Column – Verhungern – Pay to play


By Angel castillo

WE return, this week, to Yangot. Re-elected recently, and already I find myself drawn to some of his proposals. Last column two weeks ago, we discussed, if memory serves (as if I could not simply check my Google Drive), Yangot’s push for the declaration of all trees in Baguio as heritage and untouchable, immutable.

This week, we are looking at his new idea of a “congestion fee” for tourists. It is simple – bring your car to Baguio, pay up. You bring that up here, you pay for the traffic you’re going to cause with it.

The fee is what I would consider a nominal fee. For context, the ordinance would charge a P50 fee for tourists bringing their cars. This would then be funneled into traffic programs to improve the traffic situation, which for you and I are likely intolerable. The standard train of thought for traffic is god forbid you make me wait upward of fifteen minutes to move an inch, and it is one of the banes of the modern commuter, especially on busy, tourist-laden days.

But circling back and away from the stream of consciousness, the fee is a measly P50. If you are the kind of person who can afford to take a car to Baguio, P50 is likely something you can very easily shoulder. A nominal fee. Di bale maliit ang tubo basta marami benta.

And of course, Baguio residents are exempt. As are our LISTT neighbors, and potentially our Cordilleran neighbors as well.

This ordinance, passed on the first reading and undergoing the process, gets my rare thumbs up of approval. Normally, in this column, we are in the business of lightly critiquing things, and we are not known for being all smiles. 

I see this as a fairly good idea on paper – whether it holds up in practice is another matter – one that has potential to do some good for the city. 

First off, it’s additional revenue, which is rarely, if ever, bad for the development of a city. The numbers remain purely theoretical, but given how many tourists we receive now on a daily basis, surely it amounts to something.

I do think that while the measure will allow the city to add to its coffers for little cost, I do not foresee it getting cars out of Baguio. P50 is a small price to pay for the convenience of having a car to go anywhere one wants in the city, Travel is not cheap, cars are not cheap, and fuel is not cheap currently, so the math might work out in a way that proves me wrong, but I doubt that P50 will be enough discouragement to stop tourists from bringing cars.

There is also potential for the fee to negatively impact the reputation of Baguio. It is never set in stone, but the possibility is there. We are already in hushed, mocking tones at times referred to as the City of Fines (though anecdotal evidence indicates this is from residents), and slapping on another fee might cause negativity.

That being said, I believe this ordinance is well worth passing once the kinks have been ironed out. It might take a bit of finagling to find the right level of fee, the right frequency, and the amount that keeps the reputation of Baguio as a premiere tourist destination untarnished. But it will be worth it. Incidental value for Baguio City is good. Revenue is good. As long as it is fair and reasonably gained, I am all for it.

(Angel Castillo writes the bi-weekly column Verhungern as well as this informational bit in third person. For responses or thoughts, email the dedicated email address.)

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