July 16, 2024

■  Hanna C. Lacsamana   

The city government is continuing its engagements with the public to explain the Smart Urban Mobility Project, which has been submitted as an unsolicited proposal in line with Baguio’s resiliency program and efforts to address its traffic woes.

The Ugnayang Panlungsod program of city last week was devoted on the controversial P250 mobility or congestion fee, which City Mayor Benjamin Magalong and a top official of project proponent MPT Corporation stressed is part of the results of a study that recommended a holistic approach in managing the transportation and traffic in the city.

Mark Richmund de Leon, former Department of Transportation undersecretary who is now vice president of MPT Corporation, explained based on the results of the study conducted by Singapore-based ST Engineering, MPT Corp. came up with a proposal which contained multiple components, such as improvement of public transportation which is necessary and complementary with what has been called the mobility or congestion fee.

“We will be improving public transportation, making it more reliable, responsive, and efficient by providing all public transportation units with GPS and fare collection devices, and making it interconnected in one single fleet management system. With this, every commuter will have access to information on availability of public transport units,” de Leon said.

He said this way it is “really curing the root cause of why is it congested in Baguio. Traffic is just a symptom of a lot of issues, and one of it is public transportation.”

“And we have a mechanism that what is being collected as mobility fee is ploughed back to the improvement of public transportation and this is one of the details that were left out in the reports. In our proposal, incentives are given to public utility operators and drivers to make them run more efficiently, make their dispatching more effective and responsive,” he said.

Traffic signals that are adaptive to transport demands will be installed. These are modern devices using artificial intelligence for smart signalling in intersections.

“We will be providing smart traffic management system through ST Engineering which has developed traffic management in Singapore and in Dubai, Taiwan, and Thailand.”

De Leon said the system is also enabling motorists with information where to park since all major establishments in the city will be connected to the central monitoring system that monitors all traffic situations in the city.

It will also be using systems to make payment of parking fees convenient, and these will all be integrated in the smart city app connected to a command center.

Importanteng maipaliwanag sa mga tao na hindi lang mobility fee ang prino-propose ng MPTC,” de Leon said.

The amount was based on the study where more than 1,600 respondents were interviewed, 800 of them from Baguio and around 900 in Manila.

“We asked them, kung ito ang babayaran mo, gagamit ka pa ba ng sasakyan mo when you enter the central business district? Pinakita ng resulta na at P250, 20 percent ang magiging reduction ng traffic sa city,” he said.

The most important and which de Leon said was not also known in the initial reports that recently led to public criticism is it is not the amount they are proposing.

“To be very specific, we are proposing less than P250, to allay all the misconceptions. We are actually proposing less than that, and it will be between P50 to P200. And that rate is subject to final negotiations with the city and as well as the results of the stakeholder engagements we are doing with the public,” he said.

After that, he said the proposal will also still has pass through the city council of Baguio, which is part of the process under the Public-Private Partnership Code, and for transparency.

“We are not charging P250. In fact we would be charging way below that amount. Ang congestion fee’s objective ay bawasan ang traffic, bawasan ang sasakyan sa kalsada para mas mag-flow ang mobility ng mga sasakyan. Kung masyadong mura, lahat magbabayad, walang magiging reduction sa traffic. So we are looking at the best amount para bumalik sa tamang level of service ang ating mga kalsada,” de Leon said.

He stressed the mobility fee will only be implemented during peak hours. “Hindi ‘yan maiimplement sa buong araw, unlike ng color coding o truck ban. Motorists will have the option to travel within that peak period or baguhin ang kanilang travel pattern like what is being done in areas where they travel during their window period.

Engr. Teodorico Tan, a traffic expert, posted a comment on the City Public Information Office page which live-streamed the program, saying the proposal “has no leg to stand on to be accepted by the city” for various reasons.

First, Tan said there is no proof that the CBD is congested for it to be a basis for a congestion fee.

He said those in-charge of the traffic management in the city witnessed that the situation at CBD is manageable.

Second, he said only the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board can supervise the transportation system and local government units or any private entity cannot interfere with how to operate the transport sector.

Tan added collecting any traffic fee is supposed to be exclusive or inherent to the government and therefore cannot be assigned to any private entity.

In a series of posts in his “Baguio Thoughts” social media account, Lawyer Joel Dizon wrote: “You cannot ‘improve’ traffic flow because traffic is a self-dynamic activity – meaning it is not something you can design or control. People will travel and commute in and around the city to get to where they need to be, whenever it is they need to be there. Baguio residents will not adjust their travel needs to conform to some control system, telling them when to go where and which route to take so that traffic is reduced.”

Dizon said traffic is not a problem – but is a symptom of a problem. The problem is unmanaged growth.

He also opined the congestion fee concept cannot originate from an unsolicited private proposal.

“I submit to you that imposing a fee for the use of Session Road, and having any private third party partake of the proceeds from those fees is the quintessential violation of the time-tested constitutional doctrine that the ‘public roads, parks and spaces are beyond the commerce of man’.”

De Leon said their proposal underwent a comprehensive study with assistance from the government of Singapore through ST Engineering which is doing smart mobility projects all over the world.

“The study shows we need a holistic but sustainable solution in addressing traffic congestion. There is no one solution in this, not even mobility fee. Part of that is improving public transportation, discipline of drivers, making sure it is reliable,” he said as he assured that their proposal will be reasonable and for the city’s welfare.

The MPTC has been granted the original proponent status for the planned project and is currently conducting public consultations regarding its proposal, will undergo negotiations, and subject to city council approval based on the PPP law.