The Philippines loses US$24 billion a year from traffic congestion in the capital city, Metro Manila. Filippinos spend nine years of their lives sitting in traffic.

The Department of Transportation hopes to target Metro Manila’s massive congestion problem by overhauling its public transport systems. “We are trying to develop our transport network so it will be convenient for people to use and they can leave their private cars at home,” says Garry de Guzman, Undersecretary for Finance at the Philippines’ Department of Transportation.

The vision, De Guzman says, is for public transport to be an “equaliser” for all Filippinos, where “somebody in a formal suit and someone in ordinary clothes are using public transport together”. He spoke to GovInsider about the Philippines’s plans to tackle congestion and corruption.

Upgrading public transport systems

Urban planning is an important part of the public transport system upgrades that will take place over the next two years, says De Guzman. The Department of Transportation, along with five other agencies, carried out surveys to find the most efficient route for people to commute to work. They also studied the busiest intersections to decide where to build elevated expressways.

The department is now expanding its Light Rail Transit system. The new section will connect central Manila to Cavite, a province to the south of Metro Manila, “where a lot of people working in the city center live”, explained De Guzman. The government has set aside US$1.25 billion for this project.

The Department of Transportation also plans to build elevated greenways along one of the busiest highways in Metro Manila, supported by US$100 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). ADB aims to finish building the greenways by 2022.

Improving the Philippines’ largest airport

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the Philippines’s largest airport, will see an upgrade worth US$2 billion. This upgrade includes building “people movers”, or rail systems, to shuttle people between terminals and improve the flow of foot traffic, says De Guzman.

“People don’t have to stay in the airport terminal for longer than needed. That means we can accommodate more people,” De Guzman says. This will improve traffic surrounding the airport too. “Cars won’t be unnecessarily waiting in the parking area,” he explains.

The Phillipine government recognises that its airports have been struggling. No Philippines airport was named in the Skytrax’s list of the World’s 100 Best Airports, and NAIA was also involved in a bullet planting scam, where customs officers demanded money from passengers after planting bullets in their bags. This new proposal for NAIA is part of the Department of Transportation’s efforts to improve its airports.

Fighting corruption

Corruption is a crucial barrier to change. The Philippines aims to cut 70 per cent of its carbon emissions by 2030. To achieve this, it has to tackle the high levels of carbon emissions released from the cars stuck on its congested roads. The department is revamping its vehicle inspection system, so there is no room for dishonest dealers to pass off a non-environmentally friendly car as a green one, gaming the system.

Both privately-owned and public utility vehicles have to undergo inspection to ensure they comply with emissions targets before they can be registered. “The computer, not people, will decide whether a vehicle is road-worthy, so there cannot be any manipulation,” De Guzman says. “The results will be transmitted directly to the Land Transportation Office without human intervention.”

The Department of Transportation broadcasts the bidding process for its upgrading projects live on Facebook. “We want to make it transparent so that people will have trust in the system,” De Guzman says.

This is how the department is making an effort to cut down on bureaucracy, as part of the Ease of Doing Business Act. This law was passed in 2018 and aims to make government processes more trustworthy.

“The image of the Philippines has been damaged because of the traffic. If this is not a crisis, what is a crisis?” said Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade in 2016. Through Light Rail, elevated walkways and detailed surveys of commuter behaviour, the Department of Transportation hopes to solve this problem.