Let us start with some statistics. The National Capital Region (NCR) occupies a land area of 620 square kilometers. The population is between 12-13 million at night, which balloons by 2-3 million at daytime, mostly from people from the NCR Plus area (Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite and Laguna). They come to the metro to work, study, and transact business, among others, since the metro offers many facilities and activities otherwise unavailable in other regions.
Population density is 21,600 per square kilometer. The NCR is the second most populous and the most densely populated region in the country. It is the 9th most populous metropolitan area in Asia and the 5th most populous urban area globally.
Now let us put in some statistics about the motor vehicle population in the country. 2019 data showed a total of 4.7 million registered motor vehicles nationwide, with the NCR cornering 1.5 million of them, a significant 32-percent share translating to 2,400 motor vehicles per square kilometer. The NCR has a total public road length of 3,000 kilometers, meaning every kilometer of road supports 500 motor vehicles. It is therefore easy to imagine why the NCR has one of the worst traffic conditions worldwide. It is simply a case of demand for road space being higher than the road supply capacity.
There had been a spate of road construction, especially during the incumbency of the current president with its Build, Build, Build mantra. One of the more significant road additions to the NCR was the extension of the existing Skyway system, which initially spanned from Alabang to Buendia, about 20 kilometers. The extension from Buendia to Balintawak, the Skyway stage 3, covers about 20 kilometers as well. The Skyway, end-to-end, covers around 40 kilometers. It is an engineering feat considering it is the only one in the country and is envisioned to alleviate the traffic gridlock in the metro.
At this early stage of its operation, it is indeed a welcome alternate route. Still, many motorists are not using it as expected due to the prohibitive toll they will have to pay to use the elevated road. The cheapest toll in the Skyway stage 3 system starting in Buendia going northbound is P105 up to Quirino and Nagtahan, covering a distance of about three kilometers. The total toll to Balintawak is P264. Travel time is cut to just about 20 minutes compared to the two hours it would take at the at-grade level, a significant benefit in terms of savings in time, gasoline, driver well-being and pollution impact. However, for a regular car owner, the toll is a daunting amount to contend with, especially if we consider the round-trip total. Hence, the pricing already has an exclusion factor.
But the more significant adverse impact of the Skyway system is it is not an inclusive road system. From the statistics presented above, only about 12.5 percent of the NCR population own a motor vehicle (1.5 million registered motor vehicles divided by 12 million people). Hence, a much more significant percentage of the population will not benefit from this road system. It would have been ideal if, at the design stage, the government and developers agreed to incorporate a mass transport system that will be part of the Skyway’s feature to move people and not only vehicles, which is an ideal situation. The developer has already announced that they are designing a bus rapid transport system in the Skyway to address this concern. That will be a welcome development to offer inclusivity in its use and access.
There is news as well of a proposed expressway project that will traverse the Pasig River to be done by the same developer. This early, it has announced that it would be “an inclusive, user-centered infrastructure that will integrate various modes of transportation beyond cars. It will have dedicated bike lanes, walkways, a bus rapid transit system, among others. A lot of interest groups weigh in on their advantages and disadvantages at this point. But a significant breakthrough is the inclusive mindset in its design.
With this hope, future traffic infrastructures will be guided with the mindset of moving people, emphasizing mass transport systems, not only moving cars, because this particular perspective will bring better benefits for the greater good.
The author teaches Quantitative Methods in the MBA program of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business, De La Salle University. He can be contacted at [email protected].
The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.