Metro Manila is on the cusp of a new age of public transportation. Decades of traumatic public experiences with chaotic, dysfunctional public transport and traffic infarcts, especially on Edsa, the Ground Zero of Carmageddon, had indelibly impressed people on the unsolvability of these urban problems.

However, keen observers see Metro Manila’s public transport changing through structural reforms and projects, some of which were initiated in the past and most of which were initiated by the current administration by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) under the Build, Build, Build program .

Apart from the fact that these projects are unprecedented in scope and scale, they are aligned with the National Transport Plan (NTP) of the National Economic and Development Agency, which gives priority to the mobility of people through public transport and cycle paths. Efficient personal mobility – instead of private vehicle mobility – is the top priority.

These projects are being pursued by Transport Minister Arthur Tugade to counter the country’s decades of underinvestment in public transport, thereby erasing its unenviable reputation as the least efficient public transport in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The overriding goal is to relieve commuters from their daily strains caused by horrific traffic jams with severe social, economic and health consequences and to strengthen the basis for sustainable economic growth.

There are firm indications that this horror story will be a thing of the past and these are backed up by ongoing far-reaching road and rail transport reforms, particularly on Edsa, the densest and most important transportation corridor in Metro Manila with over 1 million daily commuters. These reforms on Edsa have cascading effects on other major roads in the metropolis.

Two important developments determine the transformation of public transport on Edsa. Firstly, the reform of public bus transport and, secondly, the capacity expansion of the vital railway line MRT 3, which is now in the final phase of complete renovation.

Disruptive reforms in bus transport

The groundbreaking transformation of the bus service took place on the 1st. This was supplemented by the reorganization of the bus lines with the new Edsa carousel line, on which only approved buses are allowed, and the new transfer system with commuters on feeder lines that change to the Edsa main line.

These double measures freed Edsa with a drastically reduced number of bus units. Buses that are restricted to the closed bus route no longer disrupt traffic in other lanes. Commuters are already benefiting from these major reforms in terms of faster transfer times and shorter and more predictable travel times.

In addition to the bus reforms, there are the following complementary projects: massive capacity expansions of both short and long-haul railways with MRT 3, LRT lines 1 and 2, new MRT 7 to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan; new large main train station Edsa; Rehabilitation of PNR north and south commuter lines; expected partial operability of the very first Mega Manila Subway; Express train to Clark City and the airport and modernization of equally important jeepneys for connectivity on the last mile. For active mobility, an extensive cycle path with more than 300 kilometers is being expanded.

Nationwide improvements in civil aviation are also having a positive impact on Metro Manila’s traffic. The night rating of provincial airports will make it possible to distribute flights to and from Manila from dawn until late at night. New international airports such as Mactan, Bohol, Clark and Bicol allow direct flights to bypass Manila. These developments spread and reduce the traffic load on the streets in Manila.

An efficient and reliable train service from Metro Manila has the beneficial advantage of alleviating the acute housing shortage and relieving the metropolis. People can live in communities like Calamba, Malolos, Bacoor, and San Jose del Monte and easily commute to work in the city.

All of these transport reforms are transformative and will improve the mobility of the people in Metro Manila in the long term and sustainably. Increased commuter throughput is achieved in a safe, convenient, and predictable manner. The system and order in local public transport are finally in place.

Improving public transport has positive effects. Higher operational efficiency reduces publicly used vehicles on the road, which in turn reduces the unsustainable demand for more private vehicles and road space.

Cleanly powered rolling stock and fewer traffic jams will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases and thus mitigate climate change. This creates the ability to widen sidewalks for walking, tree planting, and landscaping for a quieter and more comfortable urban feel.

Travel needs management

The daily occupancy rate of private vehicles on Edsa has almost reached the prepandemic level, causing bumper-to-bumper traffic. The two lanes added by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) are overwhelmed by drivers who have been tricked into using their vehicles. The new bus line, on the other hand, has controlled access and runs free of traffic jams.

The solution lies in the NTP for travel demand management by high-occupancy vehicles (HOV) and the collection of a congestion fee for non-compliant vehicles. This system is proving effective in regulating vehicle volume in Singapore and London and deserves serious scrutiny by the MMDA given the apparent ineffectiveness of its number coding scheme.

Much remains to be done to complete and optimize the EDSA busway. Important components will be retained and these include the missing section from Makati to MOA and PTIX, the Makati bus station, intermediate stations for closing long gaps in the train station in order to improve accessibility and remove bottlenecks.

Mitigating Measures

Improvements in public transport also enable another primary goal to be achieved: minimizing the harmful effects of global warming and climate change.

The Edsa Green Movement recently issued a public statement proposing specific mitigation measures that are under consideration by MMDA, DOTr, Ministry of Public Works and Highways, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and Ministry of Energy, as well as the private sector should. Measures include issuing a presidential executive order urging all relevant government agencies to comply with the National Transport Plan and moving national government offices to Clark Green City to relieve Metro Manila.

This initiative for efficient public transport and a green environment is supported by the largest business, financial and professional organizations in the country, including the Management Association of the Philippines, the Bankers Association of the Philippines, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, Employers Confederation of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Move as One Coalition, Philippine Retailers Association, Guild of Real Estate Entrepreneurs and Professionals and Women’s Business Council.

Disruptive changes in Metro Manila’s transportation system will result in a greener, healthier environment that will truly benefit future generations of Filipinos. INQ The author is an advocate of the Edsa-Busway, designed the new Edsa-Busway pedestrian bridges with concourse, Chairman of the Traffic and Transport Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines and Green Edsa Movement. This article reflects MAP’s interests on transport and a green environment, including the recent joint call for attention to the United Nations Report on the Climate Crisis and the Green Edsa Movement Manifesto.

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