#OPINION | Car-centrism: Adding vehicle fuel to the fire

by Aequitas Wollstonecraft* & Carlota Leopoldina Bagumbayan*

*The authors of this article have opted to use pseudonyms to protect their identities.

Another day of the government highlighting a problem means another day of never addressing it.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. the importance of railways in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25. But, as usual, his priorities are shown to be misplaced.

The president said that “railways offer great potential as it continues to be the cheapest way of transporting goods and passengers” — which is true. Railways are indeed a first step in improving the Philippines’ transportation system, but there are more pressing transportation issues that must be focused on — especially in the country’s car-centric cities.

Car-centrism prioritizes private vehicles on roads that are also used by pedestrians, bikers, as well as commuters. This concept fails to apply basic urban planning principles, as it manifests in inequitable policies and programs that benefit private vehicle owners at the expense of everyone else.

The government’s ignorance of the needs of the majority is evident in their prioritization of car-centrism in the national budget, where of its 2022 infrastructure budget was still spent on road networks.

Although the Department of Transportation (DOTr) Pres. Marcos Jr.’s aforementioned priority in its allocation of amounts to the railway sector, the needs of those who bike, walk, or commute remain unaddressed.

This blatant disregard of the most important issues unsurprisingly came from a government whose decisions have created chaos in the country — chaos that has made it impossible to travel by alternative means. And if we do not highlight and call out the lack of urgency to attend to those needs, our country’s transportation system will continue to fall apart — as it already did for so many years.

Undeserved struggles

The Philippine transportation system should be helpful to its users, especially in a society where only own cars. But in reality, the majority have their time and money wasted on an urban planning system that is concerned with neither their comfort nor safety.

Ignorance from what is needed the most in transportation systems leads to per individual lost to rush-hour traffic yearly. However, its effects do not end with the mere waste of time and expenses, as 12,000 lives are also lost on Philippine roads yearly. This loss of resources and lives could have been avoided had officials just avoided car-centric planning in the first place.

They should have also understood that there are people who have no other means of travel and have the right to proper lanes and routes as human beings.

Pedestrians do not deserve to walk on sidewalks that abruptly end without a warning, as well as those used as parking spaces, vendor stalls, and roads for motorcycles and cars. These are sidewalks in everyday Philippine life that make walking dangerous and even deadly at times.

A sidewalk that ends without warning. From .
Motorcycles using the sidewalks as a road. From .

Bikers should not feel that they are risking their lives just because they’re biking. They deserve properly-placed bike lanes and not those hastily added by splitting a lane into two, rendering the remaining half unusable. They do not deserve to be put in a situation of accidents and packed lanes, where some drivers take up the adjusted lane even when bikers are present.

Under the previous administration, of roads were constructed, maintained, widened, upgraded, and rehabilitated. However, while these added roads accommodate the present flow of vehicles, the government must realize that the increased space will people to buy more cars, leading to more vehicles and thus adding to traffic.

Moreover, commuters shouldn’t have to tolerate a slow and confusing public transport system that treats them as nuisances compared to drivers of private vehicles. They, along with pedestrians and bikers, shouldn’t be pushed to buy and use a car, especially if they cannot afford it.

Filipino society, after all, should be for the people, and it shouldn’t place its citizens in a position where they can either conform to a car-centric society or get left behind.

Moving away from car-centrism

In a society like this, the principles of car-centrism are not sustainable.

Improving railways may be a step to move away from car-centrism, but what should have been prioritized in the first place is their safety and comfort, not band-aid solutions that the government puts out to say that they are at least doing something.

The government should prioritize building that efficiently accommodate pedestrians, connected cyclist networks through off-street trails, and bike lanes. Some first steps were already made in the in Pasig City, the in Valenzuela City, as well as the bike lanes in and along

Additionally, they should focus on that keep pedestrians safe on the road. These include pedestrian overpasses that minimize interactions among the different types of travelers and drastically reduce accidents; and bus shelters that can also reduce traffic by sitting right on the sidewalk, with a curb separating them from cars.

The government must also do more than just their “Build, Build, Build’’ program to solve the Philippines’ transport supply shortage.

They must stop making tired excuses and faulty solutions to cover up the fact that they have made no progress. They must stop trying to retain their “good” image, but instead, actually do something that benefits their people.

An equitable future for transportation

If the people in power focus on what needs to be done, our cities would be safer for pedestrians, bikers, and commuters alike. Meanwhile, drivers of private vehicles wouldn’t wrestle for space in roads, as other road users would have their own spaces as well.

Their actions must result in roads where one could walk or bike more freely, without worries of getting run over by cars, and transportation systems which cater to the needs of commuters.

Each and every one of our needs would be granted in a society that paves the way not for the dominance of cars, but for the equitable use of roads among every citizen.

The fact that we still have so much to do before we reach this future tells us this: we must never forget to hold the government accountable for their actions — or rather, the lack of. Remember how they once again turned away from our raised concerns, and that if they do their job, we would have a better transport system for our country and our people.

And the struggle of pedestrians, commuters, and bikers in a car-centric world would finally end.

*ERRATUM: A portion of this article was revised to improve accuracy

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