Why can't we be like...

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By Roberto P. Alabado III

Planning Perspectives

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ADDING lanes to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to solve obesity - Glen Hemistra

Rapid population growth due to a fast growing economy has to be managed well so urban development can be achieved without sacrificing quality of life. Economic development will always bring population growth consequently more traffic on city roads. Ergo, city managers must always learn from the lessons and experiences of the world cities like Hong Kong and Singapore.

Most of the amazement of our kababayan turista always center on the efficient transportation system that they have. Our kababayans are almost salivating on how buses and trains arrive on time, on how tens of thousands people can be transported in every a few minutes, on the speed of the trains and buses that zip inside the downtown areas etc..... then comes the questions - why can't we have these modern urban transportation systems in our own cities. - why can't we have buses and trains? Why can't we have wider streets?


There are numerous reasons on why but I would like to share some reasons that I really think matters.

Let us look at the case of Singapore, a city state that is just about the size of Davao City. Singapore has one of the strictest but progressive transportation policies that have made it a model even to western world cities like London.

Seeing that land is limited in Singapore thus it cannot accommodate the endless road infrastructure expansion that the western cities usually follow, it sought to limit the ownership of private vehicles to prevent traffic congestion while improving its public transportation system so that its people will find no reason to own their own vehicle.

Owning a vehicle is not like going to an auto dealer here in the Philippines. In Singapore, one has to apply for the privilege of owning a car by paying to be included in a lottery to see who can be awarded a Certificate of Entitlement and buy a car that year. Yes, owning a car is like winning a lotto in that city, since only a limited number of vehicles is allowed to be added on its roads per year. If one is lucky then one must pay for a car that is really expensive maybe thrice its price in the US due to the taxes that are imposed for its importation and other government fees. Just to drive the vehicle will also be costly because of the very high taxes imposed on gasoline. A garage for the vehicle is also required so that you will not end up using public roads as your parking lot.

Roads in the downtown area are rarely occupied by parked vehicles. In areas where on-street parking is allowed, very high parking fees are slapped on the owner so that s/he will limit the time using the parking slot to give way to other cars.

Speaking of downtown, there is the Electronic Road Pricing scheme that functions like a toll just to enter the downtown area in certain times of the day. The toll fee is collected via electronic systems not unlike debit cards placed on the dashboard of the vehicle. For those of you who have visited Singapore, the passenger will have to pay for the toll fees if one is riding the taxi.

So if they can do these in Singapore then why can't we do this in our country?

I think it is because our city managers and politicians are so infatuated with the American dream that includes owning a big house and a nice car, despite the obvious fact that we do not have the expanse of land as US has as well as the dollars to build endless highways to traverse our land.

Policy makers are so obsessed in protecting the unquestionable? right of private vehicle owners that they forget to right of people to a modern urban mass transportation system. They prefer to be held hostage by private car owners who number by the thousands and the PUV jeepney and tricycle drivers who number by the tens of thousands rather than protect the transportation rights of the hundreds of thousands of commuters.

If our roads seem to be clogged by vehicles the answer is not always adding more roads. Transportation planners have long observed that infrastructure as the solution to traffic congestion is actually a dead end proposition. Adding more road infrastructures is not only very expensive but is just a short term solution since people will be encouraged to buy more cars to use the roads again leading to congestion again....

Transportation Demand Management or TDM now used all over the world to make road usage more efficient. Generally speaking, it involves focusing on moving more people and not vehicles. High occupancy vehicles are given priority to use the road while those with low occupancy are given the least space. If we are talking of democracy here then the public utility vehicles that majority of our people use to commute to work and school are given bigger road spaces than private vehicles.

Our city managers really have to invest in a real mass transportation system to move more of our people faster and safer and prevent a slowdown of the urban economy. Be it buses or light rail system -whatever is cheaper and technology appropriate let us have these the soonest. Maybe we can even start expanding the numbers of the air-conditioned jeepneys so that the middle class can commute comfortably.

We have to implement policies that will provide disincentives to inefficient use of road space. I am thinking of congestion charges like in London or the odd-even scheme of Metro Manila for starters. Let us charge high parking fees to discourage long use of precious road space. All vehicles must be required to have their parking garage - it is easy to tow vehicles parked on the road and road shoulders early morning and let them pay a hefty fine for illegal parking.

To discourage the use of private vehicles to bring students to school, let us encourage car pooling and school buses (I was a proud school bus kid of Ateneo). For students living within two to three kilometers from their school let us encourage riding the bicycle to school.

These are just a few workable solutions, but obviously, some will think these as a fool's dream to have these policies in the Philippines and I am just out of sync on the realities on the ground.

Unless there is a paradigm shift in solving traffic issues, obviously we just can't be like a world city...


Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 29, 2014.


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