Traffic Theories

My September 13, 2015 column.
The theory that happens to be the current favorite of the apologists of the Aquino administration is the volume of vehicles theory. According to this theory, the monumental traffic that beleaguers Filipinos today is caused mainly by the fact that there are just too many vehicles on the road. The proposed solution, therefore, is vehicle reduction—something that was naturally met by a lot of caterwauling. There’s already a vehicle reduction scheme in place that grounds vehicles on certain days based on their plate numbers so yet another scheme would be a cruel imposition. 
There are many things wrong with the volume of vehicle theory, foremost of which is that it renders analytical thinking irrelevant. It’s like saying that the science and technology at our disposal and the combined intelligence of all the people in government are of no use—we might as well just replace everything and everyone with people whose only job is to count vehicles. But my main problem with the people who lean on this theory is that they don’t acknowledge the logical implication of the theory, which is that it is tantamount to admission of incompetence and ineptitude. Projecting the increase of the volume of vehicles is the easiest thing in the world; sales of automobiles are monitored for taxation and for other economic reasons. This data is readily available and simple trend analysis could do the rest of the work. So the question is, what has been done in preparation for the projected increase in vehicles on the road in the last five years?
Linked to the volume of vehicle theory is the complexity theory that is now being peddled alongside a sub-theory on long-term solutions. According to proponents of this theory, the traffic problem is a complex phenomenon that requires multiple and long-term solutions. To the people who have been mouthing this excuse, I say: Nice try, but no cigar. Of course the darn thing is complex and requires long-term solutions, which is why there are government agencies and hundreds of people supposed to be working on fixing it. But my beef with this theory is that there is not a single person in this country who wants a miracle in Edsa— we all just want traffic to move at a reasonable pace. Our expectations are actually quite low. By all means, go ahead and think of long-term solutions, but don’t use that as an excuse not to pursue immediate solutions to alleviate the gridlock on the road.
The traffic-as-sign-of-progress theory could have been amusing, if it weren’t for the fact that some people actually seemed to believe it. I am sure that there is some empirical basis for the theory, but when we consider the monumental economic costs that traffic brings to business and to individual citizens (and we’re not talking about the medical, social, psychological, and other toll traffic brings), it would be like adding insult to injury to even hint that traffic has its beneficial effects.
There are the methods and technology theories that have been championed to various degrees by certain government officials. These theories build on the assumption that if we upgrade the systems, methods, and technologies around traffic management, traffic congestion will be reduced. I don’t necessarily disagree with these theories—except that even the most advanced methods, systems, and technologies will not work unless the people component is addressed.
And this is where and when I reiterate what I feel has been most overlooked in the whole discussion: the traffic problem is first and foremost a people management issue. We have monstrous traffic jams because there is breakdown in discipline and courtesy on our roads. The traffic congestion is caused not by vehicles per se, but by drivers who lack the necessary competencies that should be required of anyone before being given the license to drive. There is mayhem on our roads because there is breakdown of values during crunch situations—everyone becomes blind and deaf to everyone and everything else. It’s every man to his own. The solution is enforcement, communication, education, and most important of all, collaboration. The key that binds all these together is leadership.


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