Philippines' metro traffic blame game goes on

Philippines' metro traffic blame game goes on
Container trucks stick to the MMDA-designated “express trade lane” but cause an endless traffic tailback on Roxas Boulevard in the Philippines.

A BLAME game is in full swing following the horrendous traffic gridlock on Friday along the southbound lane of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and roads leading to the Port of Manila.

Brace yourself for at least two more weeks of the same.

Authorities could not agree on a single cause of the widespread traffic gridlock: Was it due to the one-truck lane policy, coordination failure among traffic enforcement groups in the metropolis, or the sheer volume of cargo trucks moving their container vans from the Port of Manila to the Port of Subic?

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Francis Tolentino blamed the gridlock on Friday on the heavy volume of cargo trucks getting their container vans out of the port premises, a pileup caused by the slow processing of incoming trucks by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

The massive truck movement was also the result of a directive from Malacañang that ordered truckers to move their container vans from the Port of Manila to the Port of Subic, according to Larry Castro of Caloocan's Department of Public Safety and Traffic Management.

Tolentino said the port was at full capacity and it would take at least two weeks to decongest it.

The traffic gridlock on Friday started at 5 a.m. By 4:22 p.m., the queue of southbound vehicles exiting NLEx at Edsa-Balintawak had extended all the way to the NLEx exit at Meycauyan, Bulacan province, prompting pedestrians and commuters to walk or jump traffic barriers to get out of the expressway.

Counterflow scheme

The MMDA chair said the agency had already advised private vehicles coming from the north to take the Mindanao Avenue exit. He added that the MMDA was also planning to implement a counterflow scheme to ease the traffic problem.

"The PPA should expedite their internal processes to allow the faster entry and exit of trucks getting their container vans inside PPA premises," Tolentino said.

The NLEx had earlier tweeted on its site that the traffic was caused by the MMDA's "one-truck lane policy," a claim immediately denied by Tolentino, who said that the one-truck lane policy was only observed along C-5 road and Roxas Boulevard, a 24/7 truck express lane.

The NLEx traffic site quickly apologised and retracted its tweet.

"@MMDA On behalf of our company, we apologise for what was tweeted. We don't mean to cause any harm. We hope for your understanding," @NLEx Traffic tweeted.

Tolentino said the agency had implemented a "one-truck lane"/ queuing scenario along C-3 because of the limited capacity of the road and the heavy volume of trucks going to the port. He added that some road repairs along C-3 also contributed to the traffic problem.

"Many people thought that there was a one-truck lane policy along NLEx, A. Bonifacio and C-3, that caused the heavy traffic. (B)ut there is none. The buildup was caused by the sheer volume of cargo trucks going to and coming from the Manila port," the MMDA chair explained.

Netizens had expressed their frustration over the traffic situation on social media, with some of them saying that their usual 15-minute ride from nearby areas in Bulacan had stretched to more than an hour.

All lanes southbound to Metro Manila were affected.

No blaming

Marlene Ochoa, vice president of corporate communications of the Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC), said that apart from increasing traffic patrol teams and informing motorists via social media sites about the traffic situation, the company will also consider a single-lane truck scheme within NLEx.

Ochoa stopped short of blaming any group for the traffic queue that some reports described as being nine kilometers long, but she said it was likely an external issue.

"Our traffic record speaks for itself, this does not happen in NLEx," Ochoa said in an interview on Friday.

In an earlier Radyo Inquirer interview, Jeffrey Vendevil, traffic control supervisor of NLEx, had blamed the one-lane policy for trucks for the gridlock. "Trucks attempting to get out of NLEx are being slowed down, and that blocks the other vehicles going out of the expressway," he said.

He added that despite the one-lane policy, the long body and sheer size of the cargo trucks had resulted in them using two lanes in areas like C-3 and 5th Avenue in Caloocan. This, in turn, blocked other vehicles, causing a pileup.

Rhoderick Tongol of Malabon's Public Safety and Traffic Management Office, meanwhile, said the city had also been implementing its own one-lane policy, although the heavy traffic only started on Tuesday.

"We've decided to implement our own experimental one-lane policy for trucks," Tongol said, adding that he and representatives of Caloocan, Navotas and Valenzuela traffic offices and the MMDA North Camanava Sector had met at the Malabon City Hall a week ago to discuss their response to Manila's one-lane policy.

Like a funnel

Heavy traffic was to be expected from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the only window in the truck ban when trucks can go out and deliver their cargo, he said. Tongol said there should be better coordination among the different parties. "In NLEx they can use all (the) lanes," he said, adding that in the Camanava areas, the trucks are being controlled like a funnel.

"NLEx should implement its own one lane," he said.

Despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic, they still have control over the situation, Tongol said. "When there's too much traffic, we reroute the trucks by making them pass through C-4, Letre and Dagat-dagatan. The private cars and public utility vehicles can still pass through all our roads."

Castro also pointed to the practice among some truckers of parking on roads leading to the port area while waiting out the truck ban as aggravating the problem. He said members of their special operations unit had been tasked to focus on those areas.

Ochoa said the MNTC was currently reviewing a measure to limit trucks plying NLEx to a single "dedicated lane." The company was also deploying more traffic patrol teams in coordination with the MMDA "to direct traffic in the Edsa-Balintawak Cloverleaf, the Mindanao Avenue Link and the Balintawak-Bonifacio road."

"The traffic patrols will guide trucks to the inner lanes dedicated to them while also guiding cars and other vehicles to the free lanes," Ochoa said.

"Our Bocaue Toll Plaza tellers had also been instructed to provide traffic updates to motorists… in addition to the updates on @Nlex Traffic on Twitter and NLigtas app," she added.

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