Truck ban major concern for traders, cargo forwarders

By Joel P Longares

THE government should start taking a serious look at Metro Manila’s traffic problems. Two separate studies by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the DOT in 1999 and the University of the Philippines National Center for Transportation Studies have shown that the daily traffic congestion in Metro Manila costs the Philippine economy P140 billion a year.

Billions are lost yearly in terms of wasted gasoline and lost labor hours, and indirectly, the monstrous traffic jams result in withdrawal of potential foreign investments, missed business opportunities and reduced inflow of capital.

When a foreign investor or businessman comes to the country, the first thing he sees is the huge traffic jams on his way to his hotel. And each time he goes to a meeting, he is always caught in this traffic mess. What will be his impression when he leaves? He would think it is impossible to conduct business in that kind of traffic. And so he and his company would think twice before investing in the country.

This has been the situation facing businessmen every day: products not moving as fast as it should, employees coming late for work and already exhausted after hours of fighting through traffic, bigger costs in terms of gasoline and vehicle maintenance, etc.

Unable to solve the traffic jam, the Metro Manila Commission imposed a truck ban, hoping to unclog the traffic by removing the big vehicles off the street. Never mind if these trucks are basically the bloodline of business in the country.

The MMDA truck ban completely closed off nearly the entire EDSA, one of the most important routes for trade from the ports to the northern provinces, except on weekends. The ban also closed major roads like Espana St, Quezon Ave., Claro M. Recto Ave. Quirino Ave., P. Burgos, E. Rodriguez and South Superhighway from 6-9 a.m. and from 5-9 p.m.

Then on Feb. 24, the City of Manila started its own – and longer — truck ban on all city streets, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. That’s basically the entire working hours of most truck companies. The ban left just the 5 hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for trucks to use city streets. But with the traffic jams all over Metro Manila, it is nearly impossible to enable all the trucks needed to transport goods from the ports to their destinations and not get caught beyond the access 5-hour windows. Saan pa dadaan ang mga truck?

As a result, the turnaround time of trucks to leave the port and get back to load other goods have increased from just one day to about three days. This has resulted in fewer trucks able to get goods from the Port of Manila and from the Manila International Container Port (MICP), thus worsening the port congestion and the movement of goods in the country.

To make up for lost business and lost profit, trucking companies have increased their fees by 50%. Naturally, distributors, importers and exporters will pass on the increased fees to customers in terms of higher prices of goods and higher service fees. Kawawa naman ang mga tao.

The truck ban is already seriously affecting the Philippine economy, as shown by the disappointing 5.7% growth registered in the first quarter. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry fears that the truck ban could result in  slower growth in the second quarter.

Fortunately, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada agreed to a compromise with truckers. Starting last May 31, trucks transporting cargo to and from Manila’s ports can now use one lane of Roxas Boulevard 24 hours a day. But this is obviously not enough to unclog the ports and get the goods moving.

The truck ban has added to the problems of balikbayan box forwarders. Still suffering from delays and added costs resulting from backlogs in US ports, increase in shipping and trucking fees, delays caused by frequent inspections by the Department of Homeland Security, and higher fuel costs, balikbayan box forwarders now have to contend with delays in delivery both from the Port of Manila to the warehouse, and from the warehouse to the beneficiaries, all because of the two truck bans.

Despite the problems caused by the truck bans, Atlas Shippers International will strive to deliver our clients’ boxes on time and to keep our prices at the current level. Hindi kami aatras sa aming pangakong makakarating ang inyong mga kahon sa pinakamabilis na panahon.

While we realize that something has to be done about the traffic problem in Metro Manila, the solution does not have to be at the expense of business. The government has to think long-term in solving this nagging problem. Hindi pwedeng patsa-patsa ang solusyon.