cause the traffic situation to worsen.

Needless to say, I take a very dim view of any instant or long-term benefits that the deployment of the HPG to direct traffic on Edsa will bring. It’s just too late for this clueless, noynoying government to do anything about the traffic problem - our only hope is that the next administration will acknowledge this very serious condition and will work unceasingly to find real solutions to it.

 

But that’s what you get when you have a President who never anticipates problems and plans ahead, and who only realizes very late in the day that millions of Filipinos suffer daily what he, with his convoy or outriders and flashing lights, probably never experienced.