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Metro: a Special Report on Cebu’s Traffic Problems and Solutions

Metro: a Special Report on Cebu’s Traffic Problems and Solutions

The increasing number of vehicles, the government’s failure to construct more road networks or even widen the existing roads and the problem about undisciplined drivers are the main reasons why our roads have become congested.

Based on the records of the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the total number of registered vehicles nationwide continues to increase every year, including those in Central Visayas (CenVis), particularly in Cebu City and in other nearby cities.

As shown in LTO’s data, out of the 7,463,393 motor vehicles registered nationwide as of last December, there are 625,318 registered in Cebu and in other parts of the region.

In 2010, there were only 521,903 vehicles registered in CenVis which increased in 2011 with 574,640.

Within Cebu City, motorists usually experience heavy traffic from seven to nine o’clock in the morning and five to seven o’clock in the evening, particularly in Governor Mariano Cuenco Avenue.

This is also experienced in General Maxilom Avenue, Osmeña Boulevard, Imus Avenue, Natalio Bacalso Avenue, B. Rodriguez Street, Escario Street and Gorordo Avenue.

Ruben Almendras, chairman of the Cebu City Traffic Operations Management (Citom) Board, said the city is already experiencing heavy traffic, although it is still fortunate that the traffic situation in Cebu is much better compared to Manila.

In fact, Almendras said motorists in Cebu City still move at 22 kilometer-per-hour (KPH) even during peak hours.

But he pointed out that the heightened traffic congestion in Cebu City and in other parts of Metro Cebu needs to be addressed immediately as it may discourage potential investors from bringing in more businesses in the Queen City of the South.

Citom’s Executive Director Rafael Christopher Yap said of all the roads in Cebu City, they consider the stretch of Governor Mariano Cuenco Avenue, otherwise known as the Banilad-Talamban road as the most problematic road in the city.

“Bisan og dili pa peak hours kanunay lang nga congested sa mga sakyanan ang maong karsada ug mosamot na nga hapit dili makasibog ang sakyanan during peak hours (Even if it’s not peak hours, the road is always congested. This becomes more of a problem during peak hours when vehicles are unable to move),” Yap said.

According to Yap, the government failed to foresee the problem of traffic congestion when the Banilad-Talamban road was constructed several years ago.

Primarily, another parallel road near Governor Mariano Cuenco Avenue should have been built to serve as an alternate road for the thousands of people residing in Talamban and in other neighboring barangays.

The other road parallel to Banilad-Talamban is the Hernan Cortes Avenue, which is already situated in Mandaue City and a kilometer-away from the Governor Mariano Cuenco Avenue. The Hernan Cortes Avenue is the road connecting H. Fortuna Street in Banilad to M.J. Cuenco Avenue.

Several years ago, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) widened the Governor Mariano Cuenco Avenue from corner Salinas Drive in Lahug to Banilad.

However, it did not completely solve the problem.

The DPWH again allocated P150 million for the widening of the Governor Mariano Cuenco Avenue from Banilad to Talamban and the project is expected to be started this month.

To further help the traffic congestion along the Banilad-Talamban road, Almendras said the Citom Board passed a resolution recommending the City Council to request officials of the Armed Forces Central Command to allow passage of any type of vehicle inside Camp Lapu-Lapu in Barangay Apas.

Both Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and Cebu Governor Hilario Davide Jr. strongly supported the said proposal of Citom.

“Initially, ang pagpaagi lang usa sa mga sakyanan diha sa kampo ang atong ihangyo, but eventually papahawaon g’yud na sila diha. A military camp has no business in the central business area of the city because in case of rebellion daghan kaayo ang maangin. They should move out to the western part of the province – to Balamban (Initially, the passage of vehicles through the camp is what we requested. But eventually, they would have to transfer),” said Almendras.

Undisciplined Drivers

Undisciplined drivers, usually of Public Utility Jeepneys (PUJs) and taxis, contribute to the traffic congestion as traffic signs are blatantly ignored to pick up or drop passengers, even in places where stopping is strictly prohibited, consequently obstructing the flow of traffic.

Yap of Citom explained that PUJ drivers are forced to violate traffic laws because of the stiff competition over other PUJs, for them to get the most number of passengers to at least make up for the rental of their units.

“Mapugos mi pag-violate sa balaud kay ang pasahero anha man ‘sab maghuwat og kasakyan sa no stopping area. Badlongon ‘sab unta kana sila sa mga traffic enforcer. Kun dili kami mopasakay dili mi makaabang sa among unit. (We are forced to violate the law since passengers also wait in no stopping areas. Traffic enforcers should also reprimand them. If we don’t get passengers, we can’t rent our units),” PUJ driver Esmael Colina said.

