The objects of hate mail

We end the year with no spectacular solutions to the daily grind of worsening traffic. No less spectacular than the hardened positions of the victims of the Mitsubishi Montero Sport's Sudden Unintended Acceleration — ex-friends who took offense at our stand that despite the tsunami of "evidence" and incendiary posts on social media accusing Mitsubishi of corporate irresponsibility — we still stuck to our belief that it very likely driver error as we have never experienced it ourselves.

Patently irresponsible

Talking about irresponsibility, we would like to cite a recent speech given by a government luminary and current candidate to a group of fellow US school MBA's at the Manila Polo Club. In that speech, the very person responsible for our transport mess in these years of the PNoy administration had the gall to insist, as this administration always does, that today's problems are exclusively the fault of the previous administrations. This is not the wisest way to solve our problems but then...

Anomalous? Says who?

Judging 20-year old BOT contracts as "anomalous", with only sweeping statements as proof, Mar Roxas and his amateur team proceeded to replace these contracts with their own concoction that failed to attract bidders, pass COA standards or increased the cost of acquiring supplies, resulting in the breakdown of rail services in the case of the MRT or the failure to pay the Dutch maker of license plates. Mar Roxas's bumbling DOTC appointees junked or tried to junk the computerization contract with STRADCOM, the Amalgamated Motors supply contracts for licenses (which is always in perpetual recycled renewal), the license plate contracts, etc., only to end up grinding the DOTC to stasis — a majestic disservice to the paying Public. In the MRT, the obsession with kicking out Sobrepeña and Sumitomo in the MRT, led to the total failure of MRT. And it is this total failure of the MRT that is causing EDSA to eventually fail too.

The mess gets messier

For an investment banker, if he was even a practicing one at the time the MRT-BOT was negotiated, Mar should have known that a guaranteed 15% rate of return for the MRT investor was not unreasonable in the 90's when Philippine credit ratings couldn't even attract a single foreign bidder to invest in the MRT. Moreover, Roxas did not even consider that the government's failure to implement fare hike increases, as per contract, naturally threatened to bankrupt the MRT investor consortium, leading the government of the day to entice the Land Bank to lend MRT money at exorbitant yields.

Tinkering with EDSA

Having said all the above, we still would like to credit the authorities for really trying hard, even if some missteps have aggravated traffic. The last quarter of the year saw major changes on EDSA. With former Chairman Francis Tolentino on to pursuing votes instead, we find his traffic deputy, Emerson Carlos taking charge. In preparation for the traffic standstill of the APEC Summit lockdown, the Palace also appointed a "traffic czar" in the person of Sec. Almendras. In time, the green foot bridges were to be repainted a uniform beige and with the PNP Highway Patrol Group taking charge of traffic enforcement on key locations of EDSA and alternate "Mabuhay" lanes, traffic lights are again reappearing at junctions that used to be integral parts of the U-turn system.

When enforcement is effective

The HPG takeover of the Balintawak market put an end to vendors lording it over Lanes 1 and 2 of EDSA. That area was really an enforcement problem rather than a management problem. Historically, when Quezon City was run by Mayor Belmonte and the MMDA was run by Bayani Fernando, MMDA traffic enforcers were able to discipline this area. But when the new government took over and with former Mayor Belmonte moving on to Congress, the Bistek administration of Quezon City was never able to backstop MMDA efforts to enforce discipline on this crucial stretch of EDSA.

Back to traffic lights, back to blocked yellow boxes

With the Dario bridge under construction, Roosevelt EDSA/Congressional EDSA reverted to its pre-U-turn traffic light guidance with good countdown timers of 160 seconds for an EDSA green light. The downside of this is that the PUJs have also reverted to their old habits of blocking the yellow box as passengers insist on embarking and disembarking close to the corner, with Jeeps stopped four abreast. As for the stretch from Bansalangin to EDSA Quezon Ave., the closure of many U-turn slots gave EDSA better free flow, but then chaos now reigns on the North Ave. and West Ave. end as PUJ's are not able to complete the authorized journey as they cannot cross EDSA. It's a traffic management problem in this case.

Traffic lights and terminal congestion at Katipunan

The return of traffic lights under the EDSA Quezon Avenue overpass has ordered the chaotic merging of traffic in that area, but it remains to be seen if these traffic lights, like all traffic lights in the Metro, are obeyed during the wee hours. Fatal accidents caused by beating the red light was never possible in the U-turn system. As a traffic congestion generator, we never fail to point out the return of traffic lights on C-5 may have improved traffic in Libis, but it has worsened traffic in Katipunan Ave. to the point that even Aurora Boulevard is severely affected all the time.

