Costing Manila’s traffic

By:  – @inquirerdotnet

If nothing is done, the [traffic] situation in 2030 will become a nightmare. All roads will be saturated. Negative impact on economic, social and environmental aspects will be so large, deterring the function and livability of Metro Manila.”
This was the dire warning in the 2014 “Roadmap for Transport Infrastructure Development for Metro Manila and Its Surrounding Areas” prepared by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) at the request of the National Economic and Development Authority. Total transport cost of Metro Manila road users was estimated then to be P2.4 billion per day, with another P1 billion added from the adjoining areas of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite (BRLC). All together, this comes up to P1.2 trillion per year, equivalent to nearly half of last year’s government budget.

Lately, we’ve been hearing of Jica’s updated estimate of P3.5 billion per day for Metro Manila, which is projected to rise to P6 billion by 2030 if nothing is done. While traffic demand in terms of million trips per day is projected to rise 13 percent from 2012 to 2030, transport cost will rise 150 percent, or 2.5 times. For the adjoining BRLC areas included in “Mega Manila,” the rise will be even faster, at 3.5 times.

How did we get to this? The 2014 study (based on 2012 data) made comparisons with 1996 data cited in the Metro Manila
Urban Transportation Integration Study (MMUTIS), also by Jica, and reveals interesting (and alarming) trends that explain a lot. From 1996 to 2012, there was an observed 15-percent increase in person trips by car within and to and from Metro Manila. On the other hand, trips by public transport (jeepney and bus) fell by about 7 percent over those 16 years. Counting vehicle trips, those by car increased 69 percent (or an average yearly increase of 3.3 percent), while public vehicle trips rose 41 percent (yearly growth of 2.2 percent), with jeepney trips increasing by twice as many as those by bus.

The fact that vehicle trips by public transport rose within that period even as person trips via that mode fell means that vehicle occupancy rates had dropped. The data show that average jeepney occupancy dropped from 15.1 to 10, while bus occupancy dropped from 46.5 to 35.3 over that 16-year period. This supports the common observation that we could have done with less buses and jeepneys on the city roads, even as the Jica study notes that smaller-capacity vehicles also came about (like 16-seat jeepneys, air-conditioned buses with fewer seats, and luxury bus services with no standing). On top of all that, the rapid increase in car ownership was accompanied by a decline in car occupancy from 2.5 persons per car in 1996 to 1.7 in 2012. The more recent rise in ride-sharing platforms like Uber and Grab, and incentives for carpooling, should help bring that number up again.

The traffic cost estimates cited still far underestimate its full costs to society, as costs that are not as straightforward to quantify remain omitted. What have been mainly accounted for in these estimates are the costs of operating the various types of vehicles on the road, and the value of lost productive time on the part of passengers on the road. Not estimated is the environmental cost of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions arising from slower-moving traffic (making engines run less efficiently) and more hours spent on the road (prolonging pollution duration). Also difficult to quantify are the health and social costs of aggravation arising from being stuck in traffic. These would include higher incidence of hypertension and cardiovascular complications, as well as crimes, including not too infrequent murders, arising from road rage. There may also be a higher incidence of vehicle collisions and road breakdowns due to high vehicle densities on the road, although there may be an offsetting reduction in speeding-related collisions. All together, the full economic cost would run substantially higher than the P3.5 billion now widely cited.

All told, even “expensive” projects like a Metro Manila subway have always made economic sense. So let’s go full blast on what we should have put in place years ago.

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