Ahmed Cuizon, the regional director of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) in Central Visayas, said there are about 5,000 PUJs plying in different routes in Cebu City alone.

The LTO road enforcers, including the members of the Task Force Alpha (TFA), made 83,289 apprehensions of erring drivers in 2010. The following year it went up to 101,855 but decreased though to 84,794 in 2012. Most of the apprehensions were done in Cebu City.

Yap said educating drivers on how to use our roads is another way to address the problem on traffic congestion. “Driver’s education is very important because if we can only discipline ourselves daku na kaayo na og matampo sa traffic solution.” He said.

Apprehending the erring drivers is also educating them of the traffic laws,” he added.

He also shared an observation that in some LTO district offices, the policy in requiring applicants of driver’s license to attend seminars tackling the provisions of the Transportation and Traffic Code is not strictly implemented which is why many drivers do not know the meaning of some traffic signs.

Yap said the process on securing driver’s licenses in the Philippines is not that strict unlike in the United States. “Dili man kaayo effective ang pag-attend og seminar sa LTO compared sa States where securing drivers’ licenses are very strict. Dinhi maminaw ka lang og seminar kakuha na’g lisensya (Attending the seminar of LTO is not that effective compared in the States where securing driver’s licenses are very strict. Here, you just attend a seminar and you get a license).”

Citom enforcer Renato Generoso, who has been a traffic enforcer for 17 years already, attested that there are really a lot of drivers who are not knowledgeable of traffic signs. “Daghan g’yud nga mga drayber sa PUJ nga dili gani makasabot unsay kahulogan sa mga traffic signs. Maglisud gani’g suwat sa ilang ngalan. Ug miagi lang g’yud unta sila og proceso sa LTO makamao g’yud unta tingali (There are really a lot of PUJ drivers that do not understand traffic signs. They even have a hard time writing their name. If only they went through the proper process in LTO, they would know these).”

But for LTO Agent Bimboy Arnaiz, the strict and fair enforcement of traffic laws is the best way to educate the drivers for them to think twice before violating road regulations.

LTO-7 Acting Regional Director Arnel Tancinco and Citom’s Yap agreed that apart from the widening of roads in some areas of the city, new road networks should be constructed to help minimize the traffic congestion.

In Manila, traffic authorities have already tried the “Odd-Even” scheme where vehicles with plate numbers ending in odd and even numbers alternately travel only in allowed days.

But Yap explained that he is not convinced with the policy since the wealthy can just buy another vehicle.

“Modaghan hinoon ang sakyanan kon ipatuman ang Odd-Even scheme kay ang mga datu mopalit ra man og laing sakyanan (That would just result to more cars since the rich can just buy another car).”

As another way to decongest the roads, Yap and LTFRB’s Cuizon, including Almendras, supported the suggestion that the LTO should no longer renew registration papers of dilapidated vehicles as well as to ensure that vehicle owners should have their own garage to prevent them from parking their vehicles along the road.

Transportation officials in Cebu City have decided to come up with a 10-year Traffic Management Plan to address the traffic congestion problem brought by the increasing number of motor vehicles while there are no constructions of new road networks.

Ruben Almendras, who assumed as Chairman of the City Traffic Operations Management (CITOM) Board two months ago, was surprised when he learned that the city does not have a long-term traffic management plan.

Almendras said he will try his best to be able to put up a traffic management plan before his term at CITOM ends. The plan, he said, will serve as guide on how to address the problem about traffic congestion in the city in the coming years.

At an average of 50,000 new vehicles every year in Central Visayas, most of which are in Cebu City, the existing 625,318 registered vehicles in the region may already reach 1 million in 2023.

“We should win away the mindset of the people to convince them not to buy vehicles, but to support the mass transport system like the Bus Rapid Transit and other mass transports. Having vehicles are more costly because you buy fuel, spend for its maintenance, registration and insurance, and liability in case the vehicle met an accident,” Citom Executive Director Rafael Christopher Yap said.

There is supposed to be a policy not to renew the registration of dilapidated vehicles to help decongest our roads but this was not strictly implemented by the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

LTO’s Arnel Tancinco admitted that there are so many vehicles, both public and private, that are already dilapidated but are still being used. He, however, did not explain why the registration papers of these vehicles have been renewed by the LTO.

