Traffic congestion particularly in Metro Manila and other urban areas of the country has been a major concern for the public as it has caused inconvenience in travel and cost much time that could be better utilized for productive activities.

Some motorists and commuters have observed that traffic congestion happens in most parts of the metropolis and they hope the government will immediately address the situation.

Thus, the Department of Transportation is committed on implementing short- and long-term projects and policies to improve the traffic situation and upgrade the state of transportation in the country.

“There’s more to be done, but I think the DOTr has done all it could to improve the current traffic situation in Metro Manila. It’s only been six months but we have already touched and improved on several sensitive issues such as the MRT3, PIATCO, common station, issue on drivers’ licenses, airport ILS, opening of government properties to traffic, LTO IT Provider, stamping out corruption, streamlining of business processes, among others,” DOTr public information officer Goddes Hope Libiran said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency.

The Duterte administration has formed the Inter-Agency Council on Traffic (I-ACT) as a sole authority that would implement schemes and policies on traffic management in the National Capital Region.

The agency consists of the Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, PNP-Highway Patrol Group, Land Transportation Office and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board.

The I-ACT is headed by PNP-HPG Director Senior Supt. Antonio Gardiola Jr., who was appointed as chief traffic officer upon orders from transportation secretary Arthur Tugade.

Sec. Tugade said Gardiola’s appointment will help ensure faster and drastic solutions to address the traffic situation even as Congress has yet to pass the emergency powers to be granted to President Rodrigo Duterte.

The I-ACT utilizes the resources of the MMDA including its enforcers, motorcycles and command center. The MMDA is led by General Manager and OIC Thomas Orbos, who previously served as assistant general manager for planning for six months in 2014.

I-ACT Chief Senior Supt. Gardiola reiterated that a unified traffic management policy is needed amid the increasing traffic congestion in EDSA and other major roads in Metro Manila.

“We must consider how the traffic affects neighboring cities. We are currently focused on decongesting EDSA. Thus, we need the support of the LGUs in opening secondary roads along EDSA,” Gardiola said.

He said the I-ACT is implementing two phases to address the traffic congestion. Phase 1 includes decongesting the stretch of EDSA and alternate routes known as the Mabuhay Lanes. On the other hand, Phase 2 involves the rest of Metro Manila.

The agency was able to strictly implement traffic laws along national roads and Mabuhay Lanes which resulted to the following: issuance of 202,938 traffic citation tickets all over the country wherein 31,388 were from Metro Manila; towed 6,833 illegally parked vehicles; impounded 401 colorum vehicles and cleared 5,738 illegal vendors.

It was able to conduct dialogues with Metro Manila mayors and traffic managers from local government units (LGUs) for the integration of a single enforcement system under a single traffic authority.

The local chief executives have agreed to formulate guidelines for the implementation of a single ticketing system that will impose uniform traffic fines and penalties. They have also expressed their support for the enforcement of the extended number coding hours from 7:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m. as well as the expansion of the coverage of the no window hours in all radial and circumferential roads in the metropolis.

Other initiatives that were supported by the LGUs include: not allowing additional provincial bus terminals to be established along EDSA; observance of “nose in nose out policy” when entering or exiting terminals along EDSA; total ban on tricycles, pedicabs, ‘kuliglig’ and pushcarts in circumferential and radial roads in Metro Manila; regulating the conduct of fun runs and other similar events in Roxas Boulevard and moratorium on releasing additional franchises for buses.

The I-ACT believes that cooperation between the national government and the LGUs is a positive move towards addressing traffic and transportation issues in the metropolis.

Likewise, the agency was able to initiate dialogues with mall operators wherein they agreed to extend their mall operating hours from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and impose moratorium on weekend sales. They decided to submit their traffic management plans to the I-ACT two weeks before the conduct of their sales and set their delivery schedule from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

It has also opened government properties such as Camp Aguinaldo, Bonifacio Naval Station and Veterans Memorial Medical Center to help decongest traffic in major roads.

