Solving the increasingly unbearable Metro Manila traffic

In my first entry in over a year, I recall a conversation topic with countless cabbies and Uber drivers about what is wrong with the Metro Manila traffic and how it can be solved.

It’s 7:24 a.m. (GMT +8) here, and I didn’t get to sleep a wink at all last night.

Must have been the flat white coffee from Toby’s Estate (re-labeled as Luke’s Diner for one day by the guys and gals of Netflix Philippines due to the release of “The Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life”) that kept me up. Thanks.

Out of sheer randomness, I thought of re-opening this blog and check it out again. And surprise, it’s been over a year since I last checked into this. It’s so dated that my last entry was about the “planted bullet evidence (laglag bala) scandal” at the Manila International Airport.

Fast forward to today: the same politician who promised to put an end to the said scandal is now in hot water due to his stance on the burial of former dictator/President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. (More on that in a possible future entry, but not now. I’m in no mood to discuss this complex ditty.)

Hours ago, I talked to the Uber driver (can’t remember his name, my apologies) who shuttled me from Makati to our house. Though most of our discussion revolved around the upcoming Metro Manila Film Festival — its “surprise” decision to leave out high profile entries like “Mano Po” (of Producer “Mother” Lily Monteverde), “Enteng Kabisote” (Vic Sotto), and “Super Parental Guardians” (Vice Ganda) — and the sad state of Philippine education where no member of the House of Representatives would send their kids to the respective districts that they allegedly safeguard, we tackled the ad nauseam discussion on traffic in the Metro Manila area.

(Ed’s note (a.k.a.: additional liner notes): Mind you, this is one common conversation I have had with cab drivers in the past…especially when I’m already screwed badly by the horrible traffic and running late for an appointment.)

Despite my “cloak of invincibility” from traffic as an urban cyclist, I am still very much affected by the horrible congestion of vehicles, mass transport, and foot traffic that grows increasingly unbearable each day. Instead of just whining about my plight as a commuter and citizen of the metro, I offered multiple solutions on this increasingly uncomfortable situation plaguing everyone within the nation’s capital.

Without further ado, here are my observations and solutions to improve the traffic in Metro Manila:

Root of all problems: human congestion

For a solution to be efficient, it must go to the root cause of all the problems.

Let’s cut to the chase and point out the elephant in the room nobody dares to talk about: Metro Manila is too crowded.

For example, let’s take note of the following numbers from major cities around the metro:

Note: Population data accurate as of 2010, via National Statistics Authority
City of Manila
Population: 1,780,148
Area: 42.88 sq. km (16.55 sq. mi.)
Density: 41,515 / square km (107,562 / square mi.)
Pateros
Population: 64,147
Area: 2.10 sq. km (0.81 sq. mi.)
Density: 30,546 / square km (79,114 / square mi.)
Caloocan
Population: 1,489,040
Area: 53.34 sq. km (20.6 sq. mi.)
Density: 27,916 / square km (72,302 / square mi.)
Malabon
Population: 353,337
Area: 15.76 sq. km (6.08 sq. mi.)
Density: 22,420 / square km (58,607 / square mi.)
Pasig
Population: 669,773
Area: 31.00 sq. km (11.97 sq. mi.)
Density: 21,606 / square km (55,958 / square mi.)
Pasay
Population: 392,869
Area: 19.00 sq. km (7.34 sq. mi.)
Density: 20,677 / square km (53,554 / square mi.)
San Juan
Population: 121,430
Area: 5.94 sq. km (2.29 sq. mi.)
Density: 20,442 / square km (52,946 / square mi.)
Makati
Population: 529,039
Area: 27.36 sq. km (10.56 sq. mi.)
Density: 19,336 / square km (50,080 / square mi.)
Quezon City
Population: 2,936,116
Area: 165.53 sq. km (63.83 sq. mi.)
Density: 17,738 / square km (45,999 / square mi.)

Mind you, this is just select data without the likes of Navotas, Caloocan (North and South), Valenzuela, Las Piñas, and Muntinlupa; yet the numbers are already staggering. With these numbers already huge six years ago, the congestion within the metro is getting worse.

Simply put, the metro is a huge choke point and needs to be relieved of people in order to function well again. Additional roads, skyways, widened roads, and other patchwork solutions will never contribute to the solutions, but create more problems.

THE SOLUTION: Decongest the metro area. This is easier said than done, but I believe there are some efforts to do so. However, infrastructure like mass transit/railway systems are still substandard in handling incoming and outgoing traffic to and from nearby provinces that could help ease the congestion situation.

The biggest hurdle in decongesting the metro is on how to distribute the wealth outside of the metro. One of the main reasons why everyone flocks to the nation’s capital is mostly due to the lack of adequate and competitive jobs in the countryside.

