Many cars, less space

With the 20th century now universally recognized as the century of the automobile, we find the 21st century brewing an undercurrent of resentment against one of man's greatest inventions. And the reasons are valid if not numerous. As world populations converge to cities, the major problems that face quality of life are legion and are almost always pervasively 24/7. Pollution. Congestion. Road Rage. Intermodal collisions (bicycle vs. city car vs. SUV vs. van vs. 22-wheeler vs. pedestrian). Shared space like roads and off street parking, becomes a scarce resource.

Our 40 year infrastructure backlog

Our domestic urban problems are quite in sync with the rest of the world for as our cities become more successful, they become a magnet for even more concentrated economic activity. Nowhere does this become a self-defeating problem than in emerging economies, like ours, that have population expansion and private motor vehicle ownership outstripping the ability of government to provide alternative mass transit, roads and parking, face backlogs by as much as 40 years.

City state traffic vs country side traffic

With this present picture of our urban motoring landscape, legislators and bureaucrats alike have been clamoring for vehicle population reduction, to which selective bans, like coding was only the beginning. Space starved Singapore is their favorite model as the City-state has made the allocation of space subject to the laws of supply and demand. Access to CBU is paid for by congestion charges, the price of which vary depending on the demand for access as per time of day. The issuance of licenses to own and buy a car is subject to a quota, and application is public bidding.

Space, the final frontier

Hence to legislator and bureaucrat alike, given the scarce supply of space, the simple solution is to throttle demand by punishing it, making it prohibitive, and expensive. But that presumes that the Philippines is all city and sans countryside. Nothing could be farther from the truth as our countryside can fit thousands of Singapore's. For every city that has unbearable congestion like Metro Manila, Metro Baguio and Metro Cebu, you have even more cities that have plenty of countryside limiting congestion to their basic downtown rush hour. Which is why we find laws like the “no garage, no car” ludicrous and the product of lazy thinking or poor reasoning. Include in this the recent proposal to tax a family or household's 2nd or 3rd car.

No Garage, No Car?

The proposed “no garage, no car” law works only in tight spaces like Singapore. Philippine cities have a congestion problem, given, but it's got thousands of square kilometers of countryside, covered with thousands of kilometers of highway with communities that have no problem with congestion. Moreover, the “no garage, no car” law also unnecessarily dampens demand for auto sales, which in turn, defeats private car companies and DTI efforts to grow our home grown auto industry. Given that most of the cars sold in the country are imported, the top 5 best sellers in the country are all assembled in the country, providing lots of employment, business for local suppliers and logistics, and plenty of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) not to mention billions of revenue via Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Internal Revenue. A “no garage, no car” law runs counter to the program of the government to promote the local car industry as supported by the DTI and DoF.

It just gets worse

As the traffic got worse, many narrow minded legislators knee-jerked into proposing really odious hare-brained laws. Perhaps stung by the inability to exercise their “King of the Road” privileges in the Metro compared to the way they lord it over the roads of the provinces they come from, and forced to abide by the “no wang wang” policy, these legislators have proposed laws like “no ITR, no car” and reprised the “no Plate, no car”. One legislator has consistently decried the government authorities that have been kicking out the provincial bus terminals in Cubao for the past 30 years by insisting that the commuters of the provincial buses where he used to be a governor deserve the Metro road space more than the private car owner/drivers of the Metro. This is the same governor that attacked the SLEx for raising tolls despite the fact that MTD had practically built a new expressway over the detritus of the old SLEx. Rather consistent, he should get paid for being a loyal lobbyist of the bus companies of his province. Federalism can't come too soon for narrow minded fellows like this, as they can't see beyond the boundaries of their province and surely cannot have the national interest at heart.

Jealous of other car owners?

The other legislator who demanded the “no ITR (income tax return), no car” and “no plate, no car”, conveniently forgets that all the car owners have paid for their plates and it's the government that can't deliver. Moreover, this same legislator — who wants to limit car sales to net income tax payers started his career 20 years ago owning lots of imported cars and a burgeoning imported car business. Perhaps he misses the days when more of the cars on the road in his province were his or sold by his grey import car exchange friends. Seriously, discriminating car purchasing by requiring possession of an ITR, disregards other tax payers like, pensioners, property sales, other income tax payers, contractors VAT — endo and otherwise. Why should they be deprived the right to buy a car? If it's tax avoiders that they are after, everyone who buys a car always gives out their TIN — tax identification number.

The necessary 2nd and 3rd car

As for the DoTr proposal to tax 2nd and 3rd cars with the view of reducing congestion, we see this as a wealth tax and a restraint on the right to purchase. DoTr should not be in the business of taxation as that is a DoF function. DoTr cannot appreciate the revenue (DoF), investment (DTI) and employment (DoLE) linkages that reduced car sales would cause. Moreover, the growth in buying 2nd and 3rd cars is not due to just luxury or whimsy.

