The 2014 port congestion translated to economic losses of P2.5 billion a day, according to the House Committee on Transportation and the Metro Manila Development Authority. An Associated Press report quoted a government official as saying “Metro Manila’s notorious traffic jam cost the Philippine economy at least P3 billion a day.”
Both port congestion and traffic significantly affect the competitiveness of agriculture. This is because they increase agricultural costs, making us less competitive in a global economy. This is especially important in view of the Asean Economic Integration.
Realizing this, the Alyansa Agrikultura worked closely with the government to address port congestion. Several significant measures were taken. A less restrictive truck ban was put into place. A strict fine was leveled on overstaying containers at P10,000 per 40-foot container per day. Heavy taxation on unreturned empties was implemented after only 90 days, instead of 150 days.
The Bureau of Customs approved the Alyansa recommendation to reduce import accreditation requirements from 10 to three. Other private sector members did their share by expanding container yards, opening warehouses on weekends, and extending their working hours.
The table shows the result of this public-private sector teamwork.
However, the traffic situation worsened in 2015. This added unnecessary costs to the transport of agricultural products. There is also the temptation to address traffic woes with more truck bans but this will once again slow down trade and increase agricultural costs.
On Jan. 13, the Alyansa was invited to a forum that would address both increasing port operations effectiveness and improving traffic. When the truck ban hours are lifted, there is a sudden influx of cargo trucks that cause even more traffic.
During the forum, the Terminal Appointment Booking System (TABS) was presented to address this problem and other issues affecting port operations. As stated in a news release, TABS is “an electronic platform of booking containers at international ports in Manila… developed to minimize road traffic and prevent container build-ups.” It would then “eliminate the current peaks created by road congestion, truck bans, and other external factors while giving importers/exporters a transparent view of when their trucks are meant to process transactions.”
Prior to this, trucks showed up at the terminals unannounced. The sudden surge of trucks after truck ban hours caused road bottlenecks and long queues at terminal gates.
A trucker who transports farm goods complained that during the TABS pilot run, two-thirds of truckers with booked reservations did not show up. This deprived other truckers of the reserved slots. Stiff penalties on erring truckers were recommended and, later, accepted by concerned government officials.
Another recommendation was that TABS be publicized effectively by responsible stakeholders to prevent exploitative pricing. Under the current system, unscrupulous parties use the lack of transparency of truck schedules to increase their prices beyond reasonable levels.
Since a booking system like TABS has shown success in progressive port cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, it is time for us to implement such a booking system. The decrease in cost using this system will enable agriculture stakeholders to compete with imports in the domestic market and enhance their export competitiveness in the global market.
On the same day, the Metro Manila Mayors League voted to exempt trucks with TABS bookings from truck bans starting Feb. 15. The truck movement will now be spread evenly across the day and night. This augurs well for optimizing the effectiveness of port operations, minimizing port congestion and helping address the traffic problem after truck ban hours.