Build New Roads…Fast

Although the government – through the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) – wants to build more roads in major cities like Cebu City, this cannot be done simultaneously because of limited funds.

The existence of a budget is also not an assurance that a road construction or widening project will go smoothly. One example is the road widening project in M. Velez Street near the Capitol building.

In 2011, the DPWH Central Office allocated P28 million for the completion the widening of a short stretch of M. Velez Street going to another road beside the Capitol building. The area is one of the places that usually experiences traffic congestions during peak hours, particularly in the afternoon and early evening. Despite the funding however, the project has not been completed until now because of right of way problems.

Traffic congestion contributes to the loss of millions of pesos every year in the country, particularly in Metro Manila, because of the wasted gasoline, electricity, man-hours and hiring of traffic aides to man the traffic.

“Kami ang mga drayber maoy maalkanse pag-ayo kon grabe kaayo ang traffic kay dako ang magamit namo nga fuel unya gamay ra ang maplete. Pero wala man ta’y mahimo bisan pa’g moreklamo pa,” PUJ driver Jesus Montecalvo said.

Both Almendras and Yap are afraid that Cebu City may soon experience heavy traffic congestions like what is experienced in Manila if the government will not properly address the problem.

“Mao na nga giingnan nako ang taga DPWH nga paspasi ninyo ang widening of roads ug ang paghimo’g mga bag-ong karsada kay daghan man og kwarta ang gobyerno,” the Citom chairman said.

Illegal Parking

The illegal parking of vehicles also contribute to traffic congestions that is why Yap requested City Hall to purchase two more tow trucks to augment Citom’s one and only tow truck. “Definitely our campaign against illegally-parked vehicles will be intensified if Citom will be provided with additional tow trucks.”

Mayor Michael Rama said he will look into Yap’s recommendation, adding that he already gave an authority to Citom enforcers to tow vehicles that are obstructing the flow of traffic, pedestrian lanes and the access roads in the barangays, especially at night.

Aside from the towing of illegally-parked vehicles, Citom enforcers will also clamp those vehicles that will be caught illegally parked along sidewalks, obstructing the passage of pedestrians.

Almendras had also coordinated with the Office of the Building Officials (OBO) to make sure that construction of new buildings will not be allowed in areas where DPWH has plans for road widening projects.

At present, there is an ongoing road widening project along the Archbishop Reyes Avenue near the flyover in Barangay Luz and the widening of the sidewalk along Salinas Drive across the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Defective Automatic Traffic Control System

Aside from the increasing volume of vehicles, Cebu City is also faced with a defective traffic control system.

Almendras, however, said that CITOM already sent a letter requesting the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to shoulder the cost of the repair and rehabilitation of the traffic sensors in Cebu City.

He said the defective electronic traffic control system called SCATS or Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System installed in 1990 can no longer coordinate the signals from one intersection to another.

The gadgets buried beneath the road near the intersections are designed to transmit signals to the main traffic control. When the gadgets were still working, these were able to automatically adjust the signal’s pre-timed phase lengths in response to traffic flow. If the sensor does not detect any vehicles, the controller automatically transmits a red signal and simultaneously a green signal for the other side of the road.

The cost of the repair and renovation, including the purchase of some extra spare parts, is about P163 million.

More Terminals, Too

Another solution to the traffic problem in the city, Almendras said, is to allow more private vehicle terminals to operate in the city so that instead of going around the streets, public utility vehicles (PUV’s) will just wait for passengers at the terminals.

Almendras said there are already two proposals from the private sector who are interested to operate PUV terminals in the city.

At present the PUV terminals in the south district are the South Bus Terminal and the Citilink Terminal along Natalio Bacalso Avenue. The terminals in the north, meanwhile, are in White Gold, SM City and at the Ayala Center.

There is an existing city ordinance that prohibits all PUJs operating outside Cebu City routes from plying the city streets. These vehicles are only allowed to load and unload passengers in the terminals accredited by the city.

A Third Bridge

Aside from having more PUV terminals, Almendras said the construction of a third bridge that will link mainland Cebu to Cordova is also necessary so that vehicles coming from the southern municipalities that are going to Mactan will no longer pass by Cebu City and Mandaue City.

The Citom chairman agreed with the observation of then Cebu City south district Rep. Tomas Osmeña that the construction of a bridge along the old Compania Maritima building near City Hall and to the former “Shell Island” in Cordova, just across Carbon Market, could affect the economic growth of the city because the big vessels can no longer enter the Cebu City port.

But Almendras said the architects and the engineers should know how to solve this problem so that the project can still push through and big vessels can still have access to the area.