Head of family

Picture the average Philippine Middle Class home. Many households today are multi-task, multi productive. The head of the family is usually not the only bread winner, even if he or she is the sole provider of the bulk of the household income. The head of the family is the sole bankable medium by which car financing is affordable. It is not hard to imagine that the spouse and several of the younger members of the family are also income earners. Or if still in school, future income earners. Now human beings are not endowed with the divine ability of bi-location hence the need to have several cars for simultaneous trips to disparate destinations and with disparate schedules. Now a tax on the 2nd and 3rd car becomes a penalty for a family which is trying to be efficiently productive for the economy. Given that the extra cars are not really extra, even if you consider restrictions like “coding”, it is unjust to penalize smart time and energy management by taxing the family's additional cars. These families should, in fact, be rewarded rather than punished.

Problem meets solution

So how do you solve congestion if you don't want to impinge on the right of a family to own more than one car? Also, how then do you solve congestion if you can't guarantee that each new car purchase has an off-public street garage space?

Space: The Final Frontier, the prequel

Tackling the last problem first: Garage or Parking space is a major consideration of the car owner. If he or she doesn't have one, he or she will have to find one. If it happens to be a public street, it becomes a LGU (local government unit) prerogative to reach out for several tools to discourage congestion or blocking public road access or passage. One is to identify off street parking spaces where private citizens can rent for as long as the city government does its job by providing 24/7 security. The other is to identify the time and place when residents of city streets can park their cars on the public road, subject to rentals too. Back this up with quality tow trucks and recovery vehicles with trained teams doing 3-shift 24hrs/7 days scheds. What we are saying here is that parking and congestion is a local problem which must be addressed and solved at the LGU level, and not by one national law. One size fits all doesn't work here.

Off-public street parking space

On the other hand, the proposed "no garage, no car" law from Senator Villanueva is quite a decent effort for a neophyte Senator and seems rather simple. If it becomes law, the IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations) should state that the garage space should be OFF PUBLIC STREET PARKING SPACE. Which means residents of PRIVATE subdivisions and rented parking spaces in condos are recognized to have OFF PUBLIC STREET PARKING SPACE. It will be up to the subdivision association or condo management to enforce PARKING and NO PARKING Local Ordinances for such residents who violate OFF PUBLIC STREET parking.

Refining the IRR of the proposed No Garage, No Car law

The proposed law provides that a vehicle owner must now execute an affidavit attesting to owning or having consistent and guaranteed daily access to off public street parking space. This now becomes a pre-condition to registration of a new car, used car or even renewal of registration. Such an affidavit should hopefully be provided by the new car dealer or car exchange salesman as free service to negate the disincentive of this added documentary requirement to a sale and registration of a new or pre owned vehicle. With this affidavit on file, the implementing agencies — LTO, PNP, LGU etc. — now have a document to prove that if the car owner is caught parking consistently for at least one week on public streets, he can be charged as reneging on his oath in the submitted affidavit. This makes prosecution and the charging of a fine easier for the implementing agency. Perhaps the the focus of the law should read thus : AN ACT PROHIBITING THE CONSISTENT USE OF PUBLIC ROADS AS PRIVATE GARAGE SPACE.

Enforcing existing No Parking rules

Enforcement? Anyone can report such violations to the implementing agencies, with photographic evidence as supplemental proof. Which, makes us believe that this may be a step too far. In a sense, what is wrong or even lacking in stricter 24/7 enforcement of no parking rules on ALL public streets at least from dawn to dusk or 24 hours for major urban clear-ways and thoroughfares? The better subdivisions and condos have successfully enforced their own no parking regulations. Thus, even with controlled “legal” street parking on private subdivisions, they do not have the congestion seen on uncontrolled public roads.

ETC to the rescue

Now on to the problem of congestion because of the high rate of car sales, just like parking — a scarce resource — road space for traveling should be subjected to a congestion charge. Just like Singapore and London. And like Singapore and London, the congestion charge can be monitored and charged using RFID or DSRC readers on gantries as motorist speed through city streets. ETC tollways users are no strangers to RFID (AutoSweep for Skyway/SLEx and EasyDrive for CAVITEx) and DSRC tags (EasyTrip for NLEx-SCTEx and the defunct E-PASS). Congestion charging can even vary in accordance with the degree of congestion at the time of day. Whether RFID or DSRC, the Metro's main roads can easily adapt to a congestion charging system. Overhead multi-lane gantries with electronic readers can be located every few kms. of EDSA covering certain zones. The more congested zones the motorist crosses, the more he is charged. Rates are higher during peak hour or when the roads get crowded because of floods. AF Payment's BEEP Card as used in the Metro's light rail network may not be ideal as the card needs to be swiped, hence more delays on the road.

Resource allocation

Hence our problem of congestion is not too many cars but not enough roads. Just like our expanding population, the solution is not in abortion, contraception and Euthanasia. 'Tis plain to see as we have an acknowledged 40 year back log for infrastructure. Congestion management isn't rocket science, but it cannot be solved by punishing the right to purchase of individuals and restraint to the right to trade by car manufacturers. Generally speaking, anti-car legislation like the “no garage, no car”, “no ITR, no car”, “no plate no car” and taxing ownership of more than one car does the economy more harm than good. NEDA would find agreement in this and so would the car industry and all the motorists out there, paying taxes to build more roads. We are better off respecting the freedoms of an individual and not adding bureaucratic burdens on them like submission of affidavits for off street parking space. So instead of a no garage no car national law, we might be able to reduce congestion just as well by better and constant enforcement of local government no parking rules. Just like a condo or a private subdivision.