Former President and now Mayor of the country’s capital, City of Manila, Erap Estrada made a grand entrance with the banning of the ubiquitous bus in the city’s streets. Fortunately or unfortunately, it was uneventfully shot down, at least in the case of the city buses on Friday. This is one move that the City Mayor and other local officials will either be praised to high heavens or condemned vigorously depending on which group you are with. For example, the ban will surely be welcomed by residents of Manila, but will be cursed by those who regularly come from outside the city.

In a democracy, regardless of a society’s level of development, never expect that everyone is inclined to decide immediately on issues objectively. Not that it is impossible for people to look at issues objectively; if at all, it can only happen after some time and after an issue is adequately discussed in the media. The media is of course crucial as it is the principal means of public communication and therefore information and basis of the majority of people to decide on public matters. Point is, issues like the banning of buses in the city’s streets is a good example of a divisive issue as it is so remarkable that either side of the issue significantly feels the impact. What the media reports do more often will simply reflect the public’s immediate reaction. Sober reflection, even if it comes, is unfortunately too late that oftentimes simply become irrelevant.

So how do we approach the issue objectively? How do we weigh in on the impact of this policy move? What is clear is the banning of buses in the city is good from the purview of the private motorists and Manila’s residents, as it will significantly contribute to the lessening of traffic congestion. Considering however that bus passengers are forced to alight at the fringes of Manila, getting to the city is more tedious as one has to transfer to a jeepney or any other mode of public transportation, and therefore to the commuter who daily comes to manila, this is simply insensitivity on the part of the local officials. As a public official, this is exasperating, as it feels damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The intent without any doubt is well meaning; but the reaction will always see it differently that praise and condemnation will come swiftly but the agony of making the decision will not be of any significance.

This is a usual problem in increasingly populated urban centers. Over population in the cities is a direct effect of lack of opportunity in the countryside as many are forced to look for alternative livelihood and therefore result to in-migration. This in turn pushes the limits of a city in public services including health, public order and safety, and of course traffic. When the limits are reached, it leaves the local leaders no choice but to address the issue, ultimately for general welfare.

Traffic is a policy issue and a decision maker will see it differently as it is a broad vantage point compared to the parochial view of the private motorist, commuter and the resident. It is therefore not easy to be a policy maker, as all these conflicting interests have to be balanced. After all, traffic is not only about lost time, it is also about lost opportunity, as trade and other transactions are essentially limited if not put to a grinding halt affecting the city’s economy and development. This is not readily seen, not of any single stakeholder, even the policy maker in most instances. When this happens, both the leaders and the public become desperate for solutions willing to blame practically anyone but themselves for it. On the other hand this is more a lack of vision and planning on the part of leaders, both incumbent and also past, both national and local leaders. Keeping tab of the city’s situation, of it’s social and economic profile, making projections and therefore development plans should be integral to governance that sadly is not the case for the Philippines. Apart from Manila, Baguio is another example of a city where a local policy was adopted before to regulate public utility vehicles, for which was met by an uproar of neighboring local government units (LGUs).

The perspective of local officials, and therefore their considerations, is limited by their jurisdiction, and essentially not enough to weigh in on a trans-boundary issue like traffic. As already mentioned, stakeholders include, in significant measure, the daily commuters coming from other areas who go to or even just pass thru Manila. Other local officials then would feel responsible for them and will either seek ways to work together or engage in useless obloquy. We’re in the right tract as what seems to be is that officials like Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista is inclined to work on the issue with Manila’s officials. Ultimately however, other Metro officials, and the national government should take this cue and not just chide, even belittle this initiative. LTFRB should help in finding solutions, not simply assert its ascendance and superiority. Traffic is a metro problem of coordination, absence of plan, insufficient if not virtually absent mass transport system and lack of vision, that is, not realizing how lack of symmetry in the overall development in the country and much more that ultimately prevents us from reaching our full potential.

We keep on hearing observations that while every now and then we register remarkable figures in economic growth, it is not sustained nor is felt by many. You always hear the comment that the poor becomes poorer and the rich, richer. We have heard so many grand plans, from rice self sufficiency to respectable defense capability, leader in climate change adaptation, even becoming a haven for outsourcing, education and health care. Then again, we’re still stuck in traffic, blaming buses, jeepneys and trikes. We can’t even have a working reliable train system. So why not start with a vision where the first step would be buses and trains? The irony is, of all our leaders, sometimes the one you expect the least to address the issue as important and fundamental as traffic is the one who has the will to act. Sadly, because of politics, not many appreciate or recognize this will.