Culture Feature Stories

I Love Cars and Driving, But…

What I love from Japan that I hope would be applicable in the Philippines.

As I write this down, my laptop is still under repair, and I am typing this on my iPad instead, which is why you might be wondering about Go Flat Out’s low activity.

Just having returned from a trip to Japan, it always amazes me how their train system is so diverse. The country is basically my second home, as I have been there countless times both as a tourist and as an international student. I enjoy going from Shinjuku to Odaiba purely using the JR East Lines, Odakyu Lines, and the Rinkai Line. Not only is it less expensive than when I rent a car, or take a taxi, it’s also more efficient, as each train station services multiple train lines.

I also like the fact that when I travel long distances in Japan, I have options aside from driving or taking a long distance bus trip. I could take either the plane, or better yet, the Shinkansen. I am always excited whenever I take the Shinkansen, or bullet train to English folks. Blistering at more than 200 kph through multiple Japanese landscapes is always going to be a treat for me, especially if the Tokaido Shinkansen reaches/passes Shin-Fuji station, depending if you’re taking the Nozomi Express or not.

Japan, with a land area of 377,972 square kilometers, and a population of 126,672,000 people as of the 2017 census, its population and land area is somewhat comparable to the Philippines, which is at 343,448 square kilometers, and 100,987,427 people. Japan’s overall population density is at 336 people per square kilometer, while the Philippines has 294 people per square kilometer.

Japan sold 5,234,166 vehicles in 2017, while the Philippines only sold 473,943 vehicles in the same year. Theoretically speaking, Japan should be more congested and have more intense traffic than the Philippines, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The folks from Waze have determined from their study that Manila is the worst city to drive in the world. If Japan sold more than 10 times the amount of cars compared to the Philippines, and yet here we are, driving through the world’s largest parking lot called Metro Manila, what gives?

As I return from my trip to Japan, here are three things that I always appreciate in Japan that in my opinion, could be some of the possible solutions to Manila’s traffic problem.

1. A More Diverse Rail Network

Trains serve as Japan’s transporation network backbone. Due to its sheer diversity, reliability, safety, and record punctuality, the Japanese train system is sometimes considered the best in the world. Sure, I like cars and driving, but if there are alternatives to driving that would include the development of such a train system in the Philippines, I would happily leave my car at home when commuting to my daily businesses and errands.

Imagine if you could travel by train from Manila all the way to Albay comfortably, safely, and reliably. Many people would not need to take the bus, nor bring their car to travel that far. That reduction in passengers taking the bus can contribute to a noticeable improvement in the queuing situation in our bus terminals during long holidays, and a reduction in the number of buses plying the highways.

Trains can also carry cargo, and if the rail network of the Philippine were to be a good as Japan’s, there would be a reduction of trucks plying our highways, too. As it stands, trucks are our only method of transporting goods and services across industries in our country, and yet, trucks are also the ones subjected to very strict road regulations in a bid to reduce congestion, such as truck bans, which only give trucks a small window hour to drive through Manila.

The lack of different transportation modes also contribute to road congestion. If more people take road-based transportation than what the road can handle, it will only lead to further congestion. According to the MMDA, it is projected that 400,000 cars will pass through EDSA daily this year, double that of what EDSA is designed to handle in its current state.

The ultimate step in reducing congestion is by providing commuters with a comfortable, reliable, and viable alternative to road-based transporation. The ultimate solution in my opinion is to create a diverse, reliable, comfortable, safe, and convenient train system. Simply creating a number coding scheme will not reduce traffic, as this will only lead to some people purchasing a second car. The key here is to provide an alternative, not remove the people’s sole and only mode of transportation.

2. A More Diverse Expressway Network

Prior to the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the city was facing the same problem that Manila is currently facing. In the midst of Japan’s Post War Economic Miracle, more people were able to afford cars, which led to an increased amount of cars plying Tokyo’s roads. At the time, Tokyo does not have an existing expressway, and as the Tokyo Olympics are on the horizon, Japan had to find a way to solve the capital’s traffic nightmares.

Just like Manila today, Tokyo has no more room to create its highway, so instead of building one at ground level, Japan decided to go on a no-holds-barred approach by building an expressway on top and under the city. Thus, the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway, also known as the Shuto Expressway, was born. It is an expressway that is familiar to JDM fans and Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune gamers alike.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway is strategically built around the ins and outs of the Greater Tokyo Area. It’s a diverse network of elevated and underground expressways that sneak through high rise buildings, all the way under sewage systems and the Tokyo Metro subway system. It’s an intricately engineered expressway that was designed out of sheer motivation by the country to solve its traffic woes.

