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Cebu City traffic: Why is it a perennial problem?


CEBU CITY, Philippines – The perennial issue of traffic congestion has plagued Cebu City over the years.

It has sparked various attempts for sustainable solutions. However, it still often falls short of addressing every factor contributing to the problem.

So the question remains: What truly lies at the heart of this seemingly never-ending traffic problem?

READ MORE: 3 flyovers in Cebu City to adopt one-way scheme

“The first and major reason [are] the narrow roads and nagkadaghan na numbers sa vehicles, especially private cars and motorcycles.”

(The first and major reason [are] the narrow roads and the increasing numbers of vehicles, especially private cars and motorcycles.)

This was the answer of Raquel Arce, the head of the Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) when asked about the existing traffic problem.

However, these issues are not novel since they have already persisted for several years.

Is it the volume of vehicles?

In a 2018 report by CDN, the Land Transportation Office in Central Visayas (LTO-7) identified an upswing in the volume of both private and public vehicles within Metro Cebu, which has contributed substantially to the region’s escalating traffic challenges.

READ: Untangling the gridlock

According to data from LTO-7 in Central Visayas, the number of registered cars in Cebu City alone has surged by 21.85 percent since 2013.

Additionally, a 2017 study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) revealed that privately owned cars accounted for 22 percent of Cebu City’s traffic volume, surpassing figures from other cities and towns in Metro Cebu.

In 2022, LTO-7 recorded an unprecedented figure of over a million registered motor vehicles.

In the period spanning January to November 2023, Central Visayas reported 67,000 new registrations for private vehicles. Of this total, Cebu City alone accounted for 42,000 new vehicles, excluding those undergoing renewal.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) noted a significant presence of modern public utility jeepneys, exceeding a thousand in number. This count, however, excludes those that are not up for renewal yet but are still operational.

“In most cases, ang numbers [of vehicles] do not equate to the number of actual plying the Cebu City streets,” said Aden Belza, the LTO-7 acting chief for operations.

Belza added, “I would say nagkadaghan [vehicles], specifically ang motor tungod sa affordability.”

(I would say that [the vehicles] are increasing, specifically the motorcycles because of their affordability.)

Despite the acknowledged challenges, Arce highlights the traffic situation in Cebu City as still being “manageable.”

“Bahala og muingon sila nga hambogera ko. Basta for me, once reported, once makit-an lang na adunay congestion, padal-an nato og special force, and in less than 30 minutes ma-manage na nato and traffic,” Arce said.

(I don’t care if they say that I am boastful. What I know, for me, once reported, once there is a congestion in an area that we see, then we send a special force there, and in less than 30 minutes, traffic in that area will be managed.)

Do we lack discipline on the road?

She pinpointed undisciplined drivers as a significant factor contributing to traffic congestion, emphasizing their disregard for traffic rules solely to meet their daily quotas.

“Usa sa nakacontribute is atong mga way disiplina nga drivers. Ang ilang gitan-aw ba kay basta makakuha lang sila sa boundary, maka [bayad] lang sila sa abang without minding na nakasupak na diay sila sa balaod,” she said.

(One of those that contributed is our undisciplined drivers. What they look at is that what matters is that they can get their boundary, they can pay their rent without minding that they had already broken the law.)

This issue has been recognized as far back as 2018, when the former head of CCTO, Francisco Ouano, stated that the primary contributors to traffic congestion were drivers failing to adhere to traffic rules.

He said, “Traffic problems in Cebu City’s roads will never end unless drivers follow traffic rules.”

“Traffic problems in Cebu City’s roads will never end unless drivers follow traffic rules.”

To address these ongoing challenges, Arce proposed an intensified enforcement strategy, focusing on citation tickets and legal consequences for offenders who fail to fulfill their obligations.

“Pwede ra gyud magintensify sa atong enforcement. By that, i-intensify nato ang enforcement then ato dayon i-sanction ang dili makasettle to filing a case aron magtima-an ang mga driver,” Arce said.

(We can intensify our enforcement. By that, we intensify the enforcement then we sanction those who cannot settle to filing a case so that the driver will be more careful.)

Cebu City traffic

A Cebu City traffic enforcer apprehends a motorist for a violation. CDN Digital photo | Christian Dave Cuizon

She outlined a minimum penalty of 500 pesos to 1000 pesos, with a strict three-day settlement window. Failure to comply within this timeframe would result in legal action.

“Sakit man na para sa atong mga drivers, but we have to do this to discipline you,” Arce said.

