Since August 2013, Benjamin de la Peña has written quite a gripping series of articles regarding congestion and urban planning on Interaksyon. To my mind, he intuitively debunks all those solutions about urban planning and congestion frequently parroted by university professors, urban planning 'experts', consultants and the like as myths and old wives tales. His views are timely and ever more so relevant when we see society and government pursuing solutions that never solve, much less even clearly identify the problem for the long term. 

Ban underpants

Never has this problem become so global as in the aftermath of 9/11. The powers that be have taken it upon their hands to curtail human rights and liberties in the greater interest of National Security, or so they justify. This has led to the now prevalent thinking that infects all walks of public life, the kind of punishment mentality that permeates from the lowly security guard to the bane of air travel, the TSA. Too many terrorists getting on planes? Limit the number of people getting on planes by making it hard for them to do so. Too many underpants bombers getting into buildings? Limit the number of people who can qualify entry into your building.

Ban coding

This mentality actually predates 9/11, especially when it comes to traffic congestion. Too many cars on the road? Ban them from getting on it. Analyzing this leads to a never ending chicken-or-egg debate. Too many cars? The optimists say, build bigger and more roads. The pessimists say, bigger and more roads will just attract more traffic. The realists say, building bigger and more roads take time while in the meantime, the increasing number of cars will cause grid lock on existing roads. The solution? The odd/even ban which later morphed into the infamous UVRRP or 'number coding'. 

Ban the truck ban 

But even before coding, the first kind of motor vehicle to feel the heat of this mentality were the trucks. By their nature; big, lumbering, slow, heavy - and because of poor maintenance - breakdown prone, trucks are a blight on the road. The truck ban has its history in the Marcos era when EDSA began to congest. Yet even then, trucks, by default, were and even more so now, the lifeblood of the nation's commerce, simply because of the disappearance of the railway alternative fifty years ago. With 'coding', the authorities had the excuse that there are alternatives to private transportation, i.e. trains whose over capacity challenges the laws of Physics and Mathematics and bus drivers who never met a flyover that they didn't want to fly over. But when you ban trucks, what alternative is there? We may not like them clogging our streets, slowing down traffic but the very cars we drive, the very fuel we load into them and the very destinations we go to and the work we do are dependent on trucks.

Nowhere to go

Our problem is that we have an infrastructure lag of some 30 years and counting. Translation: the 'supply' of our roads have not kept up with the 'demand' for their usage for the past 30 years. Result is traffic. Solution? The band-aid or panacea that we all know, is the truck ban. For the truckers, things have gotten from bad to worse. They are hassled in provincial highways for highway passes. They are the target of anti-smoke belching 'enforcers'. Since last year, they were completely banned from EDSA. Their window of access to Metro Manila streets keeps narrowing. The extended truck ban hours of Manila Mayor Erap was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. So they went on holiday and went on strike. 

Elsewhere, but NIMBY

To solve the impasse, some legislators were proposing truckers and shippers to shift to Subic and Batangas. No can do, say they. Batangas and Subic cannot cope with even one twentieth of the loading and unloading transactions of the Port of Manila. So that's a non-starter to begin with. Alternate routes were not considered simply because they don't exist. Extending the hours of the window was a temporary concession that is tenable.

Erap smoke 'em out

It turns out that much of the traffic congestion on Manila's streets was caused by trucks parked on street waiting for their turn to get into the Port area. It had to take Mayor Erap to point that out. Was it because the Port was slow in processing trucks? No says the port authority and the private sector port operator. Mayor Erap hit the nail on the head when he said the Port authority should allow the trucks to park in the compound and not on city streets. Which seemed to solve the problem, somewhat. But, like the concessions, these too are tenable.

Highways in the sky

The permanent solution will materialize in the next 3 years. This is the Skyway Stage 3 and the NLEX connector, dubbed the NLEX Metro Expressway, which provide a direct tollway link from South and North, into the Harbor Link expressway. This route and the access roads to the port and warehouse districts should not be included in any truck ban. Ironically, having these 24/7 North South access may even be the incentive to make labor and operations hours of warehouses, 24/7, which is the natural linkage for 24/7 retail and wholesale deliveries of our 24/7 lifestyle.

Manila, in the fingernails of a new dawn

But what about today? We opine that the authorities, city or MMDA, should not make life any harder for the truckers.  They already have a hard time living with our anti-overloading laws and slowing down on broken streets, ironically, wrecked by overloaded trucks. If we want to believe the claims that our economy is growing, expect truck traffic to increase.  And whether we like it or not - de la Peña extols the enviable virtues of congested Manila as a super magnet for economic growth- Manila is still an irreplaceable one third of our Gross Domestic Product. 

Follow the call (center)

Our favorite model is the BPO or call center industry. Today they have morphed into a 24/7 service industry by virtue of their global clients that operate in disparate time zones. Perhaps the logistics industry, of which truckers, warehousing and ports are indispensable partners, should work towards a 24/7 ideal. Gas stations and pizza delivery are 24 hours. Just imagine if motorcycles are banned at certain hours of the day on account of being too numerous and too dangerous, the familiar excuses that preclude any kind of ban, what happens to our pizza delivery? 

Just a suggestion

Our suggestion, and we are sure it will not be a popular one, is to provide proper truck routes that are open to truckers 24/7. It has to be wide so as to provide through passage even if a juggernaut breaks down on street, because let's face it, the overworked trucks are bound to break down and they're not as easy to move out by simply calling out the hangers-on to give the truck a push. The truck route should be safe, free from illegal settlers ready to pounce and pilfer cargo the moment the trucks crawl in traffic. There should be police presence not just to catch truck violators but also to keep the truckers safe.

We see such truck routes labelled TRUCK RTE or T.R. in many developed countries and they are connected to 24/7 port and warehouse operations. To help this along, there should be a couple of 24/7 access streets available for truckers. If the logistics industry work on a 24/7 cycle, road usage of trucks will be better distributed than the current practice of crowding onto the streets in between the banned hours. But we are afraid that whichever truck routes that are still passable in the City of Manila - J. Abad Santos, A. Bonifacio, etc. - are already congested with PUJs. 

Just a suggestion, please

Our take is that Manila's main roads, congested as it is, is not going to get much traffic relief by banning trucks for prolonged times of the day. The ban creates more problems as it forces the trucking industry, warehousing industry, distribution and retail industries to just delay and overload the few hours left when goods can circulate in commerce. It’s easy to say and impose those dependent industries to move their clocks but we, the general consuming and working 9-5 malling, 10-9 public won't budge from our daily routine, resulting in further inefficiencies and discoordination with the rest of the industries.

Our quid pro quo 

We propose, ready to take the brick bats from our car driving majority of which we belong, that certain main truck routes through the Metro, to be determined by the truckers and MMDA, remain open to trucks 24/7, be serviced by tow trucks. Then allow trucks to return to EDSA from 2300hrs of 0500hrs the next day. The public should be informed of these truck routes and reduced truck ban hours so that the public should already expect traffic if they have to pass such Truck RTEs. This is our quid. The quo? Allow the DPWH to weigh ALL the trucks coming in and out of the Ports.