Improving mobility in cities

By Pia Agatep, Ronald Catagena, and Paulie Mora
March 20, 2014 - Metro Manila


A documentary feature on a cable television sums it up, 'for the the city to breathe, its people should be able to move'. The one-hour story features how massive infrastructure projects -– from highways and bridges to sewers and towers– are built and how they overcome the challenges of managing people's mobility in the urban jungle.

The problem of traffic is common in most big cities today. Traffic gridlock stunts productivity levels due to to lost man-hours, more fuel consumption, and missed investment opportunities. During rush hour, Metro Manila moves an average of 12 kph, much slower compared with its neighbors, Bangkok and Jakarta, at 21 and 26 kph respectively1. If lost time is money, it would be equivalent to Php 140 billion in 2008, according to a Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) study. Imagine if the cost is shared with at least 12 million population in Metro Manila.

It is not rocket science to understand the causes of heavy traffic in Metro Manila. Cities are economic drivers and people come in droves to cities for opportunities. Yet their roads have exceeded their capacity. Private vehicles share most of the road. Some rude behaviors of public utility vehicles aggravate the already choke points making up 80\\% of the accidents2.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has tried and tested some plans to alleviate heavy traffic like u-turn scheme and the unified coding mechanisms to name a few. Early this year, infrastructure projects from elevated connectors like Skyway 3 to road underpass have started. Regulation of vehicles is being implemented. There has been an increased presence of traffic enforcers. Alternate routes, like the Pasig River Ferry, are being revived.

Managing traffic

Managing traffic is not an easy task. Its sophistication exceeds far from regulating vehicles and even connecting more roads. Traffic problems should not be seen and addressed from the transport viewpoint alone. Traffic problems also vary on their levels of complexity.

A recent LCP study on the transport and traffic conditions in five cities - Dipolog, General Santos, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa, and San Fernando (Pampanga) - provides some insights. These cities generally experience congestion, high levels of on-street parking, and lack of personnel in manning traffic flow.

It is noteworthy to highlight some of their pecularities. Urban transport stakeholders in Dipolog and General Santos complain on the habal-habal, which competes with tricycles and multi-cabs. Habal-habal, a modified motorcycle, often does not have franchises and insurance putting passengers at risk. Habal-habal in General Santos City even serves as service passengers in the airport.

Iloilo and San Fernando cities' stakeholders complain on the unorganized unloading and loading areas within their city roads blocking traffic flow. Transport groups in Puerto Princesa perceive that there is a high supply of public transport operators and drivers since it is the most convenient form of employment. Puerto Princesa and Iloilo cities observe high vehicle ownership. All these add up to the major challenges in traffic and transport in their cities.

LCP President and Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista underscored the importance of planning to solve and anticipate mobility problem in cities. He observed that most of infrastructures being built in Metro Manila were planned in the 70s. Generating traffic and transport baseline data especially in growing cities is a critical step towards sound and inclusive traffic management and transport plan.

A good traffic and transport plan may save the five cities from the traffic problems in Metro Manila but the lack of further technical capacities to create a good plan becomes another issue. The LCP study said that of the five cities, only General Santos and Iloilo are advanced in preparing such plans. The challenge is to improve on the plan while gaining insights from the emerging best practices on sustainable transport from other citiesthe, the study recommends.

The five cities are the pilot areas in the ongoing Cities Alliance and World Bank-supported Traffic and Transport Management Project. The two-year project is assisting cities to prepare and implement sustainable transport plans and traffic management strategies that support the development of local economies through improved mobility of goods and services. A knowledge sharing platform will be created for other cities to compare and improve their plans.

Mayor Evelyn Uy of Dipolog City, the project's focal mayor, is grateful that Dipolog is part of a pioneering activity, ‘the traffic and transport management is an avenue to make a difference. Through the years, LCP's initiative has been transmitted to different cities to fuel sustainable development and good urban governance.'

The formulation of transport and traffic plans, as the key project output, cannot be more fitting than today. Iloilo is planning to improve its public facility for non-motorized transport like bicycle. General Santos is eyeing itself as the regional food terminal of the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia – East ASEAN Growth corridor and will play a greater role in the upcoming ASEAN integration by 2015. Puerto Princesa is improving its intermodal urban transport system that will bring its growing number of tourists to some of the city's best destinations with ease. San Fernando has a strong public-private partnership owing to its strong private initiative. All these need a viable traffic and transport management plan to anticipate mobility problems from goods, services to people.

The issue of traffic is multi-faceted as it impacts different aspects of human living. Thus a new paradigm should be instilled to view transport – to increase mobility - as a public good rather than mere employment opportunities. Through the project, the five cities are slowly ensuring that in few years' time, a seamless movement among its urban residents is achieved.

1.National Urban Development and Housing Framework, Housing and Urban Coordinating Council

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