Transportation Policy Failure in Action PHOTO BY BEN KRITZ
LAST Saturday, my fellow columnist and mobility expert, Robert Siy, devoted his space to presenting highlights of a proposed set of solutions to the chronic transportation nightmare that is Metro Manila. The 10-point agenda is set out in a policy document from the Move As One Coalition, a transportation advocacy group that stands out for thinking more holistically than most such groups.
To avoid repeating too much of what Robert has already written, I invite you to read his column (“Fighting transport inflation with active transport”, June 18), or the original policy paper (“Fighting transport inflation: A ten-point agenda, by Ken Abante, et al.), which is available on ResearchGate. In summary, the problem is that transportation, as a component of the consumer price index, is currently the second largest contributor to inflation in The reason for this, apart from high fuel prices, is that transport infrastructure and capacity is woefully inadequate and inefficient, poorly planned and poorly regulated.
The Move As One policy offers a number of steps that can be taken to dramatically improve this sorry state of affairs in a relatively short period of time, because inflation is not something that can be allowed to persist. The 10 individual points proposed are all based on three broad policy orientations, these being the shift of priority from infrastructure investment towards walking and cycling, i.e. “active” transport and transport road; properly implement service contracts for bus systems; and provide appropriate social support to the transport sector.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was forwarded a copy of the guidance document and asked to consider commenting on it a few days before Robert released it to the public; thus, my impressions are based on the paper itself, rather than someone else’s interpretation. Hopefully this will encourage productive debate on the issue, which I think everyone can agree needs to be addressed immediately.
However, when it comes to how best to combat transportation inflation and its underlying cause, the transportation system so dysfunctional it is virtually unusable, I would characterize Move As One’s policy proposal as a quasi -accident: it correctly highlights several critical problems. which can and should be resolved immediately, but bases some of its assumptions on unrealistic data, and is handicapped by a somewhat too short-term perspective.
Let’s start with the good points first. One of the more sensible proposals put forward is that the government should reverse its foolish insistence that employees return to ‘normal’ office work and encourage and encourage working from home and other flexible arrangements instead. It is the lowest fruit of all possible fruits, one that would cost the government absolutely nothing except whatever financial incentives – which are entirely optional – that it might choose to offer to employers or employees to work offsite. Its implementation would immediately reduce transport demand, perhaps by up to 20%, and have a corresponding positive effect on the overall inflation rate.
The proposal to abandon the “libreng sakay” (free ride) program and put in place proper service contracts for buses – the main focus here is on the problematic EDSA carousel route – is also a necessity for government, whatever it may have in mind for transportation planning. The current system is horribly mismanaged, with bus operators – and therefore their employees – going unpaid for months. This has led to service cuts and severe congestion, with commuters sometimes waiting for hours to board a bus, and these problems have only worsened as fuel costs have risen and more vehicles are taken out of service.
Finally, the guidance document also urges the Land Transportation Office and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to lift the pandemic suspension on nearly 7,000 vehicles and 66 routes, allowing full operations for every bus, jeepney or other means. properly registered transport. As with the two previous proposals, this is obvious. There is a shortage of public transport, but the additional supply available that could at least partially reduce this deficit is only inactive due to a rather arbitrary bureaucratic decision. This can and should be corrected immediately.
Where the policy proposal goes wrong is in its rather short-sighted overall perspective. Indeed, transport planning and political priorities should be overweighted in favor of short-term actions for the time being, but that does not mean that longer-term goals should be set aside.
The political agenda takes a negative view of railway development, for example, and that is simply wrong; Rail, although comparatively more expensive and more time-consuming upstream of development, is the most cost-effective, efficient and environmentally sustainable form of public transport and should continue to be the government’s priority. Road transport in all its forms, given the increasingly critical environmental concerns, should only be considered as palliative solutions; to be implemented only if necessary and replaced by more durable solutions when the opportunity arises.
Finally, the policy agenda gives the impression that “active” transport, i.e. walking and cycling, is unrealistically oversold in terms of assumed demand. Metro Manila, in particular, is a large city, with a climate that is not particularly conducive to either activity, and the surveys used as evidence to support the claim that ” more people want to walk or cycle, and would if there were safer infrastructure for it” actually reflects this. According to a survey, only about one in four Filipino households own or use a bicycle, and transportation Active people make up only about 32% of work-related trips in Metro Manila – two-thirds of that walking, suggesting that many trips are extremely short-range.
Transport planning and policy can of course do many things at the same time, so developing appropriate pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is not at all unreasonable, especially given the need to prioritize environmental sustainability. But the claim that “active transportation” should be the first priority cannot be made, at least not with the data presented, as this data indicates that demand is modest at best.
However, it is possible that it is higher than stated, or conversely, even lower, as the surveys used to support policy recommendations have serious limitations. They provide details of commuter demand behavior rather than actual preferences, asking “how do you get to and from work?” rather than the more useful question, “how would you rather get to and from work?”
Despite the criticisms, the Move As One policy proposals present critical and actionable recommendations, and are a reasonable first step in what we can hope will be a more disciplined discussion of transport planning, starting with getting the incoming administration to take the subject seriously. This is perhaps the biggest challenge, because with less than 10 days until he officially presents, President-elect Marcos has yet to even appoint a transportation secretary.