In October 2015, Waze released the results of its Global Driver Satisfaction Index (GSDI), identifying Manila as having “the worst traffic on earth.”
Traffic in Manila has not improved over the past three years. It has worsened instead. I had several helpless moments when I was stuck one day in traffic for over two hours last month. There was nothing I can do, but to wait. I am scared to death about how it is going to be as the holiday season draws near.
Much has already been said and written about our horrendous traffic. I remember an anecdote about two expatriates who were offered a position in the Philippines with very handsome benefits package. These two foreigners were offered the same position one after the other–after the first one declined the offer, the same position was offered to the second candidate, who also declined.
The first candidate was an Australian based in Singapore, while the second one was a European based in Macao. Both were asked to travel to Manila and stay for three days to experience life in the Philippines.
Despite the very attractive offer, both respectfully turned it down for the same reason–quality of life. Both have very young children, and they cannot afford to waste time on the road going to and from work.
What we Filipinos have embraced and thought of as something normal is what citizens from other nations cannot stand. I spend at least three hours every working day going to work and heading back home. I leave the house very early to avoid heavy traffic and to be able to leave work before 5 p.m. to escape Makati traffic. It’s the norm for many of us, and we never really looked at it as an issue.
While we have grown numb to the traffic situation, it has gone from bad to worse.
Instead of trying to find a solution to what seems to be a hopeless case, we could first look at what is causing the bad traffic.
Is the traffic situation a chicken and egg story? Are we in this situation because of lack of planning? Are there more vehicles than roads?
There is so much road construction going on. Would this mean that once they are completed, our traffic nightmares will be over? Most people would say “no” and argue that, once these new roads are completed, the number of vehicles would have tripled or quadrupled.
Policy making and implementation
In most countries, old vehicles are retired after a number of years as a matter of policy. In the Philippines, I have seen very old cars barely running on the road.
If we don’t have a policy on vehicle road worthiness, then we clearly have issues on implementation.
Other countries have invested a lot on their mass transportation systems and have aligned them with strict control measures to make it difficult to purchase a motor vehicle, such as first paying for the right to purchase a vehicle and having a parking slot for the car before getting the approval to buy one.
I have not heard of any similar policy in the Philippines, except for the imposition of taxes on the purchase of new cars, which is more of an income generation policy for the government.
We feel so entitled, so much that we feel that our rights are above the rights of others. Examples: a) pedestrians walking on the road; b) jeepney passengers boarding and alighting in the center of the road, even if they know they are obstructing traffic; c) tricycles, despite being barred by the law to run on national roads, still do so; d) traffic enforcers focusing on apprehending violators of insignificant traffic rules, instead of directing traffic; e) car drivers cutting a long queue because they are in a hurry.
As someone who specializes in people management, I believe that no amount of infrastructure and policy will solve the Manila traffic situation unless we change as better individuals.
We need to respect the rights of others, while continuing to preserve and exercise our own individual rights.
But the worsening traffic had positive effects that showcase our positive traits as a race.
I am now always on the road early to be ahead of the pack of corporate movers. You will be surprised by how congested EDSA is at around 6 a.m. It seems that everyone has the same thing in mind: beat the traffic by leaving the house early.
It has probably moved the rush hour to an hour earlier. At our offices, there are many employees who arrive before 7 a.m. Imagine the increase in productivity when employees arrive to work early.
While we continue to hope for a cure for the worsening traffic in Metro Manila, let us also look at its positive effects on us.
I am pretty sure you can identify one or two.
Obet Cruz is a Senior Managing Consultant of Advisory Services.
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As Published in The Manila Times dated 24 October 2018