The Land Transportation Office extended the validity of drivers’ licenses from three years to five years. The measure was first implemented in NCR starting October 17, and was subsequently carried out in other regions. The extension in validity is seen to reduce queues in LTO offices nationwide.

Drivers’ licenses that were applied between January to October 2016 can now be claimed in 36 LTO licensing offices in Metro Manila.

The Metro Manila release of the cards will erase 700,000 of the 3-million backlog in 3-years valid driver’s license cards. Rollout in other regions will follow, and is expected to be completed by February 2017.

Meanwhile, assistant secretary for land transportation Mark de Leon stated in an earlier interview that improvement of public transportation is vital in easing the traffic congestion in Metro Manila. “We need to improve public transport in order to reduce car usage,” the transportation official stressed.

According to De Leon, EDSA is more than 125–130 percent beyond capacity; around 7,500 cars traverse the thoroughfare with just 6,000-vehicle capacity.

Thus, the DOTr has expanded its premium point to point (P2P) bus service with high-end double decker buses. It has recently launched a new P2P terminal in Ayala Malls South Park in Alabang-Muntinlupa traversing from South Park (Alabang) to Ayala Center in Makati City in addition to its existing routes of Trinoma to Glorietta 5; Alabang Town Center to Greenbelt 1; SM North EDSA to SM Megamall; Robinson’s Galleria to Park Square and Fairview to Makati. It is also operating 24 hours in the routes of SM North EDSA to SM Megamall and Trinoma to Glorietta 5.

Additional routes in the pipeline for next year include LRT Line 2 Santolan Station-Masinag; LRT Line 2 Santolan Station-Cainta/Taytay; LRT Line 2 Santolan Station-Cogeo/Padilla; LRT Line 2 Santolan Station-Antipolo town proper; Caloocan-Makati; Marikina-Ortigas; Marikina-Makati; Antipolo-Ortigas; Antipolo-Makati; Cainta-Makati; Sucat-Makati; Bicutan-Makati; Alabang-Bonifacio Global City (Taguig) and Nuvali (Sta. Rosa, Laguna)-Makati.

“We are planning to open more P2P bus routes for bidding by the private sector,” DOTr spokesperson Asec. Cherie Mercado said as she encourages existing bus operators to venture into P2P buses amid increasing awareness and support by the commuters.

The department has also launched premium airport shuttle bus service known as the Ultimate Bus Experience (UBE) Express in order to decongest roads leading to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

The UBE Express serves three routes: Makati, Roxas Boulevard, and Entertainment City traversing through a combination of hotels, malls and bus stops. It has 21 brand new Mercedes Benz air-conditioned buses that will pick up and drop off travelers at designated points roughly every 30 minutes nearly round the clock.

Its management stated that they plan to add 21 more buses for next year.

The department has also enhanced and extended the operations of the Pasig River Ferry with the provision of a free shuttle service until January 2017.

The shuttle fleet, consisting of eight 30-seater coasters, will bring passengers from Uptown to Guadalupe Station and vice-versa while three 15-seater vans in Escolta Station in Manila will pick them up and bring them to Lucky Chinatown Mall and Divisoria area.

Furthermore, the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) has increased its capacity to 22 trains exceeding the railway system’s maximum capacity of 20 trains which resulted to reduction of queues and waiting time at its stations according to its maintenance provider Busan Universal Rail Inc.

BURI has so far overhauled and returned to good working condition nine Czech-made trains consisting of 27 light rail vehicles as average ridership has reached 500,000 passengers daily in late November, a 25 percent increase in passengers since January. Each MRT train consists of three LRVs.

BURI expects to have 24 operational trains consisting of 72 LRVs by first quarter of 2017. It also aims to improve facilities such as toilet, lighting and conveyances.

