July 18, 2024

Of late, adverse comments circulated on social media about a private company’s proposal of collecting P250 as a congestion fee from motorists during the rush hour traffic in Baguio. The proposal’s intention is to ease traffic congestion at the central business district in two ways: collect fees as a way of discouraging entry of vehicles into a congested zone and to heighten patronage of mass public transportation to lessen the number of vehicles on our streets.
The uproar however, focused only on the collection of fees with netizens alleging the proponent company, with the imprimatur of the city government is out to only make money from motorists. They said collection of fees will not address traffic congestion and surely, there is a better alternative to the plan.
Some reactions are valid, while some were based on an incomplete premise and even incorrect assumptions.
The proposal to collect congestion fees is part of the Smart Mobility Project. Other components of the mobility project are allotment of bike lanes and expansion of sidewalks to encourage pedestrians to walk more.
These, as well as programs of the national government that aims to improve the traffic and transportation system in the country is said to compliment the mobility project.
The city government’s call for companies to submit their proposal for implementation through public-partnership was made two years ago. Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation bagged the original proponent status but it was a press release from the city’s Public Information Office about the suggested congestion fees that netizens reacted – vehement at that.
Netizens’ reactions may be valid but an option for the city government to explore to make people understand the rationale behind the proposal is to explain every detail there is to the project. Sometimes, adverse opinions are borne out of lack of information or lack of understanding about a plan.
It has happened many times in the past where city officials announce major plans or programs only to be withdrawn because of lack of public consultation.
In any democratic society, transparency and accountability are paramount. With the announcement that terms of reference for negotiation prior to the calling of a Swiss Challenge is being discussed, the city government should embark on an information and consultative plan where every detail of the project will be explained.
It is not enough that only one, two, or three consultations with only a select few are called. The frequency and those who will be invited to attend are equally important. We do not want a repeat when some department head claims there was a consultation only to turn out that those who were consulted are those who will agree with their proposal.
Who is the OPS holder? Why was Baguio chosen? What will the OPS holder get in return? How long will it operate in Baguio? Will the program be sustainable? Will the regulation really lessen air pollution and make roads and streets wider? Background of the OPS holder? Can’t the LGU regulate traffic instead of a private entity? How can artificial intelligence enhance traffic and transportation management? Is the Smart City Command Center incapable of regulating traffic movement? What is in the city government’s traffic study?
These questions and more should be presented in a public consultation.
A genuine consultation should be open to diverse opinions. This is where the function of the City Development Council (CDC) is needed. The way we see it, seve-ral controversial projects and programs of the city have been given the green light by the CDC. As grassroots representative, the CDC should do a better job. Challenge the status quo and ask questions that might need clarification.
We also appeal to the public not to immediately shut down the proposal because of fear they will be paying more. The initial proposal has conditions. We suggest you study them and give your educated opinion, suggest alternatives if you must, but do not rant and accuse some people of committing irregularities. The program after all, has good intentions.
Owning a vehicle comes with responsibilities. If there are solutions for motorists to continue using their cars sans the inconvenience of getting stuck in traffic that we have been experiencing for decades now, then let us be open to it. Think not just of your own convenience but also of pedestrians, infrastructure, and the environment.
In the meantime, City Hall should take time to explain the program and if the ge-neral sentiment is for the city to change its plan, then it should respect what the public desire.