EIGHTY percent of road space is dedicated to private vehicles. This was one of the main talking points of the recent #FreeToMove (FTM) talks held in Baguio City, at the esteemed Camp John Hay.

Last Saturday, representatives of multiple sectors including various government entities met at the Camp for the FTM talks. 

FTM is a discussion on urban mobility, a topic that has become hotter and hotter as traffic continues to grow in the Philippines. Traffic remains a struggle for the common folk, many of whom have to contend with long queues and lengthened trips. While the worst of it is concentrated mainly in the National Capital Region (NCR), traffic continues to be an issue in urbanized areas such as Baguio City.

And with projections suggesting that 68 percent of the national population will be in urban areas by 2050, it is a discussion that remains salient.

Data presented by one of the talk’s speakers, Ira Cruz, the director of advocacy group AltMobility PH (AMPH), indicates that 80 percent of all road space is dedicated to and consumed by private vehicles.

And yet, data also indicates that 88 percent of households in Metro Manila – and an average of more than 90 percent outside – do not own private vehicles. As Cruz would put it, “We are reserving 80 percent of our roads for 12 percent of the people.”

Data like this drives the core of the AMPH and the FTM advocacy. They see the current system as inefficient, prioritizing the wealthy few over the needs of the less fortunate many.

 

The advocacy

With such data informing their decisions, AMPH and the members of the FTM advocacy are advocating for a much-needed change. Alternative methods of transport are one of the big talking points here. In particular, they advocate for the inclusion of biking into the calculus of transportation, as well as the strengthening of public transport.

According to Cruz, while the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has yet to reactivate all routes of public transport, which were already lacking prior to the pandemic, commuters continue to have to struggle with extremely packed, unreliable, and ultimately difficult public transportation systems.

“People have accepted the reality that commuting is hard, when in reality, it doesn’t have to be,” Cruz says.

Congestion, Cruz says, is a problem, but is a symptom of a root cause and not the cause itself. The cause, he says, is a system that prioritizes the few over the many.

“50 percent of city space is used for cars, and this doesn’t even include parking spaces. And there is induced demand when they widen the roads. Widening the roads just makes more people get cars. If you build it, they will come,” Cruz says.

But there is a limit. The roads can only be made so wide, and city space will be a limiting factor. So, instead, Cruz calls on local governments to build alternative transportation options.

Citing Pasig as an example, AMPH among other things advocates for the installation of a proper biking network of bike lanes and bike-friendly infrastructure instead of investing into more road widening projects that support private cars such as the planned Pasig River Expressway (PAREX). It should be no surprise that AMPH opposes the PAREX as opposed to its principles, being an expensive “solution” that would once again cater only to those that have private vehicles.

In addition to advocacies, the AMPH has also taken moves to partner with the government in hopes of getting action on the public transport issue. 

“We’ve presented our ‘low-hanging fruits,’ our easier demands for commuter welfare to the Department of Transportation (DOTr),” Cruz says. “We’ve pushed for the Magna Carta of Commuters in Congress. Political will really is important in this matter.”

Among the low hanging fruits are demands for sufficient public transportation that is at least capable of covering 15 kilometers per hour – a slow pace, but current figures in parts of congested Metro Manila are much slower.

Other pushes include the removal of incentives for on-street competition by strengthening the public transport system, and changing the compensation system for public transport stakeholders to ensure reliability.

While the most obvious example of the problems highlighted by AMPH are in Metro Manila, with projections of growing urbanization, it is likely to also become a talking point outside of the capital.

Cruz himself says that it is best to “start local, and start now.” Part of the advocacy thrust of the AMPH is to involve local governments, who best understand the needs on the ground, and who are best positioned to start reclaiming roads for commuter and biker use.

The AMPH also recommended to Baguio City to close certain streets permanently to vehicular traffic, and to dedicate their use to pedestrians and bikers. This is a push they have recommended to many local governments.

“Local governments were on the rise during the pandemic. We hope to capture that momentum and use it to help the commuters, the poorer majority,” Cruz said.

“We are really pushing for improving mobility for all, not just the few. The needs of the majority need to be met. And when you design for the most vulnerable, you design for all,” Cruz says.