Twenty-two years.

That's how long we, the motorists of Metro Manila, have had to live with this thing called coding. For the unfamiliar, coding is the term we use for the Unified Vehicular Volume Redution Program. In short, much like a floodgate, it's a measure taken to control traffic by restricting the number of vehicles during peak hours.

The UVVRP has been implemented by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority as well as the 16 cities and 1 municipality that is part of Metro Manila since 1995. Understanding it is simple enough. Cars with license plates that end in 1 or 2 are barred every Monday, 3 or 4 every Tuesday, 5 or 6 every Wednesday, 7 or 8 every Thursday, and 9 or 0 every Friday. The scheme prevents these cars to drive on major thoroughfares in the metropolis from 7:00AM to 8:00PM. By barring certain vehicles on major metropolitan roads traffic should theoretically be consistently reduced by about 20% every day based on the allocation of numbers.

There's no denying that coding works, despite being conceived in the mid-90's. At the time, vehicular traffic was at an all time high; people were buying cars owing to the prosperity brought about by the Asian economic boom.

The program was initially thought up by Colonel Romeo Maganto, the executive director of the MMDA's traffic management group at the time, but he had a different target in mind: PUVs. The initial implementation on EDSA to cover buses in particular proved promising, but the transport groups complained and applied pressure to the MMDA to include all vehicles. And so the MMDA did, and the scheme continued to the present day, enduring a financial crisis (which probably reduced traffic on its own), multiple rallies on EDSA (including one that toppled a president), and five presidents.

The UVVRP should have been a stop-gap measure, a temporary solution to the madness, a band-aid to stop the bleeding; not a solution that should have endured as long as it has. It's hard to believe that a system that bans automobile owners to ply the streets for one day out of the working week based on the last digit of their license plate has been up and running for so long. If anything, metropolitan motorists should be entitled to a refund of their registration; we pay to drive our cars for 365 (or 366 every four years) days a year, but we can't drive them for a total of 52 days.

Don't get me wrong; UVVRP works for the 80% of motorists who aren't coding that day. In 2010, the MMDA said 322,936 vehicles take to EDSA each day. In 2014, that daily average jumped up to 360,417. Given that EDSA -in its current state- is only meant to take on 200,000 vehicles, there's a big problem. And given that there's no expansion room on the fringes of our main artery anymore, it's not going to get any better.

Mind you, the MMDA's 2014 EDSA volume figure is already with coding in place. If UVVRP didn't exist, that means the 2014 figure would be closer to around 432,500 (+20%) per day.

The question we pose is not actually whether coding works. We know it does; try driving on a non-coding day like Saturday (still a working day for most) and you'll see what we mean. But what's alarming is that there is no end in sight for coding, in fact, there's even talk of making it two days.

To the logical and analytical, there are three real solutions to our traffic woes. The first one is long-term urban planning. In that light, it's already difficult to see a solution; each administration only lasts for six years. With no re-election possible under our constitution, there exists no further motivation to plan beyond and initiate projects that would last beyond the six years of the term. That's the reality. Why would a leader spend political, social, and financial capital to see a long-term project through if it will be his/her successor who will get the credit and glory once it's done?

The second is discipline, and that's tricky. Our streets have become truly concrete jungles with the lack of education, order, and discipline amongst drivers. We can also forget about road safety. That will be the difficult task at the hands of any department or office that handles traffic at the Barangay level, at the City level, at the Regional level, and even the National level. And it doesn't bode well that there is plenty of low-level corruption on the streets (ever bribed or been asked for a bribe?) and the perceived incompetence of traffic enforcers from the MMDA and local government units. That will be the tall order.

Lastly and perhaps most critical, it's the lack of infrastructure. Let's just put it out there that building roads in the Philippines is a glacial process. New projects take forever to be completed, and sometimes it's not even completed. Sometimes road projects are built to low standards or ill-maintained (i.e. Circumferential Road 6).Even simple road repaving operations take months; they scrape up roads, leave them for a few months, and come back at their leisure to finish the job (i.e. the current state of Ortigas Extension). Sometimes utility poles are left in place after the road is widened to take up the sidewalks (i.e. everywhere). All this takes place amidst economic growth that gives people the purchasing power to buy motorcycles and motor vehicles.

EDSA Traffic

Granted, in any country, infrastructure never really keeps up with economic growth, but it shouldn't be like this. There are no other viable options other than on-road land transportation. Yes, we have three light rail transit (LRT) lines that run along the same routes as major roads such as Taft Avenue, EDSA, and Marcos Highway/Aurora, but in a city which has a daytime, work-week population that exceeds 15 million, a “light” rail system isn't going to cut it.

EDSA Traffic

Even air travel is affected by infrastructure problems. Given that our airport has two runways that intersect to form an X, you can effectively let only one plane land or take-off at any given time. You can't do both simultaneously like you could with an aerodrome that has parallel runways like Clark. But the rail project to connect it to Metro Manila's main airport is still a long way from completion.

Looking at the Build! Build! Build! Program of the government is promising, but most of those 61 infrastructure projects are still a long way from completion. It's a tall task of the Department of Transportation, the MMDA, and the many LGUs that have to do what they can with the infrastructure and resources at their disposal to solve our traffic and transport woes, but we know they're doing their best to do what is easily a thankless job.

Coding really looks like a much longer-term stop-gap that what it should have been. The Metro Manila Council (the governing body of the MMDA) will probably expand it in many ways, shapes and forms, but that's really the only solution the MMDA has at their disposal.

Much like keeping a house together using nothing but duct tape for 22 years, we just have to hope it holds and weathers the coming storm until our new, bigger, and stronger house is finally built.