The challenge among the engineers was that, they could not build an expressway at ground level. Instead, they built an expressway that ran through, above, and below the city’s already existing structures. While the project was very costly in the short term, the long term benefits outweigh the short term challenges. If it were not for the Metropolitan Expressway, Tokyo would be suffering bigger economic losses today due to congestion.

Tokyo’s long term decisions have definitely paid off. With the Greater Tokyo Area’s expansive road network, the Japanese capital has a vehicle density of 967 cars per square kilometer, against the Philippine capital’s 3,677 cars per square kilometer. Clearly, the growth of Manila’s road network has not been able to keep up with the growth of vehicles plying Manila’s roads. The traffic crisis in the Metro did not arrive in a snap, though. All the way back to the 1980s, several studies have already pointed to this day arriving soon.

This, however might be a huge challenge to the government, as many existing structures in Metro Manila are residential homes and condominiums. Many residents might not support the project if it means getting their home demolished.

3. Strict Driver Education and Examination

If something as simple as keeping an intersection clear challenges drivers, then they shouldn’t even have a license in the first place.

The Land Transportation Office is quite infamous for the presence of fixers, sub par examinations, and driver’s tests.

If licenses are handed to people like condominium brochures, then we are creating a lot of trouble here. Strict examination, testing, and evaluation is key in filtering out drivers that are mentally and physically unfit for the road. If only there are more knowledgeable drivers on the road, congestion will be greatly reduced. As it stands, many of the causes of Manila’s congestion are centered on human factors.

As long as people do not know how to keep an intersection clear, then the basic cause of traffic will not be solved anytime soon.

Moving Forward

With the current Duterte administration’s Build Build Build program in full swing, the administration promises to reduce poverty “from 21.6% in 2015 to 13%-15% by 2022” through the development and expansion of the country’s crumbling infrastructure. As more roads are built, more cities, islands, and provinces will be better integrated into the country’s economic supply chain, therefore bringing economic development to once poor or underdeveloped communities.

The program will address the nation’s shortage of roads, railways, and public transportation options. The project is massive, with the entire nation, and not just Metro Manila, benefiting from this project. As a matter of fact, Mindanao will be the project’s center point of this project. The Mindanao Railway Project will be one of the project’s highlights, which will give Mindanao a railway network to reduce the amount of trucks plying the southern island’s expressways.

Additionally, the government also has the Metro Manila Dream Plan, otherwise known as the JICA Dream Plan, or the NEDA Dream Plan. The study was conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the plan resulting from the study was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority. The Metro Manila Dream Plan’s key objectives, or “Five Nos” include: No Traffic Congestion; No Households Living in Hazardous Conditions; No Barriers for Seamless Mobility; No Excessive Cost Burden for Low Income Groups; and No Air Pollution.

The Metro Manila Dream Plan puts into light the current residential situation in Metro Manila, where some residents live in high risk areas from floods or even the potential of an earthquake due to the West Valley Fault. This will be achieved through a more comprehensive urban planning than before, restricting future development in areas such as the Marikina Valley, and also considering the mountains of Rizal and the shore of Laguna De Bay as an “eco-zone”

Additionally, the Metro Manila Dream Plan also answers the problem created by a limited amount of rail transportation. The project calls for the development of 246 kilometers worth of railway within and out towards the suburbs of Metro Manila. The creation of a massive rail network will spur development in areas that the railway network will pass through, and reduce the amount of people taking road-based transportation.

There is indeed hope. Beating Metro Manila’s traffic will be challenging, and will perhaps be the current administration’s greatest challenge during the entire 6-year term. The Build Build Build program seeks to have all these project completed by the end of the administration’s term in 2022, while the Metro Manila Dream Plan will go through until 2030. There is no shortcut in solving a traffic challenge that is Manila, and all we could hope for is for the project to go smoothly, as well as give out our full support for the project to flow smoothly.

I love cars and I love to drive, but for our city to move forward from its traffic woes, more roads, as well as a convenient, safe, and reliable alternative to cars is definitely needed.

Do you have more solutions in reducing Metro Manila traffic, or have we missed any points? Let us know in the comments section, and on Facebook.

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