By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.

“Try to think of new ways to solve old problems.“ – Steve Wozniak

There is a renewed call by a business group for the creation of an office or position of a traffic czar. One office that will exist solely to study and know the problems causing traffic. One office that will bring all related agencies together and in shared knowledge and direction bind them. One office to rule them all.

A few days ago, the Management Association of the Philippines, led by its president Rene Almendras, created a stir when it declared that a traffic crisis exists in metro Manila and that a traffic czar is needed to implement a holistic plan to solve the said crisis. This was immediately countered by an official of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) who stated that there is no need for a traffic czar.

The concept of appointing a single man to solve a community’s problem is not an easy thing to sell. People and Filipinos, in general, seem to have an inherent aversion to mandated centralized control in anything. There seems to be a gut instinct common to many to resist giving a single office or person the needed power and authority to run roughshod over all traffic obstacles.

At present, our government has already tried coordinating agencies with different mandates through the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic (I-ACT), which uses cooperation as its key tool in finding and solving traffic problems. Is it time to truly try centralized traffic control under a very high-ranking official who would have the power and authority to compel various agencies to implement traffic measures? What kind of individual would even qualify to hold such a difficult post?

In the United States, there was a famous traffic engineer and commissioner named Henry A. Barnes who served in several cities including Baltimore, Denver, and New York. Given vast powers and authority, he was able to implement many innovations in traffic engineering, which are now commonplace, such as synchronized traffic signals, dedicated bus lanes, well-planned street expansions, and the famous Barnes dance, which is the precursor of the Shibuya Scramble in Tokyo. Barnes was known as a tough no-nonsense official who often had to push through various roadblocks to his innovations. He was not loved by everyone but in general, he got the job done.

Former Transportation undersecretary and MMDA chairman and traffic expert Thomas Orbos stated in his opinion column that a traffic czar needs to be appointed by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. himself to give him the gravitas to loop in all the related agencies and the Philippine National Police into a single program. Other than having the needed authority, Orbos insists that the traffic czar must have a specific skill set that includes having the abilities and qualities of a manager, coordinator, enforcer, communicator, politician, and innovator with at least a basic working knowledge of traffic engineering, urban planning, and logistics.

Former vice president Noli de Castro, in his show, had a simpler criterion. The traffic czar, he said, should not be a lawyer.

Clearly, the idea of appointing a traffic czar is both controversial and difficult to implement. Unfortunately, we seem to have tried many solutions to solve our perennial traffic problem. Perhaps, it is time to be creative and try something new.

This is my oblique observation.