What if major companies of the San Miguel or Manny Pangilinan conglomerates decided to decentralize and moved its head offices outside Metro Manila? That would give opportunities for potential employees to gain access to high level jobs without leaving their locale. This also entices people who moved to the metro to go back to their provinces, and forces utility companies (water, electricity, communications) to improve its infrastructure, spurring growth.

What if — instead of making more people stay in the metro through vertical expansion (read: condominiums at every nook and cranny of the metro) — developers would shift its focus instead on creating infrastructure to make people stay in the countryside and develop a better, well-planned community that corrects the mistakes made in the urban sprawl of Metro Manila?

In turn, government should give incentives like tax breaks to the companies and its employees for distributing the wealth and developing the countryside to allowing for a holistic growth of the country. Now that will accelerate the country’s total growth even further.

Problem solved. That, of course, depends on how much balls our elected leaders are to pull the trigger. (Or maybe, if their self-interest of staying in power through the control of their constituents will not get in the way.)

Another caveat (aside from political will), however, lies in how the said locale responds to natural disasters such as torrential storms and earthquakes. It must be noted that certain provinces remain below poverty because it has not responded properly to natural conditions that does not allow for its infrastructures to remain in usable conditions after calamities.

Corollary: inefficient transportation system

Speaking of the inefficient public transport, our current broken system is a main cause of concern for all travelers going in and out of the metro. Inside the city, we have multiple routes for buses and jeepneys that converge in a major thoroughfare.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take the jeepney routes that are within the vicinity of Cubao, Quezon City as an example:

Cubao — Divisoria (Manila)
Parang (Marikina) — Cubao — Stop and Shop (Manila)
San Juan — Cubao
Cubao — Project 4
Cubao — Crame
Cubao — Cogeo
Cubao — Rosario
Cubao — Taytay
Cubao — Angono
T.M. Kalaw — Cubao
Vito Cruz — Mabini — Cubao
Pantranco — Mercury — Cubao
Cubao — Kalayaan — Fairview
Cubao — Lagro

That’s at least 14 different routes going to one place. Half of the jeepneys that go in and out from Cubao are either half-filled or nearly empty, worse when one jeep stays around the area until it fills up its entire vehicle. Let’s say each route has at least 50 units each, which amounts to over 1,000 vehicles (number coding not considered) on

Now, let’s take a look at some of the bus routes plying through EDSA as another example:

Malanday — Monumento — Baclaran
Malanday — Alabang
Alabang — Novaliches
FTI — San Jose del Monte (via Commonwealth)
Lagro — NAIA (Parañaque)
Navotas — Pacita (Laguna)
Norzagaray (Bulacan) — Baclaran

I’ll stop myself at seven. Looking at this list via DOLE and trying to discern how many routes have been made already made me dizzy. Take these routes, multiply them by 20, and you have at least 140 buses plying the same avenue as a mass rail transit is running just above it. This number does not take into consideration the numerous provincial bus routes that enter EDSA and creates bottlenecks at EDSA — Taft Avenue and EDSA — Cubao. Very inefficient.

THE SOLUTIONS: Create route rationalizations. Cut off routes before they enter EDSA. If we will have a bus route running through EDSA, allow it to only run from Monumento up to the SM Mall of Asia globe at EDSA South extension. Therefore, we have streamlined routes where the EDSA buses will be on the receiving end of the “relay system” along the perpetually traffic-logged avenue.

That way, the mass rail transit lines running through EDSA, Taft Avenue, and Aurora Boulevard will be fully utilized. This also hinges on the much-malgned MRT-3’s railway livery upgrade that has plagued the line for the last decade.

As for the jeepneys, they have to go. It might sound sacrilegious, but it’s time the 75-plus year old public transport system has gone by the wayside like the kalesa and is meant to be kept in museums. Same goes for the “multi-cabs” (mini-jeepneys), tricycles, and pedicabs.

As with buses, routes should also be rationalized, then replace said jeepneys with air-conditioned coasters or even buses, and you have a more efficent system of shuttling people.

Again, this all depends if our elected leaders and the transport sector are willing to make changes for the improvement of the traffic around the metropolis. But then again, some of the said elected leaders themselves have vested interests as investors and/or operators of said public utility vehicles.

One more thing: if we have a very efficient public transport system, people will no longer see their cars useful and leave them at home or even eschew them altogether. Problem solved.

Closing

This entire idea I had in mind was borne out of years of talking to cab drivers and my father about an almost eternal problem that will never go away — save, of course, an Armageddon were to wipe out Metro Manila as in World War II.

This may have been a crude entry fueled by a sleepless night caused by flat white coffee from Luke’s Diner, but I believe I got my thoughts in one cohesive entry.

I would love to hear your thoughts in discussing about this or other means of fixing our eternal transportation problem in Metro Manila. Do drop me a line through Twitter [at]deeyaygo, or send me a message through my Facebook page.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.