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When whimsy, not transport science, dictates traffic policies

August 18, 2019

When whimsy, not transport science, dictates traffic policies 1


There is a traffic plan for Manhattan’s 14th Street in New York City, easily the borough’s most congested road. The New York City government is coordinating with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to carry out the plan.

And it is a direct assault on America’s much-cherished car culture.

The plan, so far the most radical assault on America’s beloved cars, would ban all cars from the 14th. Only three types of vehicles would be allowed — buses, trucks carrying food and other essentials and emergency vehicles.

Bill de Blasio, the New York City mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful, said this was a “fight to get it done for bus riders.” The fight to ban cars and free the roads for mass carriers was considered impossible to do in a country obsessed with cars. A country where cars are synonymous with freedom and mobility. But it is being started. In line with that is going on with many cities in the world that have grappled with traffic problems. New York City is a bit late on this, but is catching up.

There is a proven , empirically-tested formula for traffic decongestion in the major metropolitan areas across the globe. This is to rein in car use and allow the efficient mass carriers to rule the roads. Mass carriers are king.

That universal practice is based on one thing — efficiency the dictates of textbook transport science. Mass carriers carry more and this maximizes road use. The restrictions are imposed on the less efficient carriers, cars and other private vehicles. The most comprehensive card-banning experiment right now, and the trending traffic decongestion story internationally, is the one being done by Barcelona. Many streets have been reclaimed from cars and have been repurposed as parks, uncluttered shopping areas and walkways — all with passageways that lead to bus stops. Undergirding that is not even rocket science — just plain numeracy.

Many major cities want to adopt the Barcelona experiment, a total ban on cars and a nod to mass transport. Urban planners and transport engineers have resoundingly endorsed the boldness and the effectiveness of the

Barcelona experiment. It is the equivalent of declaring cars as part of the urban blight and the recognition that no viable urban planning can be done without reining in car use. The Barcelona experiment can be summed up this way — cars are an urban blight.

In the Asian setting, the most effective traffic plan is being done in Singapore, where respect for mass carriers — and disdain for cars — is such that the convoy of the Prime Minister of Singapore gives way to passing buses on the simple, science-based reason that buses carry more people than the convoy of the head of the nation-state.

What is going on in Metro Manila?

As the spotlight is trained on the current Metro Manila traffic experiment, the reactions from much of the developed world where policies are based on science, expertise, data — or numeracy at the very least — range from utter disbelief to a sense of incredulity.

Poor promdis like me have a harsher description. The bus ban is a toxic combination of cruelty and stupidity .

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), a coordinating body on metropolitan policies, is reining in, not car use, but the trips of provincial buses. There is neither science nor numeracy behind this policy. It runs counter to what the developed world is doing. There is even no sliver of sanity or practicality behind this plan. But like all policies framed in a context of brusqueness and stupidity, the swaggering MMDA flunkies are doing it because they can. The petty strongmen and their whims.

Without the police powers to cut the franchises of the provincial buses, the MMDA asked the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to do its bidding. The LTFRB promptly obliged. It cut short all

Luzon provincial franchises . Those coming in from the South will have to cut short their trips at Sta. Rosa City, several kilometers from Cubao in Quezon City. Those coming in from the North will cut their trips at Valenzuela City, a city of two-lane roads .

This means disrupting everything, especially the lives of poor and low-income people who move between Southern Luzon and Northern Luzon to find jobs, to work, to study, to hawk goods from their provinces. One of the few luxuries in their marginal lives was the unimpeded mobility into the centers of the metropolis. Under the MMDA/LTFRB conspiracy, they will have to take double trips and pay extra fares — on top of the time spent waiting for second or third trips to their final destinations.

The policy of unexplained cruelty would have taken effect this month had not a judge standing up for the ideals of the Republic, Judge Caridad Lutero, ordered an injunction. If you read the 25-page ruling of Judge Lutero, the basic question that she asked was this: What public good would come out of this? The MMDA/LTFRB could not come up with coherent answers because there were none. Because the figures they presented were enough to argue against the planned bus ban, about 3,000 provincial buses versus cars that occupy 67 percent of EDSA at any given time.

The hollowness and stupidity of the traffic formulation has stirred a sense of outrage from netizens that was so palpable and powerful that it drowned whatever trolling came from the usual pro-government cyber wackos. For the first time , the angle of a class divide, government favoring car users over the tortured bus riders, came out in the national conversation.

Senator Grace Poe’s committee on public services has started an inquiry into the bus ban, which naturally would lead to a further unravelling of a traffic policy devoid of science, sanity and the transgression of everything that is defined as public good. Like Judge Lutero, her first recorded impression of the bus ban was this — it is flawed.

As the Bard said, all bad things end up badly and the provincial bus ban would end up in flames after its embarrassing unravelling.

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