Traffic and Transit in Metro Manila: Treatment Vs. Cure

Treatment vs Cure

The greatest mistake in public policy is when bureaucrats enforce or experiment with treatments for symptoms and never deal with or contemplate on curing the root of the disease. You can constantly pump in pain killers in a person and relieve pain temporarily but it will eventually go back if you do not diagnose and cure what's causing the pain. The same applies in traffic.

Traffic is an organic phenomena. Milton Friedman once said that people vote with their feet and flock to places where there is more opportunity. This has been the case for migration since the dawn of civilization. The trend of migration has always been towards places where there is more freedom than less freedom, regardless of abundance of available natural resources (just look at Hong Kong or Singapore that have almost zero natural resources).

And so when there is heavy traffic and congestion, there is a reason why people are flocking to that location and this reason is almost always related to opportunities brought about by economic freedom. This is why people are flocking to and creating congestion in Metro Manila, specifically in the business districts.

No matter what kind of treatment you enforce (truck bans, coding schemes, counter-flow schemes), the root cause remains. Just my two cents, here are some viable solutions that I recommend:

Decentralize Imperial Manila, Empower Provinces

I actually recently wrote about traffic in my article about Queuing Theory and Government as it is something I experience firsthand almost every day. I talked about how the Iloilo mayor has put in place pro-market reforms such as reducing red tapes for business permits that are very attractive to investors and local entry-level players to invest and create jobs. And big investors are already starting to flock to Iloilo (so he reported).

I've always made a case for local governments to have the ability to decide their own policies so that
there will be competition among them and people will get to compare and contrast and once again vote with their feet. In the end, bad policies die and good policies thrive and go viral.

It will not take very long at all. Putting in place policies that are in favor of economic freedom will hasten development. Privatizing public land has been proven to improve development and even generate infrastructure. Just look at Bonifacio Global City's developments. There are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs there now and just less than a decade ago, in the hands of the government, it wasn't being utilized. The same can be made in the big unused spaces we have in the provinces.

Another concrete example would be Gurgaon City in India. Most multinational companies in the world have now invested there with very minimal government intervention or taxpayer burden. I've written about it before (see Gurgaon City in India - Growth and Progress When there is Absence of Government).

We can create Charter Cities. We have more than 7,000 islands all of which have the potential to exceed the prosperity and opportunities that the islands of Hong Kong and Singapore have.
Taking power from the national government and from imperial Manila and giving sovereignty to local governments will deflect traffic and population congestion in Metro Manila and at the same time empower citizens in provinces, provide better jobs and infrastructure for them, and raise their standards of living.

Audit and Streamline Bureaucracy, Enforce the Rule of Law

ASBU enforcers in Pioneer St.
On the right side is a photo I took of ASBU enforcers mandated to stop motorists whose vehicles are suspected to be smoke-belching. Aside from only causing traffic and breeding corruption, isn't there already an emmision test to begin with when you register your vehicle in LTO? If that is not efficient then the solution is to make it efficient and not create another bureaucracy. That's just one example. These ASBU people who stop motorists just add to the traffic.

We must minimize government and take out these kinds of redundancies. There are tons of overlapping and redundant bureaucracies that govern our roads and highways: DPWH, DOTC, MMDA, LTFRB, bureaus and traffic enforcers in the LGUs, and many more. Accountability is blurred and there's very little or no check and balance at all.

MMDA and DPWH pointing fingers at each other
What we need is concise and specific roles of government agencies and for them to be transparent in their spending. If policies they enact do not achieve the objectives or preferred KPIs, these policies should be amended or abolished. Policies should be self-repealing if they fail. The same goes for the bureaucrats who set them. Remember that many of them are unelected and merely appointed out of convenience or connection. It should be in stated in their contract that they be relieved of duty if their objectives are not met to give way for more competent people.

Most especially, streamline LTO to make sure that motorists know fully the real road rules and regulations that must be followed (see also The Driver's License in the Philippines is a Joke). Seminars and penalties must be fixed and made legitimate. Queuing in the LTO must also be managed as well so that the demand for fixers will be eliminated. The same applies for all agencies I mentioned that will be left once the redundancies have been cut.

This portion of my recommendation is more a holistic streamlining of agencies and not just specifically MMDA.

Government Agencies Should Utilize Social Media

I've written about this before in my article Why Governments Should Emulate Globe Telecom's Social Media Initiatives. Giving the taxpayers the ability to inquire and provide a check and balance to our government would be an amazing breakthrough and is a step in the right direction. In the article in the link, I provided an example of how LTFRB could use it for the "How's My Driving?" question that's in the back of public vehicles.

Follow Traffic Rules and Regulations

Now that we've tackled the problems on the side of governance, we must also check our own responsibilities as motorists and citizens. There are some that are very basic:  no littering in the streets, crossing through proper pedestrian lanes, following of road signs, following the proper lanes, etc.

Jeepneys and buses should stay in their lanes and stop only in specific stops and not just anywhere they want. This is something that has never been implemented especially for jeeps as this has already been part of our traditional means of public transportation. Rules must be put in place and must be enforced regarding this.

Initiatives in carpooling will also be a great contribution in decreasing the volume of traffic and can save you money at the same time. is an interesting start-up that's like the couch-surfing of commuting.


My recommendations are almost useless, really, as we'd probably have to rewrite the constitution and assume that the members of the constitutional assembly are benevolent and will embrace principles of economic freedom and decentralization. We'd probably be lobbying bureaucrats and legislators to cut their spending and make their jobs more efficient (what incentive do they have to do that?).

My aim is simple and that is to share these ideas of civil liberties and economic freedom and show how much we can benefit from them. The pen is mightier than the sword. I'm no engineer or queuing theory expert. I'm just a simple citizen who hates heavy traffic with a passion. If Malcolm Gladwell is right about his 10,000 hours idea then I'm probably already an outlier of EDSA.

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