By Henry Motte-Munoz
Epifanio De Los Santos, commonly referred to as EDSA, is the key arterial road of Manila, a city with 12 million inhabitants and the capital of the Philippines. Stretching 24 kilometers with 6 lanes each way, it is the longest and most congested thoroughfare in Manila, and despite its circumferential nature, is the main North-South transportation corridor. ~350,000 people use it daily, with much of the traffic caused by 4,000 semi-empty private buses fighting for commuters. Solving the “EDSA problem” has eluded presidents, mayors and dictators for decades – should it be viewed as an infrastructure or policy problem?
- 1. Previous Solutions
In 1999, a Metro Rail Transit (MRT 3) was opened in the heart of EDSA; despite criticisms of poorly accessible stations and limited capacity, it now serves ~500,000 daily users. Continued traffic, however, suggests that this merely matched growing transit. Policy measures such as alternative-number plate (circumvented by buying fictitious license plates) or designated bus pick-up areas (not addressing the oversupply of empty buses), have mostly failed.
This would suggest hard infrastructure, usually financed by the private sector, is the only viable option; however, I would argue that both infrastructure and policy measures are required to eradicate congestion.
- 2. Hard Infrastructure
- EDSA road quality: the government has recently announced a PHP 4 billion ($100m) program to repave EDSA. This is an inefficient allocation of scarce government capital – the few potholes that dot EDSA are fairly irrelevant on an artery with 15km/h average speeds.
- MRT improvements: Commuters are packed like sardines– the government should allocate the $100m from paving towards increasing rolling stock; it should also accelerate bidding out other MRT / LRT lines to reduce road usage demand (Exhibit 2)
- NLEX / SLEX connector: the government has allowed two of the largest conglomerates in the country to push through with separate NLEX / SLEX connectors on a BoT basis. This will remove all the price-insensitive North-South traffic at no government cost (Exhibit 3)
- 3. Policy Measures
- Pollution standards: enforcing existing standards on car emissions could easily remove 10-20% of private vehicles & buses. However, this would require going head to head with the vote-rich private minibus / jeepney operators, and the politically well-connected (often retired army generals) private bus operators
- BRT lite: the government should levy a small but increasing fee per bus to operate in Manila. As Bogota showed, merely controlling bus capacity in one artery causes all the buses to move to other areas – congestion is merely displaced. Unfortunately for Manila, a full BRT system would be difficult to implement as the bus operators are too concentrated and powerful.
There is no silver bullet for EDSA’s congestion, but three policies stand out: bid out profitable routes to the private sector to remove price-insensitive traffic; a deeply integrated city-wide system is superior to multiple transit options on a single lane; use environmental standards to slowly improve vehicle utilization and tighten the noose around rent-seeking monopolies. No epiphany, but a start nonetheless.
Exhibit 1: EDSA
Exhibit 2: Existing & Proposed MRT / LRT network in Manila
Exhibit 3: Existing & Proposed Road network in Manila