If there’s one thing I’ve learned driving in the Philippines, it’s to swear like a sailor trying to survive getting from point A to point B. It’s really amazing how a 15-minute drive can unpredictably turn into an hour of gazing at somebody else's taillights.
We’re probably left wondering on a daily basis, while inhaling our daily overdose of carbon dioxide: WHY ISN’T ANYONE FIXING THIS?
Of course, traffic buildup can be directly attributed to the sheer increase in the volume of vehicles on the road, but it’s not as simple as that. There are other variables that affect traffic as well, and this is where traffic management is supposed to be put to good use. So what exactly is traffic management, and why isn’t it working for us as well as it should?
A good definition of traffic management is from a publication by the Transport Research Knowledge Centre of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy and Transport, which says it is "the planning, monitoring and controlling or influencing of traffic." This also interestingly includes ensuring that public transportation networks meet the commuters' needs. After all, it’s one effective way to get more cars off the road.
So let’s break down this definition and see how we’re doing when it comes to this thing called traffic management.
Planning. I would like to believe that government is hiring the right people and experts to put work into thorough research, scenario-setting, some sort of science that needs to be applied (physics, maybe?), taking measurements and pilot testing. But maybe applying a little more science (and even just math) to the task would make it a lot more effective or even prevent obviously ineffective projects from being implemented in the first place, saving time and resources (and saving us from more traffic jams).
It’s also in planning that you see a lack of proper coordination among government agencies, LGUs and private entities that are involved in the overall scheme of traffic management. The thing is, making a project work for the majority of the public is everyone's job in public service. Sometimes it almost seems like they are more concerned about whose budget is going to be used or who is going to get the credit. And so it takes a while to decide whose job a particular responsibility is.
Monitoring. Admittedly, this aspect of traffic management has improved. There are now more eyes on the road with the presence of CCTVs and more traffic enforcers, cutting the response time of traffic managers to road incidents. Motorists and commuters are more informed of traffic conditions, helping them make better decisions on their route. But there are still issues that are intentionally not being dealt with despite their glaring existence. Just check out Top Gear Philippines' Facebook page.
Controlling or influencing. Now, this is where we fail. Big time. Instead of being a traffic management system, it has become a system being managed by traffic. And for what should be a government-implemented system, it is surprisingly easily overridden by what it’s supposed to control.
For example, because motorists refuse to stop and follow traffic signals and keep intersections clear, traffic managers just get rid of the traffic signals and intersections and give us U-turn slots everywhere so that there is no more need to stop. PUVs stubbornly stop to load and unload passengers anywhere, anytime. And because they refuse to use designated stops, they create their own stops, even if loading one passenger at these stops causes traffic for dozens of other people (just take a look at almost any road intersecting EDSA).
In the end, we find ourselves creating a monster--a twisted traffic management system that doesn’t enforce traffic laws that help alleviate traffic, and instead actually rewards law-breakers at the inconvenience of law-abiding drivers and commuters. And we keep feeding this monster. There are just way too many "exemptions" from the law--too many violations that the supposed authorities just let slide. Those who violate the law get ahead by doing just that and get away with it, sometimes even with the full support of traffic officers.
Like when drivers counter-flow and obstruct opposite traffic: They not only get away with it with no ticket, they are assisted back into the lane by traffic enforcers, allowed to cut in front of those who line up properly, causing everyone else to come to a complete stop just to let the counter-flowers back in. For the convenience of one selfish driver, traffic is put to a halt for everyone else.
Then there are the issues of motorists being wrongfully accused of violations that are fabricated; law enforcers themselves not following the law they swore to uphold; and traffic tickets not being issued in exchange for bribes. The list goes on.
When you think about all this, you can’t help but feel a little hopeless. But we can’t always put all of the blame on the system. Sometimes we sabotage our own progress. We need to do our own part to support what’s going right in the system.
So if you break basic traffic laws--like using your car on its number-coding day, or picking up passengers where you're not supposed to--just remember you have no right to complain. You are causing traffic, and you are part of that traffic. It's not just a case of having a messed-up traffic management system. Whether you like it or not, you are part of that system, and you need to do your share to make the system work.
Photo from Manex Sungahid