(It will really hurt our drivers, but we have to do this to discipline you.)

She added a poignant analogy, stating, “Sama ra sa pamilya, gihigugma nato atong mga anak apan kinahanglan sad nga atong tumanon ang mga balaod, aron dili sila mag-abuso.”

(It is just like a family, we love our children but we need to follow the rules, so that they will not become abusive.)

Most traffic in Cebu City: Ban-Tal

Arce specifically identified the Banilad-Talamban (Ban-Tal) route as a persistent bottleneck for traffic in Cebu City, attributing it to narrow roads and the concentration of schools in Talamban.

“Kining sa Talamban, walay pagkasulbad nga traffic sa Talamban, kay tungod sa narrow roads and daghan schools ang naa sa Talamban,” Arce said.

(That Talamban, there is no solution to the traffic in Talamban because of the narrow roads and the many schools there in Talamban.)

Romelo Dahunan, a 48-year-old public utility jeepney driver, acknowledged the daily struggle with traffic in Talamban, highlighting the influx of vehicles, especially around private schools.

Cebu City traffic

Traffic congestion at the Banilad-Talamban road is almost an everyday problem for motorists. CDN Digital photo | Christian Dave Cuizon

Dahunan pointed out that the heavy traffic in the area had been influenced by multiple factors, including the substantial volume of vehicles due to the presence of several private schools in Talamban.

“Traffic-traffic nuon pero og dili sad ta mobyahe, wala man sad tay mahimo,” he said.

(Well, it is traffic there but if we will not ply the route we cannot do anything.)

Dahunan noted that the traffic in Talamban area could not be solved, stating “Wala nay kasulbaran kay ingana mana jud agwanta lang gyud ta.”

(There is no solution there and because that is the way there so we will just have to endure it.)

He, however, supported Arce’s proposal to intensify citation ticket enforcement, suggesting that an automatic system based on existing traffic laws would be effective.

“Ug unsay balaod, automatic na gyud, dili na musupak ana,” he said.

(If it is the law, it is automatic, we will not go against it.)

Isabella Ann Davila, a private car owner traveling the Talamban route for four years, identified the increasing number of villages and residents in Pit-os as as contributors to congestion.

She proposed a diversion road from Cabancalan to Talamban Proper, acknowledging the complexity due to existing residential areas.

“Tarong ra man ang dalan gud. Tungod pod na sa kadaghan sa tawo, unya daghan nga balay. Mas maayo siguro if naay diversion road from Cabancalan to Talamban Proper pero lisod naman kay daghan naman ug balay-balay diha,” Davila said.

(The road here is okay. This is because (the traffic) there are many people there, and many houses. It would be better if there will be a diversion road from Cabancalan to Talamban Proper but it will be difficult because there are really several houses there.)

Can traffic woes be solved?

In October 2022, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama identified several “immediate steps” to alleviate the city’s traffic woes. One of them was the opening of roads being a primary focus.

READ: Cebu City lays out traffic management plan in first convergence meeting

These steps, as outlined by Mayor Rama, include road clearing, recovery of sidewalks and setbacks, increased traffic personnel presence, installation of restrooms, establishment of roundabouts, arrangement of ambulant/sidewalk vendors, roadside lighting, and the development of a comprehensive road/traffic management plan.

In a proactive move to tackle traffic congestion in 2023, gasoline stations are being eyed in a proposal to become the loading and unloading points for Public Utility Jeepneys (PUJs).

READ: Gasoline stations eyed as jeepney stops in Cebu City

Councilor Rey Gealon, the head of the Traffic Management Committee (TMC), disclosed that, due to the absence of lay-by sections on city roads, they have ingeniously identified available spaces in front of gas stations and commercial establishments as alternative designated stops.

Gealon further explained that around 30 gasoline station operators in Cebu City were supportive of the proposal to designate gas stations as ‘temporary’ PUJ stops.

READ: Gas stations as ‘temporary’ PUJ stops welcomed in Cebu City

Aside from that, he also assured that the transition would consider the needs of persons with disabilities (PWD) and senior citizens, ensuring their proper accommodation during this shift.

The TMC plans to initiate formal communication with gasoline station operators to finalize arrangements and facilitate the smooth transition of the proposed measure.

In conclusion, addressing Cebu City’s traffic challenges requires a multifaceted approach that combines strict enforcement of traffic rules, innovative solutions, and proactive measures.

The proposed strategies aim to not only manage the existing congestion but also lay the groundwork for a more sustainable and organized traffic system in the future.

/dbs, bmjo

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