Decongesting Manila to save the country

IS THE Manila City government right in banning trucks from its streets from 5:00 am to 9:00 PM?

If we are to believe some economic analysts and big businesses, the city run by former President and now Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada and his Vice Isko Moreno have made a monumental mistake by doing so.

Manila cargo truck traffic — Photo credit to Jacqueline Hernandez/ Manila Bulletin. They should know, they’re right in the middle of it.

Manila cargo truck traffic — Photo credit to Jacqueline Hernandez/ Manila Bulletin. They should know, they’re right in the middle of it.

A report last month in entitled “Manila Truck Ban to Derail PHL Economy” cites University of Asia and the Pacific economist Victor Abola’s assertion that the truck ban caused higher transport operations costs of goods that landed in the Port of Manila resulting in slower economic growth, productivity and higher commodity prices:

The citywide truck ban in Manila could derail the Philippine economy from achieving continued growth that Malacañang should step in and stop city from implementing the policy, according to an economist.

A major risk to the economic growth story is the truck ban in Manila, “an unwarranted exercise of power,” University of Asia and the Pacific economist Vic Abola said during First Metro Investment Corp.’s mid-year briefing in Makati City.

“They should revoke the ban, because it’s just creating traffic in other places and it’s not delivering the goods,” he said.

“The President needs to take action. Yes there’s a problem, but the problem cannot be solved by one person,” he added.

Last February, the local government banned cargo trucks from Manila’s main thoroughfares from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., a move that created a backlog in deliveries to, through and from the Port of Manila.

Covered by the ban are cargo trucks, gravel and sand trucks, cement mixers, eight-wheelers and any truck with a gross vehicle weight of at least 4,500 kilograms.

With the truck ban, cargo ships started forming a queue at the Port of Manila translating to higher freight costs and higher spoilage in terms of perishable products, Abola noted.

“There are some importers that are taking two to four weeks to get the goods brought down to the port, and then the problem of getting them out,” he said.

“That’s why we’re seeing faster increase in food prices,” he added.

Abola cited a Citi report which says economic losses from the truck ban could range between P61.2 billion to P320 billion.

“We are already feeling it and this is being felt in inflation rates,” he said.

Lower prices of alcoholic beverages, tobacco and utilities helped June inflation slow down to 4.4 percent from 4.5 percent in June, but was still on the higher end of the 3 to 5 percent government target, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported.

Convincing, no doubt. Abola is right of the immediate negative effects of the backlog of shipments waiting to come out of the Manila North and South Harbors. But buried within the story is a key point that Abola himself raised and should be the focal point of any national issue. Continues the GMA story:

The government should look for a long-term solution to the problem in traffic and transfer of goods, Abola said. “But certainly, doing it overnight is not a solution.”

“This requires a whole strategy of incentives and alternatives to make the system work consistent with the long term objective of moving more goods through Subic and Batangas,” he added.

Now there’s the rub. Indeed, Abola hit the nail on the head: this is not a Manila problem but a national problem that requires the action of the National Government planners, requiring the strategic planning and coordinated action of the various national agencies to move and disperse port operations to the many shipping points of the country and spread out the load in getting the goods to their destination.

So many times we see huge trucks hogging the road from the Manila Ports through crowded city streets to factories in Laguna when they could so easily be transported to Batangas ports and avoid Manila altogether. Many of the car companies are doing this, why can’t others?

How GMA News missed this as the main point of the story is beyond me, unless of course the news agenda is to criticize Erap and Isko.

But the latter part of the story GMA News continues with great points made by Moreno:

MMDA data showed there are 79,850 cargo trucks and 13,615 trailers plying the streets of Metro Manila each day.

But even with the truck ban, cargo volume still increased by 5 percent in the first quarter, Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno said in an e-mail to GMA News Online.

“Data released by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) showed that while cargo volume slowed down in the first quarter of the year, it still inched up close to 5 percent to 44.94 million metric tons compared with 42.942 million MT in the same period last year,” he said.

The vice mayor said the problem on the supply side is not because of the truck ban, but in the port system of the country.

“The problem of port congestion and system, or the lack of it, is something that the PPA and other concerned agencies should deal with,” Moreno said.

“In fact, as the good professor pointed out, the Port of Batangas and Subic are underutilized and it’s high time for the national government to address this concern,” he added.

The vice mayor went on to say the truck ban only highlighted the apparent inadequacies in the Philippine port system.

Looking back to a 2001 study entitled Port Development Project and Their Traffic Impact (by Jane R. Romero, MS Civil Engineering – Transportation engineering – of the University of the Philippines) it was already noted that Manila traffic  had grown so much that they project it three times by 2015:

For the year 2015, the increase of traffic volume in the study area is based on the factors

generated by the MMUTIS Study. Three (3) major factors that will contribute to the increase in traffic volume, together with their respective increases, were identified by the MMUTIS as follows:

a.) Population growth by 1.58 times

b.) Increase of private mode by 1.35 times

c.) Increase in average trip length by 1.40 times

The combined effects of the changes in population, number of private modes, and average trip length is estimated to result to a 3 times increase in the present traffic volume by year 2015…

The estimate of the amount of freight traffic to be generated by the port development was based on the projected cargo to be handled by the port as stated in the 25-Year Port Development Plan. Given the forecasted freight volume, these cargoes were converted into number of trucks required for its hauling and distribution.

Table 1. Forecasted Average Truck Traffic

(In trucks/hr) 1996 2015 2015/1996
South Harbor 83 345 4.15
North Harbor 88 145 1.65
MICT 126 440 3.50
Total 297 930 3.13

The result of the O/D survey conducted by JICA in 1994 was adopted to locate the destination of the cargoes. Average truckload was assumed to be 1.75 TEU. In addition to the Port Development Plan, projections indicated in the feasibility studies for the Smokey Mountain Port Terminal and the South Harbor Expanded Port Zone were also considered…The forecasted truck traffic generated by the port is expected to

increase the existing truck traffic by 3 times after the completion of the port development plan. Table 2 presents the distribution of the projected truck traffic.

Table 2. Forecasted Truck Traffic Distribution

Destination Number of Trucks/Hour
Southbound 345
Northbound 145
Eastbound 440
Total 930

The UP study basically concludes that an alternative mode of transporting goods out of the Manila ports should be built and proposes that it be a rail based system or cargo trains to ensure that Manila’s already crowded streets are decongested.

So, was Manila City wrong in its truck ban? I believe that they did the right thing, because by firmly insisting on its truck ban the City has made the nation realize that they have plan and act on more strategic concerns. The Manila truck ban has triggered a chain of events that National Government can no longer ignore of brush off as a local problem.

As for GMA News, well, we hope they get their act together and be less parochial in their news coverage.

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2 Responses to Decongesting Manila to save the country

  1. I agree with you there, JP. I hope they truly consider a rail system. It would move us up a level.

    • JP Fenix says:

      The National Government keeps whining that Manila City Hall is messing about with the national interest and economy. How stupid is that? There are so many possible solutions, but clearly it is the National Government’s call. Manila can only deal with its own problems.

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