Seares: Kons Rey Gealon blames not full and effective use of modern traffic system, along with other ills, for traffic mess in Cebu City. A day after resigning as traffic chief, Gealon sums it up: 'So much to be done.'

CEBU. Councilor Rey Gealon (left) and Rico Rey Francis Holganza.
CEBU. Councilor Rey Gealon (left) and Rico Rey Francis Holganza.SunStar File/PhilExport

ALMOST three months ago, on September 25 (2023), Councilor Rey Gealon assumed as chairman of Cebu City's Traffic Management and Coordination Committee (TMCC), known before as Citom Board, replacing Rico Rey Francis Holganza, who resigned.

Gealon had served as chief of the Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) in 2015, during Mayor Michael Rama's second term as mayor (2013-2016), and was assistant to Holganza at TMCC in 2022.

"A tall order," Gealon declared in September when he took over, saying he would need everyone's help. Last Saturday, December 23, he submitted his letter or resignation, telling Mayor Rama the office can be better served by "another who is more able and capable."

Basing on his letter to the mayor, a copy of which Gealon sent me 12:23 a.m. Sunday, December 24, and his answers to questions later in the day, here are takeaways from the Gealon resignation:

[1] REASON FOR QUITTING. Gealon in effect said he was not "able and capable" of doing the job. Why did he say that "despite diligent and dedicated efforts..." he failed, leaving "much to be desired" and someone else "more able and capable" will serve the people of the city "more rightfully and justly"?

Too many cooks spoil the broth, he told me, "you come up with a policy, through a unanimously approved resolution from TMCC but it doesn't get implemented down the line" from up, down to the field. Why? Perhaps, he said, because of "scarce resources" (personnel and equipment), or some other reason. He wasn't specific about the "other reason."

More telling was this line from Gealon: "I sense that I am no longer necessary," like "when some matters are adopted by CCTO, or where traffic management plans in traffic-prone areas are implemented without TMCC's approval."

[2] WHAT'S THE CORE OF THE TRAFFIC CRISIS? Gealon pointed to a "dismal lack of a traffic system." That system must include, he said:

* operating an "adoptive and responsive Road Traffic Control System";

* ending "laxity in traffic education, complacency in traffic enforcement and inconsistency in traffic engineering."

[3] CITY NOW HAS THE SYSTEM. The automated system, which Gealon said is "indispensable in the traffic order," can "collect and analyze driving information of vehicles around the city." The collected data "can help perform the optimal traffic signal control in accordance with the constantly changing traffic situation, especially during rush hour traffic along major thoroughfares."

But is the city's P480 million traffic light system, which last January was publicized as the "most advanced in the world," not what Gealon said is needed to solve the traffic problem.

It is, Gealon said. But it still requires "the familiarity and expertise" of those who operate it "to achieve the ideal maximum result."

So Cebu City already has the equipment to wrestle down the beast that is the traffic problem.

There's just the matter of mastering its use.

[4] PUBLIC ALREADY TOLD ABOUT IT. The new traffic lights covering 18 intersections under Phase 1 and 27 intersections under Phase 2 were scheduled to be "up and running" by the end of last February. The system, which was to replace the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System, was supposed to use "underground cables and 184 high-definition cameras that detect traffic flow through artificial intelligence that automatically adjusts the signal turning."

The suppliers said then that the new system uses “adaptive countdown timers,” which can change the display value, depending on the computation of the main computer box.

Only Cebu City has this kind of latest technology, crowed last January 23, one Timothy Ong of Triune Electronics Systems Inc., one of the two suppliers.

The equipment is already here, said Gealon, but it's "not utilized the way it is supposed to be utilized."

[5] STATE OF THINGS AS GEALON SEES IT. Using the metaphor of driving on the road, Gealon said there's "much to be done at every angle, in every turn, at every corner... in traffic as in life, the road to success is always under construction."

In his view, as he left the job -- which he also resigned from at least twice before, including when he quit in late 2021 to run for city councilor in 2022 -- too many people make decisions, which others down the line ignore or implement only half-heartedly, with sophisticated equipment, "the most modern in the world," that still has to be operated fully and well.

[6] WHY HE THINKS 'TRAFFIC CZAR' IS NOT ACCURATE. Some sectors of media and even Mayor Rama called Gealon the city's "traffic czar" after Gealon's appointment was announced last September. Gealon said he is no traffic czar. Surely, not as applied to a Russian emperor before 1917.

Maybe czar as "a person appointed by government to advise on or coordinate policy on a particular subject." Even in that sense though, he believes the city's traffic chief cannot be a czar as he doesn't have the power or influence that the word "czar" connotes. The TMCC that he leads is a collegial body, he said, where members vote on matters related to traffic and adopts them in the form of resolutions.

The popular perception of a czar is that of an individual who's expected to solve giant problems with the powers granted him. In 2016, a draft bill prepared by the Department of Transportation was filed in the Senate, aimed to vest extraordinary powers in then President Rodrigo Duterte to solve the traffic crises in key areas of the country. The idea didn't fly.

[7] HOW LEGISLATION MAY HELP. Gealon, who as councilor is chairman of the City Council committee on laws, said his repeated exposure to the facets of the city's traffic problem, can initiate legislation that supports the work of the traffic council.

Among the measures that might help, Gealon said:

* Declaring major thoroughfares as "no stopping zones" for unobstructed flow;

* Designating improvised "lay-by" stations for loading and unloading of passengers, such as gas stations and front area of commercial establishments;

* Setting up a traffic violation point system, as deterrent to habitual traffic offenders.

* Disabled or stalled vehicle ordinance.

But first, to oversee the fusion of a modern traffic system and equipment with effective rules and enforcement, there must be traffic managers and planners. They may learn from those who had worked there and left, people like Gealon and Holganza.


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