Expert Proposes P32-Billion ‘Solution’ to Solve Metro Manila Traffic Woes

Jun 3, 2020

Passengers were stranded along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City during the first day of General Community Quarantine in Metro Manila. (Photo by NONOY LACZA)

Source: Business Mirror, June 3, 2020

THE solution to Metro Manila’s transportation woes could only be a P32 billion worth experiment away, according to a US-based transportation expert.

Benjie de la Peña, chief of Strategy and Innovation for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), said the experiment would require the national government to contract 55,000 jeepneys and 8,000 buses to ferry millions for 90 days, or three months.

This is the right step forward for the megacity’s 50-year-old transportation problem, de la Peña said, adding traffic in Metro Manila is only a symptom of the problem which viewed transportation as the movement of cars rather than people.

“Our problem is we’ve been trying to solve traffic for 5 decades. What we need is to solve transportation. We have to stop thinking about how many vehicles we can push through a road. We have to start thinking of how many people can get to where they want to get to,” de la Peña said.

“Two ways are more efficient. People walking, people taking bikes, and then public transportation. Last on that list are private cars, which by the way in Metro Manila, only 12 percent of people own private cars so the vast majority depend on public transportation. Our ability to make it work will redound to the welfare of our families and countrymen and the competitiveness of our cities,” he explained.

De la Peña said the funds, which is less than 10 percent of the government’s P330 billion to P350 billion worth stimulus, would be used to pay jeepneys and buses.

He said it is estimated that jeepneys earn P5,000 per day, while buses earn P10,000 per day. Together they earn P355 million per day or P31.95 billion for 90 days.

Under experiment, the national government will pay jeepneys and buses. Many of the cities that have successfully implemented these kinds of transportation schemes include Seoul, London and Bogotá.

These cities have used service contracting where a contractor provides a transportation service to the government. The contract will have key performing indicators such as number of trips and kilometers traveled in a specific route per day.

It is hoped that after this experiment, government can ensure physical distancing in public transport, as well as provide jeepneys and buses a stable source of income.

De la Peña said after the three months is done, the government can evaluate the experiment based on the impact on health, access to public transport for commuters, incomes for buses and jeepneys, and the sources of funds.

If the experiment is a success, de la Peña said, the government should already implement it for the long term and even create a separate agency that will have the legal mandate to enforce these kinds of contracts.

However, Finance Undersecretary Antonio Joselito Lambino II said in the same forum that changing the transportation system in Metro Manila should be viewed from a wholistic point of view.

Lambino said the financing, particularly, has to take into consideration the current fiscal state of the country. To date, he said, the deficit to gross domestic product ratio is at 8 percent and the aim is to keep this at 9 percent.

He said the recommendation of de la Peña also needs to consider other parts of the country. Lambino said fixing the country’s transportation woes does not only mean addressing traffic in Metro Manila.

“The costs, while they are quite high based on what I heard earlier…will be higher still if you are looking at the entire country. We really have to look at the totality of this initiative,” Lambino said.

“We have to be very pragmatic about that [deficit] because we gotta ask our children, our grandchildren whether they are willing to pay because any deficit is funded through borrowing and so that would be paid by us and the future generation,” he said.

De la Peña said, however, quoted Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who said “A rich country is not where poor own cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

Public transportation is not cheap and no city in the world, de la Peña said, earns money from it. This includes Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong which have excellent transportation systems.

In the case of Tokyo and Hong Kong, a line is planned by the government together with a real-estate component. In effect, the real-estate sector pays for the system.

For Singapore, de la Peña said, the government spends for the infrastructure and the private sector does not need to “make back” the cost, ensuring that transportation remains affordable for all.

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