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MONDAYS | There is a reason it’s called a traffic system

IT HAS often been my experience that when there is congestion or slow-moving traffic in Davao City, there is almost always a City Transport and Traffic Management Office (CTTMO) person right in the middle of that road intersection. 

And I wonder what or who came first. Was it the traffic congestion that brought the CTTMO person to the scene? Or was it the presence of the CTTMO person who caused the traffic congestion in the first place?

Whenever I ask my driver what he thinks is causing the standstill, his reply is always: “Naa’y (there’s) CTTMO, ma’am.” And he delivers it in such a way that it should be self-explanatory. 


I learned in my random survey that this is the top answer of Davaoeños to the question of why they experience traffic congestion in the city. The next top answer is some type of road construction and repair, followed by road accidents. 

I cannot claim that my survey is scientific, of course. It is anecdotal, at best. But I find it strange that a CTTMO person is the one they often blame. 

There is, of course, the obvious non-functioning of our once-upon-a-time state-of-the-art traffic signalization system. I am no engineer, but I think it needs to be upgraded. I bet my iPhone has gone through more upgrades than our traffic system. 

Our traffic signalization system was designed to be “intelligent” and “adaptive.”  It is the same system used by the City of Los Angeles, California, which is known for its backed-up freeways.  I think the final phase of the Davao traffic signalization project started by then-Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, which would have covered more intersections in the city, was not finished. Or was It even started? I have lost track. 

I heard of some plans, though, to get a new traffic signalization system for the city, but when I talked with the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) traffic engineering head to get her (yes, it’s a woman!) opinion about it, she said Davao City already got the best traffic management system. It’s not broken; it just needs an upgrade.

She said it would be more expensive to install an entirely new system when the city already has a good one. Since Davao City has an open system designed to work with any technology, it can still function well with advanced versions of the system.  

So why are we not upgrading our system, then? 

That system was built for Davao City in the 2000s. We are in 2023 now. 

We have the new Davao coastal road. We are constructing flyovers and tunnels. We are expecting our DavaoBus to be partially operational by the fourth quarter of 2024. 

Yes, we are transitioning from jeepneys to electric buses soon, so we are not really expecting CTTMO personnel still directing motor vehicles and pedestrians in our road intersections by then, are we? 

I am not bashing our CTTMO. But who is in charge of also upgrading their knowledge and skills in traffic management? 

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine defines traffic management as the “organization, arrangement, guidance and control of both stationary and moving traffic, including pedestrians, bicyclists and all types of vehicles.”

The aim of traffic management is to “provide for the safe, orderly and efficient movement of persons and goods, and to protect and, where possible, enhance the quality of the local environment on and adjacent to traffic facilities.”  

Based on this very clear and simple definition of what traffic management is, it is a task that requires specific knowledge and skills. It is a job for someone who understands how systems work and how to make them work efficiently. It is basically engineering. It is certainly not law enforcement, so it is not a job for the police. The police can enforce traffic laws but not manage traffic. 

Not everyone who has knowledge in management can manage traffic well, either. There may be some management principles that are universal, but managing traffic on the road requires a specific skill set. 

As the TRB pointed out: “The application of traffic management techniques to rural and urban arterial roads should emphasize the desirability of treating routes or networks as a whole rather than simply focusing on isolated problem spots.”

And there it is. The reason why it is called a “traffic system” — it should be treated as a whole because a system is a set of things working together as parts of an interconnecting network. 

The presence of a CTTMO personnel in our congested intersection is just the tip of the mountain of dirt left by a road under construction. We are dealing with our traffic one isolated problem at a time instead of managing it as a system. 

Davao City is proud to declare that “life is here.” What about if we want to go from here to there? I say life is too short to always be stuck in a traffic jam.


(Patmei Ruivivar is Vice President of the Davao Historical Society and is at the forefront of the women’s movement in Davao City. She has been through very exciting times as a public servant and has remained a passionate advocate of good governance, history, arts and culture.)


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