Where did my daily ride go?

Having the South-based buses return to home base via P. Tuazon and C-5 after turning around in EDSA Cubao during the morning peak hour may have eased traffic by a teeny weeny bit, but one wonders what happened to all those commuters waiting for a ride on EDSA from P. Tuazon to EDSA-Pasay Taft or Magallanes? These night shift workers just lost their daily ride home in the morning.

Bollards to the rescue

A successful adjustment is the management of traffic on EDSA White Plains, EDSA Connecticut and the new EDSA Ortigas flyover traffic island cut out in front of PGA Porsche. This works wonders for traffic trying to merge into EDSA heading for Makati or Cubao. The tendency to cut into two lanes is eliminated as bollards force the stubborn to execute a proper right turn or lane merge. To be fair, the Bayani Fernando MMDA also resorted to bollards in this area to cure the same merging problem, though the traffic island cut out is a novel solution this time around.

More buses for EDSA again?

The recent surplus of APEC Summit budget funded bollards were being repositioned to block the bus lanes from incursions by private vehicles. Again, these measures have been in the MMDA rule book ever since the MMDA was called the MMC under Chairman Mel Mathay. Premium Holiday season buses were deployed to pick up commuters from EDSA SM City, Trinoma and MegaMall headed to EDSA Ayala, non-stop, a virtual copy of Makati ex-Mayor Junjun Binay's express public transport for Makati office workers. The intent is to dislodge 50 self drive Makati commuters by putting them on the premium bus. Though the assumptions for this idea are a bit too optimistic and the math behind it seems as dodgy. Anything helps even as LTFRB's idea of increasing buses on EDSA to take the strain off the MRT was also just as dodgy. When did adding more buses, EDSA's problem of too many of them crowding everyone out, become a solution?

Never again!

It was patently irresponsible of government to shut down the CAVITEx-Macapagal transport corridor to Baclaran, without planning any kind of diversion route for the buses that ply that sector. Media reported that a pregnant lady gave birth while walking that long way to get to a commute transit station. The pre-Summit practice dry runs for security convoys traversing the 2-lane APEC exclusive lanes gummed up traffic further, as the security forces stopped EDSA traffic whenever the mock convoy was in transit.

FVR was right!

FVR was right in hosting the APEC summit in Subic and Clark two decades ago. Subic was far easier to secure than Metro Manila. The TriBOA mansions would have been ideal for security and appropriate status for the various attending Heads of State. The Russians, for that matter would have been happy to be near a decent beach. Although the Manila Bay sunset was a sight to behold for POTUS (President of the United States) from his Sofitel balcony, the Subic Bay sunset is no less picturesque. The P10B budget would have been more than enough to refurbish some large former US Base hall or hotel to accommodate what the PICC accommodated. To think that the metro's traffic today is far worse than it was in 1996 when the first APEC summit was held.

Skyway severely affected

All the APEC security measures severely affected traffic on the Skyway too. But even without the APEC closures, the Skyway elevated portion has to deal with heavy traffic every morning peak hour because of the toll paying queues at the Skyway Alabang elevated toll plaza, tailing back to the Alabang spur on/off ramp and the Skyway at-grade. The solution here is to convert both A and B toll plazas of the Skyway Alabang elevated to North Bound collection only, while all Skyway elevated south bound traffic are barrier free or barrier-up pass-thru. Not only does this solution, proposed by retired Skyway SOMCO Operations executive Ed Nepomuceno, avoid the cost of rebuilding the Nichols A and B Skyway toll plaza for North Bound traffic toll collection, but it streamlines the South Tollway system's collection. In fact, before the Skyway at-grade southbound entry toll plazas were built in 2011, all southbound traffic had no need for a toll card because tolls are paid upon exit. The absence of a toll card meant that the motorist pays from the farthest entry point up North.

Work in progress

Needless to say, EDSA, and its traffic spillover into connected thoroughfares like the Skyway are a work in progress — all the more that dynamic solutions be tried and tested. Mind you, there is nothing wrong in rehashing old solutions like returning traffic lights on some junctions. What is important is that the evaluation be bias-free for any fact-finding to be accurate and useful, it has to be true. Making the public sacrifice for the convenience or ease of traffic enforcement is the wrong way around. Customer satisfaction should always rule supreme over making the traffic managers jobs' easier.