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How the traffic crisis and transport problem evolved in Metro Manila

The traffic crisis and transport problem now gripping Metro Manila can be traced to five significant factors related to rapid urbanization and slow development of public transportation in the country, an expert in transportation and urban planning said Wednesday.

Primitivo Cal, a former executive director at UP Planning and Development Research Foundation Inc., traced in his research, “The State of the Art of Philippine Urban Transportation,” these factors:

  • Rapid urbanization
  • Mono-centric urban form
  • Limited mass rail transit network
  • Low ratio of road length to motorization
  • Institutional weakness

Rapid urbanization

Cal said urbanization is primarily concentrated in Metro Manila. As of 2015, he noted at urbanization in the country reached 70% from 30% in the 1950s.

In Korea and Vietnam, urbanization was not centered in a single city but spread to other cities.

Monocentric urban form

Most of business districts such as Bonifacio Global City, Ortigas Center, Makati business and financial center, and Araneta Center are located in Metro Manila. “Therefore, yung demand concentrated din,” Cal noted.

A monocentric urban center caused traffic congestion in Metro Manila, a result of the high density of people, vehicles, and business and commerce.

In August, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Sherwin Gatchalian reiterated the proposal to transfer government offices to the provinces to address the traffic problem in Metro Manila.

Limited rail transit network

Metro Manila, which started its mass rail transit system in the form of the Light Rail Transit line in 1984, only had 52 kilometers of rail that could move and estimated 948, 000 passengers daily as of 2010, the Cal noted.

Seoul was able to expand its train system to 287 kilometers, transporting up to 5.6 million passengers daily since it started in 1974.

Metro Manila has a 52-km train system in 26 years, while Seoul has built 287 kms in 36 years. “It means yung size ng rail transit ng Seoul, at least five times than that of Metro Manila’s,” Cal noted.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) is eyeing to complete a 1,900-kilometer railway system in five years.

However, Cal said, the goals is ‘very optimistic’ based on the department’s performance so far.

Roads-to-vehicle ratio

The ratio of Metro Manila’s roads to the number of vehicles is low.

“‘Yung pag-develop ng road network sa Metro Manila talagang slow. So ang result is that less supply (of transportation means),” Cal said.

Cal noted that the government does not have the capability at this point to fill in the widening gap between the supply of transportation systems and the growing commuter demand from rapid urbanization.

Institutional weakness

Cal said that there should be a traffic czar to supervise all transport-related agencies and improve coordination in solving the traffic and transportation problem.

“Kapag may traffic sa EDSA or anywhere in Metro Manila. They blame the MMDA. The truth is wala siyang function para sa solution ng traffic,” he said.

The problem is actually beyond traffic management, which is not part of MMDA’s primary function as a traffic management office, Cal noted.

“Wala sa function ng MMDA ‘yung solutions for traffic, kasi supply and demand ‘yun. Wala naman sa kanila ang supply and demand, kundi traffic management.”

In 2016, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) urged then-incoming President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint a Cabinet-level point person to solve the traffic problem in Metro Manila.

Early this October, the three lines of mass rail transit system encountered technical problems in the same week, prompting Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. to claim that the country has a mass transport crisis.

Both presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade denied such claim.


Vehicular travel in Metro Manila should be reduced, while developing business centers in other areas under the concept of mixed-use development, Cal noted.

Telecommuting, or audio-video communications, instead of personal contact is also necessary to lessen the need for people to go out and use public transportation or private vehicle.

Cal noted that reducing the concentration of trips in space by boosting the capacity of public transport and expanding the network of highways are a must as part of the long-term solution to the traffic problem.

Reducing the concentration of trips in time via staggered school and work hours, or allowing flexible working hours, will also form part of the overall solution., he said. —VDS, GMA News