So we got our wish
Now that the truck ban has indeed been eased with truck lanes on certain streets, right in time for the very busy 'ber' season, we are now faced with worsening traffic. By late August, news video, TNAV's CCTV network and web cam posts by irate motorists show endless lines of truck on Roxas blvd., leading to the Port of Manila. Never has the adage 'Be careful what you wish for..' been appropriately applicable to us. Last March 2014, we opined in our INSIDE MAN column entitled 'Ban the truck ban' :
"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."
Pandora's box and can of worms
At C-5, the introduction of the truck lane in the 1st week of September coincided with the closure of the U-turn system with traffic light junctions. With the trucks restricted to the inner lane, traffic merging into the left turn lane has been fraught with difficulty. Traffic authorities should consider the hybrid U-turn-no left turn-traffic light system initially tried by MMDA when BF was tinkering with the U-turn system ten years ago. Traffic wise, the news isn't so good. C-5 from the C-5 SLEx exit up to Bagong Ilog is always shown on the TNAV map in red (heavy traffic) well after midnight. Traffic will worsen no doubt as the months roll in, but at least both C-5 and Roxas Blvd. have parallel alternate routes for other types of motor vehicles.
MMDA also applied the one truck lane policy for C-3 and R-10. For trucks from the NLEx to reach C-3, their only route is through Balintawak/A. Bonifacio. Even if the DPWH was able to finish Right of way clearing for NLEx Segment 9 that connects the Smart Connect clover leaf to Maysan, Valenzuela, along MacArthur highway, the Malabon-Monumento-Rizal Ave. Ext. segment won't be a viable alternative as it is already crowded with PUJs.
But then it was about time that government took action. The status quo was exposed to be untenable as truckers parked long term on Manila's portside streets, forced to do so by the truck ban, and the processing schedule at the ports. So when the parked trucks were kicked out and further restricted by Manila City's own truck ban schedule, customs collections collapsed, manufacturing and goods logistics suffered delays, stifling the government's much trumpeted economic growth.
In order to declog the ports, the authorities demanded that the truckers take their containers to Subic or suffer the stiff fine if they fail to do so before deadline. This triggered the stampede. In order to ease the truckers mad rush to exit, MMDA instituted the 'LASMAYL' measure for trucks headed to the port, which effectively lifted the truck ban on many Metro streets. Other measures were counterflow lanes in NLEx and even the shut down of Balintawak toll Plaza [which was retracted], to which we wondered why? Bad news as far as the non-trucking public was concerned. The authorities claim that these drastic measures were only up to 21 September.
Our daily dread
But so far, it has been unremitting pain for all road users where the new truck lane. In fact worse happened in an area that didn't even have a truck lane policy. In the first week of September, heavy traffic at Balintawak/A. Bonifacio inbound Manila started as early as 0530hrs, a consequence last experienced before Mel Mathay instituted the first truck ban in the 80s. By 0700hrs, the queue already clogs Valenzuela NLEx. This tapers off by 1000hrs, but as early as 1330hrs, the heavy traffic resumes stretching to Valenzuela again and lasts up to 2230hrs. If that was bad, Friday was the worst, as there was no noon break in the traffic and by 1500hrs, it reached Meycauayan, 9.0kms away! Balintawak only cleared at midnight Saturday.
From stampede to blame game
Government reacted initially with classic finger-pointing. One agency claimed that this is the consequence of declogging the ports so expect heavy traffic from the Port to NLEx. Government said they needed 2 weekends to move 16,000 overstaying containers from Manila to Subic. Truckers scrambled, as the daily fine per container was 5,000.00 Then PPA couldn't cope with the volume of trucks being processed, so most of the trucks were waiting on all the streets coming from NLEx Balintawak. Another agency claimed that the truck lane plans were approved in April and that the problem was volume – so who can argue with that classic catch-all reply/excuse?
One's perfect timing, is another's unmitigated disaster
Still another agency claimed that the congestion was not the fault of the one truck lane policy for R-10 and C-3. It blamed the mess on Caloocan City as it closed streets and started a rerouting. MMDA stated that the one truck lane policy was only applied to C-5 and that the queues in A. Bonifacio were caused by PPA's processing. It was so bad that the Palace had to issue an official apology to all the motorists of NLEx the following day.The obvious next question from motorists stuck in traffic would then be 'Well what are you going to do about it?'
Get used to progress
That Balintawak/A. Bonifacio monster truck jam had all the makings of a perfect storm. But long queues of trucks are not unheard of in ports; witness the daily queues at Rotterdam, Yokohama, Kwai Chung and Oakland. Its not just for ports. The air cargo business of Flüghafen Frankfurt Am Main and München Franz Josef Strauss have long truck queues. European truckers, subjected to inspection at customs zones when crossing borders have adopted by bringing camping equipment to sweat out the long wait and electric folding bikes to get around.
Volume reduction, or greater economic harm?
Solution? Target the government's standard and usual suspect; volume. It may sound lame and lazy, but the problem is indeed volume. Proof? Balintawak/A. Bonifacio did not have a volume problem after the truck ban was instituted in the 80s. Despite our favoring 24/7 truck routes, we cannot deny that A Bonifacio is not a viable 24/7 truck route, maybe until Skyway Stage 3 and the Harbor/Metro link expressway is finished, the latter being touted as the direct express link from NLEx to the Port. Lifting the truck ban in this zone creates economic damage far larger in magnitude, as millions of daily commuters and businesses coming from the North are denied efficient passage that, only a week ago, they have been enjoying for the past decades.
Time for policy U-turn?
Volume reduction is a must. The choices? Keep the truck ban, but if forced to amend for the sake of truckers, impose the truck ban on odd-even plate numbers Monday to Saturday. Are we back tracking on our stand on 24/7 truck routes? Much as we still support the reasons for 24/7 truck routes, A. Bonifacio/Balintawak is simply not a viable truck route today.