EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Traffic in Metro Manila has become so bad that because of it, the Philippines has been immortalized in television shows, novels and, early this year, in a song by the British rock band Coldplay.

Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, in his book Inferno for instance, portrayed Manila as the gates of hell, notably because of the traffic jam, pollution, massive poverty and so much more.

In January, during their concert at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin penned a song about insane traffic jams in Metro Manila.

And just when we think we’ve seen the worst of it, the situation has descended into further chaos over the past weeks and there’s really no telling if and when things will get better.

June 10 in Quezon City for instance, was a night to remember because there was paralyzing traffic brought about by the rally of drivers and operators of public utility vehicles.

Quezon Avenue all the way to Commonwealth was one giant parking lot for hours. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough advisories from authorities to avoid the area at the said time and there were also no suggestions for alternative routes.

I was one of the motorists stuck for three hours in that traumatizing traffic situation.

The nights that followed were no better and every route to Quezon City from the southern part of the metropolis was a sight of madness – a sea of red lights as vehicles spent perhaps more than five minutes to move by just a kilometer.

State of calamity

It really is a state of calamity, as the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) transportation and infrastructure committee led by Eduardo Yap pointed out months ago.

“This traffic congestion in Metro Manila has been so severe that an estimated P3.5-billion daily economic loss is being incurred continuously, and therefore more than merits a declaration of a state of calamity by the President who may avail of emergency powers to provide relief measures,” Yap said.

The MAP earlier presented to lawmakers a plan to solve the crisis.

The plan called for a “traffic crisis declaration and a new management task force headed by a traffic czar to undertake a comprehensive program consisting of short, medium and long-term measures.”

The focus should be mass public transportation, it said.

EDSA Busway

MAP said the EDSA Busway is a good initiative, which MAP and FINEX pushed in 2015 and which the government implemented in 2020.

The Busway is being closely monitored by MAP to ensure compliance with global standards and best practices.

Megawide’s proposal to redevelop the EDSA Carousel line seems like an ideal plan too, but the government has decided to go for the solicited route. Let’s wait and see what happens next.

Multi-decade problem

MAP’s Yap said “that current efforts at building big ticket transportation infrastructure and certain traffic measures will contribute to traffic decongestion, but all these disparate measures must be under a comprehensive plan, such as MAP’s Holistic Plan, to effectively address this multidecade-long traffic congestion problem which is worsening by the year.”

The business group is correct in saying that traffic in Metro Manila is now a decades-old problem that remains unresolved.

The economic losses, I’m sure, have skyrocketed because the P3.5 billion estimated by JICA was actually from a study six years ago and the situation has gotten worse.

More than the damage to the economy, there are losses we cannot measure including time – time we could have spent with our loved ones or time we could have used to rest and prepare for the next day’s work. And then there’s the toll on our health – physical and otherwise.

I have no doubt that the stress of being stuck in traffic has an impact on one’s mental health and on one’s physical condition, too, due to prolonged exposure to pollution, especially when taking public vehicles.

One solution that works for some in beating the traffic is taking motorcycle taxis, which are way cheaper than the four-wheel taxis, but it’s not for everyone.

On the other hand, some four-wheel rides are just unreasonably expensive. One ride is sometimes nearly half the cost of a full tank of gasoline in a car.

Perhaps there should also be a better and more efficient carpooling app than those that are currently available. This would also minimize the presence of vehicles on our roads.

Two-day a week ban

A reader, Alex Serrano, a retired engineer, suggested imposing a two-day a week ban on private vehicles.

He said it has been considered by the Department of Transportation but unfortunately, it has never been implemented or even tried because motorists deem it “confusing and unfair.”

“I think a little sacrifice from us car owners will go a long way as we contribute our share in improving the general welfare of everyone, considering the billions of pesos worth of lost opportunities incurred due to the horrendous traffic every day,” Serrano said.

Other solutions include flexible office and school hours, hybrid set-ups, car-pooling and elevated walkways.

Long-term solutions include big-ticket transportation infrastructure such as trains, including the much-awaited subway and the North South Commuter Railway (NSCR) project.

Authorities should also keep motorists constantly informed on real-time traffic situations through numerous advisories.

I don’t know what other solutions will work but what I know for sure is that the status quo is unacceptable.

Filipino commuters and motorists are desperately crying out for help.

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Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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