By 2017, 48 new LRVs made by China’s Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co. will be put into the system. As of this month, 38 LRVs have already arrived, with 32 already fully assembled and ready for deployment. Presently being installed are onboard signalling systems, which is required to make the system safe.

A new power supply and signalling system to allow MRT to accommodate the present capacity of 20 trains is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of next year.

The DOTr was able to forge an agreement with the private sector identifying a single location for a common station which is aimed to provide seamless intermodal connectivity between LRT Line 1, MRT Line 3, and the proposed MRT Line 7 last September ending an impasse over the seven year old railway project. This event is considered a milestone agreement between the government and private sectors, proving that full cooperation between public and private entities may greatly contribute to providing an efficient service to the nation.

The department intends to establish a bus rapid transit system within an EDSA route of 48.6 kilometers covering Monumento up to Diosdado Macapagal Avenue/Roxas Boulevard, with integrated routes between the Ortigas Business District, Bonifacio Global City, and the Makati Business District to provide alternate mass transit in Metro Manila. It is also planned to link with the NAIA terminals and include off-corridors to the target Integrated Transport System (ITS) terminals in the North, South and Southwest of Metro Manila, and in the vicinity of SM Fairview.

For the aviation sector, the DOTr was able to put an end to the “laglag-bala” scheme. Since the start of this administration, no one has been reported to have missed a flight for having a singular bullet in possession and passengers no longer wrap their luggage in plastic or masking tapes.

Moreover, flight delays were reduced as the on-time performance (OTP) of airlines improved from 47 percent to 71 percent through strictly following flight schedules and enforcing the five-minute rule.

Under the five-minute rule, pilots who declare they are ready to take off must depart within the prescribed time or they would be put back at the back of the queue. The rule did not only reduce flight delays but also instilled discipline among airlines.

Commercial flights were also prioritized over general aviation. There are no general aviation operations from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. General aviation is only limited to only two cycles per hour. Some General Aviation operations have moved from NAIA to Clark to help decongest NAIA.

Meanwhile, the first section of the NAIA Expressway (NAIA-X) connecting NAIA Terminals 1 and 2 to Macapagal Avenue and the PAGCOR Entertainment City was opened last September 22. The first segment will reduce the travel time from Terminal 1 and 2 to Macapagal from 15 minutes to less than 5 minutes.

To fast-track the implementation of infrastructure projects, the DOTr has submitted to Congress a proposed measure declaring the existence of traffic and congestion crisis that will provide the President emergency powers to solve the traffic problem in Metro Manila.

The emergency powers will enable the government to conduct special procurement modes for transportation projects such as direct contracting and direct negotiation of contracts and will not allow lower courts except the Supreme Court to issue temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions that might impede their implementation.

The measure will also transfer the powers and authority of agencies such as MMDA, LTO, LTFRB, PNP, among others, to the DOTr and appointment of the DOTr secretary as traffic crisis manager that will exercise overall traffic management and the implementation of a comprehensive decongestion and transportation network plan.

“We need the emergency powers to expedite the implementation of projects. If the powers will not be granted, we will still implement them. But there will be delays. Is the population willing to wait some more?” Tugade reiterated in a press briefing held at Malacañang last November.

The DOTr believes that the establishment of growth centers in various parts of the country will significantly contribute to decongesting traffic in Metro Manila.

The Clark Green City which is managed by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) is being envisioned as a business, government and academic district in Central Luzon and will become first of the new cities in the country.

The Clark International Airport is being promoted as an alternative international gateway in place of the NAIA, which has been experiencing congestion in its runways. A number of airlines have already transferred their flights to the airport.

Other projects in the pipeline include the Manila-Clark Railway which will reduce travel time from Metro Manila to Clark International Airport by an hour; Subic-Clark Cargo Railway Project connecting the Subic port and Clark Airport to lessen cargo trucks plying along Metro Manila; Mindanao Railway; and development of roll-on roll-off ports and regional airports.

20 December 2016
By Philippine News Agency