Thursday, July 18, 2013

No to lazy solutions

Last week, a news story on MMDA’s plans of making number coding affect private vehicles twice a week got a lot of people all riled up. As soon as I read it, I passed it on to some of my friends, who all had the same reaction: 1) cursed MMDA, 2) wished the MMDA targeted the jeeps and buses instead, and 3) cursed the said jeeps and buses. Basically, the common sentiment was, “We have more public transpo vehicles wreaking havoc in our roads and highways; perhaps if we pare them down, the heavy traffic dilemma will be resolved.”

The problem with this solution (and the solution proposed by the MMDA) is that heavy traffic cannot be properly solved by just cutting down on the number of vehicles that go out everyday. The reason those vehicles go out at all is that the people need to get to work and back. Everyday. If you cut down on the private vehicles, those who can afford maintaining them will just buy another car to solve the problem. If you cut down on the public transportation, those who use public transport will find they can’t go to work at all (unless they walk, ride bike, or become bullies).

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a rant or two about jeeps and buses—I won’t deny that their drivers seem not to have learned the basics of traffic rules. But don’t forget that no matter how many complaints arise about the ruthless skilled driving of these jeep and bus drivers, you can’t overlook the fact that these guys actually help the majority of the urban population get to where they have to be everyday. As a commuter, I already find it difficult to hop on a ride every morning—and I can’t help thinking how much worse this could be if indeed they cut down on the number of rides available. The reason there are so many public vehicles around is that there is a great demand for them. And I know this by experience.

The solutions presented just barely scratch the surface of the problem. I’m no expert on this and I cannot draw up a solution for the MMDA. But I think that making number coding affect vehicles twice a week will only see desired results in two weeks, then it’s back to heavy traffic again. People are persistent like that.

Here's an old story:
THE WIND and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

If the ultimate aim of the number coding scheme is to get people who drive/ride private cars to take public transportation on some days, and hence lessen the daily congestion on the roads, the solution does not lie in forcing them to do it. Do you know why people would rather take a car than take public transpo? Because it's not pleasant to take public transpo! One has to shrink in the jeep, surf in the bus, play American football in the MRT. Then there's the danger of being pick-pocketed/held up/knifed/killed/road-killed.

The way, then, to get people to leave their cars at home is to makeover the whole public transport system. Make it easy and safe to get from one point of the city to the other. When that happens, word will get around, and once more people see how easy and safe--and cheap!--it could be to take the jeep-bus-train routes, more cars will be left at home--even when it's "not coding."

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