Most congested

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Last Saturday, thinking that the holiday shopping rush was over, I decided to check out for the first time the sprawling garment tiangge or flea market in Taytay, Rizal.

I thought the early afternoon drive from southern Metro Manila would be smooth and pleasant through Circumferential Road 6 or C-6 around Laguna de Bay, with road construction in Lower Bicutan almost finished.

Along C-6 in Taytay I usually buy trays of raw balut and penoy for cooking at home, plus salted duck eggs. But last Saturday all I got were the salted eggs. The vendors told me that these days, their balut and penoy were always sold out by 9 or 10 a.m., with wholesale buyers arriving as early as 4 a.m.

While personally disappointed, I was heartened by this good news indicating post-pandemic economic recovery. Livelihoods are thriving again. But moments later, I wished the recovery was slower.

This was after I got stuck for nearly an hour just rounding the bend and driving across the river from the west to the east bank, from C-6 to Highway 2000 in Sitio Siwang – a distance of less than a kilometer.

I thought there was road construction or an accident ahead, but there was none. It was simply zero traffic management at the intersection beyond the river, with no stoplight, and with traffic enforcers probably noshing in the lomi house amid the crush of vehicles in both directions.

Since I was already trapped in the gridlock, I had no choice but to crawl along, and hope the tiangge would still be open by the time I got there. Traffic was so slow I was able to buy garden soil by the roadside while waiting to get moving. And at least the chicharron I bought from an ambulant vendor (imported from Bulacan) was good.

But I wondered what the Taytay local government, barangay personnel and police were doing on a busy Saturday, with traffic so messed up along a major road, so close to their main commercial center in Barangay San Juan. Were they all asleep in the pancitan?

Economic recovery was also evident at the tiangge area. But the traffic gridlock in that same short road stretch was still there late in the afternoon on my drive home, so I decided to take the longer route through Ortigas to avoid further stress.

Big mistake; the traffic was even worse. These days there’s no escaping traffic in Metro Manila.

It reminded me of when I got stuck for an hour along the C-5-Southlink Expressway in Parañaque last month because all but one lane had been closed to traffic at the height of the Christmas holiday rush, to make way for road construction. No sign warned motorists about the gridlock ahead.

Would it take rocket science to ease traffic in such situations?

*      *      *

Even in traffic management, we’re being left behind by our neighbors.

I used to think Indonesian capital Jakarta had the worst traffic jams in Southeast Asia, with Metro Manila competing with Thai capital Bangkok for second worst. Once it took me nearly three hours to reach the international airport from my hotel in central Jakarta during the evening rush hour – a distance of just over 30 kilometers.

But now Metro Manila has the worst traffic congestion in the world, according to Dutch traffic data provider TomTom Traffic.

From second worst worldwide in 2022 after Colombian capital Bogota, the TomTom 2023 Traffic Index showed Metro Manila deteriorating to the worst spot.

Bogota slid down to fifth place after Metro Manila, Peru capital Lima, Bengaluru in India and Sapporo, capital of Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture.

The worst day and time for traffic in Metro Manila last year, according to TomTom, was during the evening rush hour on Dec.15, the payday Friday before Christmas. Friday evening rush hour was also usually the worst throughout much of the year, TomTom reported.

Based on its collated data, it took 25 minutes and 30 seconds on average to travel 10 kilometers in Metro Manila in 2023.

Pinoys might find that an understatement. But TomTom based its rankings on anonymized data collected from 600 million vehicle devices and smartphones in 387 metro areas worldwide. The vehicles collectively traveled 551 billion kilometers.

*      *      *

Among city centers, TomTom’s 2023 Traffic Index also ranked Manila as the third most congested in Asia and the ninth worldwide. Having spent three decades working in Manila’s Port Area, I fully agree; the horrendous city traffic is one of the things I don’t miss after moving to The STAR’s new office in Parañaque.

There are people who have bought motorcycles to reduce the time spent stuck in traffic. But these days, riders tell me that with so many motorcycles on the road, their travel time can be the same as four-wheeled vehicles. One rider told me it took him over two hours to reach Las Piñas from Caloocan through Commonwealth Avenue and on to C-5 during the morning rush hour last Monday.

New roads in Metro Manila barely make a dent on traffic if these are toll roads. Only the folks belonging to the country’s .001 percent don’t feel the pain of road tolls. A daily toll to and from work of about P300 translates into over P12,000 for a month for those with a five-day workweek. Many motorists would rather endure heavy traffic on roads they can use for free.

Why can’t the government build the roads direly needed at least in Greater Manila for free public use? Where do our taxes go? Now the lawmakers who have resumed using blinkers and think they are entitled to use the EDSA busway want to increase the motor vehicle road user’s tax.

Apart from more roads, easing traffic needs trained traffic managers, with emphasis on “trained.”

We have such an enormous government payroll. Yet even busy intersections and road stretches, such as that one in Taytay, lack traffic enforcers. Again, where do our taxes go?

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