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Metro Manila traffic kills Christmas

(The Philippine Star) - December 22, 2013 - 12:00am

The traffic situation in Metro Manila is literally killing not only the spirit of Christmas but people as well, like Phil Thomas Lirasan — the 18-month-old baby boy who was the youngest casualty in the NAIA 3 ambush of Zamboanga del Sur mayor Ukol Talumpa. “If it wasn’t for the traffic, that wouldn’t have happened to them,” lamented the boy’s uncle who was supposed to fetch the Lirasan family from the airport, but failed to get there on time. The suspect was seen speeding off a motorcycle driven by a waiting accomplice, but the policemen stationed at the airport terminal got caught in a traffic jam. The Lirasan family will have nothing to celebrate Christmas for with their relatives in Manila.

The spirit of Christmas practically perishes with people finding their frustration and stress levels rising as they sit through hours of traffic on the road, the usual congestion aggravated by all the people coming to Manila to do Christmas shopping in department stores. In the last two weeks alone, several traffic-related altercations have also resulted in shooting incidents, one of them involving the family of a nine-year-old girl who had to undergo an operation after sustaining kidney and liver injuries. Another resulted in the death of a 17-year-old girl who was accidentally shot when a driver and a pedestrian engaged in a heated argument obviously triggered by road rage. A classic example of just how deadly road rage can be involves Jason Ivler who, in 2009, shot Victor Ebarle Jr. because of a near-collision along Santolan in Quezon City. Ivler reportedly blocked the path of Ebarle, got out of his SUV, pulled out a gun and shot the victim several times at close range.

Traffic makes no distinction and can “victimize” everyone — passenger or commuter, young or old, rich or poor, ordinary or powerful. In fact, traffic also affects the economy according to a study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA that said yearly losses due to traffic in Metro Manila alone is estimated at P140 billion  computed from direct and indirect losses such as wasted gasoline, lost hours of productivity, missed business opportunities, not to mention medical costs due to illnesses caused by “vehicle related particulate pollution” (or that bad air caused by the soot and dust from vehicle exhaust and even car air conditioning that can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat as well as shortness of breath and not to mention one’s temper).

Our tourism industry is also seriously threatened by the traffic situation, with one in every four foreigners citing heavy traffic as the biggest turnoff as far as visiting the Philippines is concerned according to a survey by the National Statistical Coordination Board and the Department of Tourism. Not surprisingly, more and more expats are finding Metro Manila less and less attractive because of the annoying traffic, with many complaining that they spend more hours on the road trying to get out of the airport to their hotel or destination than they did flying in to Manila from an Asian city (like Singapore or Hong Kong for instance). Even balikbayans are reluctant to come home for the holidays because the thought of going through EDSA alone is enough to turn them off. Many are also complaining about the sudden proliferation of overzealous traffic cops at known chokepoints who are so ready to pounce on hapless drivers especially the people from the province for “imaginary” or even “anticipated” traffic violations.

One must admit the Metro Manila Development Authority has been trying its best to resolve the horrific jams that now seem to affect every street in the metropolis. Chairman Francis Tolentino opened up so-called Christmas lanes and is talking with mayors and private homeowners associations for more “friendly routes.” Tolentino even went so far as to cooperate with mall owners to develop traffic management measures to ease the increased congestion and even conducted crash-training courses for mall security personnel on vehicular traffic management.   

If the existing traffic conditions are any indication today, then we can only brace ourselves for worse things to come in the next couple of years, as the number of commuters and passengers just keep increasing. Clearly, the government needs to come up with long-term solutions to this perennial bane of traffic jams and bring order out of the chaotic conditions in our streets. Otherwise, we will always be in this catch-up situation where roads become inadequate to address the growing congestion. A group from the UP National Center for Transportation Studies is calling for the construction of more flyovers in areas notorious for having congested intersections, saying this is more expedient than road widening projects. The group is also emphatic about the development of an efficient, safe public transportation and mass transport system not only to encourage more people to commute but to speed up travel time from one destination to another.

Obviously, it will take more than “daang matuwid” to get things moving judging from the “indolent” pace over at the DOTC. Businessmen are unhappy over the continued delays – for some reason or another – in the implementation of critical infra projects, with some groups advocating for big-ticket transport projects to be implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways just to get things moving.  As they say, time wasted is money wasted, as seen in the billions in economic losses every year due to traffic. But for some others, like the family of baby Phil Thomas Lirasan, time wasted due to traffic can literally mean the loss of one’s life at Christmas.

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Email: babeseyeview@yahoo.com

CHAIRMAN FRANCIS TOLENTINO DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS HONG KONG JAPAN INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION AGENCY JASON IVLER LIRASAN METRO MANILA METRO MANILA DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY TRAFFIC
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