Thursday, November 07, 2019

BWorld 381, Airports, tourism and traffic: KL, Singapore, Jakarta, and Manila

* My article in BusinessWorld on October 29, 2019.

The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) published its annual Tourism Highlights and the good news about the Philippines is that international arrivals have reached more than 7 million in 2018. The bad news is that this is still small compared to what many of our neighbors in the region get: less than one-half of Vietnam’s, less than one-third of Malaysia’s, less than one-fifth of Thailand’s, and Cambodia might even overtake us in a few years (See table).

Over the last two weeks, I joined the team of the Property Rights Alliance (PRA) in launching the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) 2019 in Manila, then Kuala Lumpur (KL), Singapore, and Jakarta. Among the things that I observed were the airports of these three cities and compared them with ours, NAIA.

KL and Jakarta International Airports are new and bigger, less congested and less confusing than NAIA where international flights are spread out among three separate, far away terminals. Singapore’s Changi airport is definitely modern and among the most beautiful and biggest airports in the world. Our flight was in Terminal 3 and I was very impressed by its modernity and size — the Hong Kong airport looks old compared to Changi. The “Jewel” near Terminal 1 is definitely a big tourist come-on with its tall man-made waterfalls and other attractions.

The Soekarno-Hatta airport of Jakarta has a new Terminal 3 that was opened in 2016 and it is big, long and modern enough. But it the Indonesian immigration bureaucracy seems backward. The immigration officer asked me what I would do in Jakarta, if I had any invitation letter as speaker, if I’d get paid as a speaker and how much. Weird. Dr. Sary Levy-Carciente, part of our team, was also asked the same questions by another immigration officer. These things are not asked by immigration officials in Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore, they just stamped our entry after getting our photo and/or e-thumb marks.

Traffic flow in KL is generally smooth as they have a continuously expanding and widening road network around the city. Few traffic lights. There are many elevated turns or underpasses, and no “traffic enforcers” visible.
Singapore has a similar situation and the roads from and to the airport are well-lit at night. Zero traffic enforcers too. They appear only if there are accidents.

Jakarta and Metro Manila have many similarities. One, they both have toll roads from the airport to the city and back, so there is little or no traffic congestion there. The problem is in the city centers where traffic gridlocks are bad. Jakarta has new, big and long MRT tracks under construction and it seems ready for operation perhaps in a year or two, this is good news.

Two, both have too many motorcycles including motorcycle taxis Go Jec and Grab in Jakarta, and Angkas in Manila. Go Jec seems to have more motorcycles as it is Indonesia-based while Grab is KL-based. People ride motorcycles for better mobility.

Three, both have many traffic enforcers, they stop vehicles and issue tickets, penalizing motorists I assume even for minor and mundane reasons.

From these, I draw these five lessons and possible policy reforms. Some have been started already.

One, we need bigger, more modern international airports. San Miguel’s Bulacan international airport and the big consortium’s expansion of NAIA should happen soon.

Two, we need more big and modern public roads and tollroads, less traffic bureaucracies and bureaucrats. The budget of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and Metro Manila cities for too many “traffic enforcers” should be converted into capex to build more elevated and underground roads, build more bridges across the Pasig River.

Three, we need to privatize the country’s rail system — MRT, LRT, PNR. Government should focus on facilitating right of way (ROW) acquisitions for the trains’ expansion and have rule of law on the roads, not operating and subsidizing the train systems. The Pasig River ferry boats need modernization and expansion too — private investments are needed there.

Four, we need more airline competition, more big foreign airlines coming and expanding here as they also help promote the country to their nationals abroad. Liberalization of the Public Service Act (PSA), now a priority bill in Congress, should be enacted soon.

Five, we need to abolish unnecessary taxes like that extortionist travel tax for Filipinos travelling abroad. Its main purpose is to fatten Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) bureaucracy. The Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education have huge annual budgets and TIEZA’s claim of contributing to education is just palusot (an excuse) and lousy alibi to sustain its useless bureaucracy.

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