MAPping the Future

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Congestion charge: Why it’s time to introduce it in Metro Manila

written by Usec. GLICERIO “GLICER” V. SICAT - March 20, 2023

It is quite apparent that the number-coding scheme is not working in Metro Manila (MM).  It is just the best car-demand promoter in the country with well-to-do families buying additional cars or not selling their old cars when they upgrade (with different coded days).  This means it is (almost) anti-poor! Thus you find in many areas, parked cars (usually coded ones) in the neighborhood clogging the streets making it impossible to use side-streets to get to one’s destination, thus adding to the travails of the motoring public. 

It is time to introduce Congestion Charging (CC) in MM.  It is almost the same as Number Coding but with a couple of big pluses:

1. You can still go if you MUST.  In other words, you can opt to go or not to go, not totally strangle you to submission; and 

2. Authorities can design where it can be applied (specific roads, or specific stretches of specific roads) and what time (like only on specific crunch times).

Having the option to go or not to go means that you can design your day trip to avoid the CC altogether.  For example, if the authorities specify 7-10am, and 4-8pm Monday thru Friday for EDSA corner Ayala Avenue/McKinley, and several other corners or sections along EDSA, the motorists can design or alter their plan for the day to avoid this corner or section to avoid the CC. The CC computer will be programmed to charge the vehicle only once a day.

How much to charge? Many write-ups have been done to say that the level of charge does not materially alter the driving habits of the motorists.  The point is one gets charged and many people do not want that if they can avoid it. 

Then we can exempt cars or charge them less with legit markings or sensor stickers (like ETC or EasyTrip), such as PWDs, ambulances, government vehicles, foreign dignitary vehicles, PU vehicles, etc.

CC is well known in many parts of the world, such as London, Singapore, Denmark with better-than-expected results in mitigating crunch-level traffic in many parts of the cities.

For traffic authorities who can implement this:  There is an Asian Development Bank (ADB) article that enumerates in great detail how to persuade the motoring public to accept the CC and details of how to implement it. 

For further reading, the reader may refer to dozens of articles about CC or Congestion Pricing.  Among the better recently written are:

1. ADB and GIZ of Germany: Introduction to CC, A Guide for Practitioners in Developing Cities, 2015.  This is a guide for authorities to plan our the introduction of the CC, how to convince the general population on the advantages of the CC.

2. The Conversation: Articles on Congestion Charges (26 articles) 2022 (https://the June 22, 2022

3. Analysis on the Principals of CC Policy and…by Y Liu: Science Direct ( 2016

And, to satisfy those who yearn for full article on Congestion Pricing, I asked the ChatGPT of OpenAI to write me an article for the reading pleasure of the general public on CC. Here it is:

MM, the capital region of the Philippines, is facing a growing problem of traffic congestion. The metropolis, which is home to over 12 million people, is plagued by gridlock on its roads, resulting in long commutes, wasted time, and increased air pollution. The traffic congestion not only causes inconvenience to the residents but also affects the economy. The Philippines loses an estimated P3.5 Billion daily due to traffic congestion and the country’s GDP could increase by as much as 1.5% if traffic congestion is reduced by just 30%. One solution to this problem is the implementation of CC, a system that charges drivers a fee for using the busiest roads during peak hours. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of CC and why it should be implemented in MM.

First and foremost, CC can significantly reduce traffic congestion. By charging drivers a fee for using the busiest roads during peak hours, fewer cars will be on the road, resulting in faster and more efficient travel. This can lead to significant time savings for commuters, as well as reduced air pollution and fuel consumption. According to a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a CC system in MM could reduce travel time by as much as 32%. This would have a significant impact on the productivity of the city, as well as the quality of life of its residents.

Secondly, CC can generate significant revenue for the government. The fees collected from drivers can be used to fund infrastructure projects and public transportation, such as building new roads, expanding existing ones, and improving public transportation options, such as buses, trains, and ferries. The government could also use the revenue to improve the overall transportation infrastructure of MM, making it easier and more efficient for people to get around. In London, for example, the congestion charge has generated over £3 Billion in revenue since its introduction in 2003. These funds have been used to improve public transportation, pedestrianize streets, and create new bike lanes.

Another benefit of CC is that it can encourage people to use more sustainable transportation options. By charging drivers a fee for using the busiest roads during peak hours, it becomes more expensive for people to drive their cars, and thus more cost-effective for them to use public transportation or other sustainable modes of transportation. This can help to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions, as well as improve the overall health of the population by reducing exposure to vehicle exhaust. The implementation of CC systems in cities, such as London and Stockholm, has been shown to lead to a significant shift towards the use of public transportation, cycling, and walking.

Additionally, CC can also be used as a tool to manage urban growth. By charging drivers a fee for using the busiest roads during peak hours, it can help to discourage urban sprawl and encourage more compact, sustainable development. This can help to preserve natural resources and reduce the environmental impact of urbanization. CC can also help to reduce the amount of land devoted to roads and parking, and create more space for public spaces and green areas.

The implementation of CC in MM will not be an easy task. The government will have to take into account the technical, administrative, and political challenges that may arise. One of the major challenges is the lack of an efficient and reliable electronic toll collection system. The government will need to invest in the technology and infrastructure necessary to make such a system work. 

Another challenge is the potential for opposition from drivers, who may see CC as an additional burden. To mitigate potential opposition from drivers, the government could also offer exemptions or discounts for certain groups of drivers, such as low-income drivers, or use the revenue generated from the charge to improve public transportation and other alternative modes of transportation. This would ensure that the burden of the charge is not disproportionately felt by any one group of people and that the benefits of reduced traffic congestion and improved transportation infrastructure are widely shared.

Another important consideration is the fairness and equity of the system. The government should ensure that the charge is applied fairly and equitably across different income groups and areas of the city. For example, residents of lower-income areas should not be disproportionately affected by the charge, and measures should be put in place to ensure that the charge is not regressive.

In addition, the government should also take into account the potential impact of CC on small and medium-sized businesses. The charge could potentially lead to a reduction in customer numbers, which would have a negative impact on these businesses. To mitigate this, the government could provide support for these businesses, such as through tax breaks or grants, to help them adapt to the new system.

In conclusion, CC is a proven solution to the traffic congestion problem in MM. It can significantly reduce traffic congestion, generate significant revenue for the government, encourage more sustainable transportation options, and help manage urban growth. However, the government will need to carefully consider the technical, administrative, and political challenges that may arise and ensure that the system is fair and equitable. With proper planning and implementation, CC can bring significant benefits to the residents of MM, by reducing traffic congestion, improving transportation infrastructure, and creating a more sustainable and livable city.

(The author is Vice Chair of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) Infrastructure Committee concentrating on People Transport. He is Consultant of Inter Pacific Capital Corp. Feedback at <> and <>).