Dangerous daily commute


THERE was a time when driving a car meant having very little to complain about as far as traversing the city was concerned. I mean, if you’re not using public transport, and you plan your days around avoiding the traffic on the main thoroughfares, i.e. EDSA, then it used to be easy enough to move from say, Mandaluyong to Manila to Quezon City.

At the very least, there was a time when it would have been embarrassing to complain.

And then there’s the present, when you know in your gut that our streets are on crisis mode, and no one is safe.

Save for those in their fancy SUVs that can traverse floods, or can resist bullets. Say, the Hummer Kris gave Boy, the Prado of the Chief of the Philippine National Police.

Ah, the rich and powerful have all the luck.

The worst public transport
There is now no reprieve. Not anywhere.

The woes and dangers are aplenty and apparent in our badly-run and privatized trains. That this government washes its hands of responsibility and pushes it deeper into privatization is just our bad luck.

Where public transport is run like a business, our buses and jeeps are ill-maintained and unchecked, its workers suffering under the worst labor conditions. With no daily earnings unless they are able to first earn a specific amount for those who own these vehicles, jeep and bus drivers are forced to turn in long hours on the wheel, and know only to use our roads like maniacs – because it is equal to food in their children’s bellies.

Anyone who goes on EDSA and deals with buses, or jeeps on any other road, would know of the kind of recklessness the urgency of hunger brings. And it is an urgency that can be dealt with by the businesses that run our public transport, by changing this system of hiring drivers on a contractual basis, and giving them their due as workers who serve the public on a daily basis.

Of course, a change such as this would only happen if government were to step in and demand it of public transport businesses. The government needs to demand for compassion for workers and commuters from the people who run public transport.

The government needs to have the balls to do this. And we all know this government does not have that.

Terrific traffic
We are being told that the reason for the traffic on EDSA is the number of private vehicles that ply it every day. Now I’m not one to fight with the idea that there are too many who own cars in this country. I am one to wonder whether that is a problem at all.

Because there is also the fact that with the horrid business models for our public transport system, bus and jeepney drivers are forced into a kind of driving that is undisciplined and dangerous, and should be banned from our roads altogether. Say, the fact that buses are allowed to swerve with abandon, from any lane to another, loading passengers on one side of the street and swerving to an opposite lane to make it to the flyover that will allow them to rush past other vehicles.

Say, the fact that cars cannot go on certain lanes for buses, but buses can go on any lane at all. The truth that while the MMDA officers are quick to stop any car that swerves, they will watch as buses do the same.

Say, jeeps that stop where they please because they can, loading and unloading passengers and endangering their lives in the process.

This kind of unchecked unsafe undisciplined driving does not just happen on EDSA. It happens on every smaller road that leads to main thoroughfares. And yes, it is the reason for the horrendous traffic.

The evil of development
The brilliant idea that removing private vehicles from EDSA would solve traffic woes comes from Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) official Ariel Inton. He also says that private vehicles can just go on the side roads anyway, so might as well disallow them from using EDSA.

It would be funny were it not so utterly and precariously delusional. It is also obviously ungrounded in what ails our streets and our public transport, and what truly endangers the public that goes out to these streets every day.

Because in the past two months we have seen what less than 30 minutes of rain does to our streets. And it is far far from being passable and safe, and we’re not even talking about the traffic.

We are talking floods. We are talking flash floods, where you barely have time to make a detour and run from the rising waters that the first 10 minutes of heavy rains bring.

On Thursday, driving from Intramuros to Mandaluyong via Sta. Mesa Manila, the rains started to pour just as I was getting on Kalentong-Shaw Boulevard from P. Sanchez. This is a street that I grew up on

passing to and from home, but there was nothing familiar or nostalgic about watching the flood waters go up, and very quickly, on Shaw Boulevard.

The traffic was slow, with jeeps stopping where they wished, a construction truck plying the street, and one could only watch in horror as the water became gutter deep in less than 10 minutes. As I went up Shaw, I saw how the waters were flowing down towards Kalentong. I watched as it went up on the stretch near Puregold and S&R. I feared if the rain continued it would go even higher. I wondered about how bad it would become on Kalentong.

And then one realizes: it’s development, stupid. What is different about the Shaw Boulevard of my childhood and this one is that there are no more trees, no more open spaces of soil and gardens. What’s there are restaurants and condominiums, and concrete. And apparently no sense of a drainage system, no sense to ask the question: where will the water go when it rains?

And one realizes it is these simple questions that matter, and these are the ones that are left unanswered, or are dismissed, for the priority is “development” and “the economy.”

“Maganda na siguro ang problema na binabanggit na ma-trapik sa EDSA, tama po yan, dahil marami ang nasa kalsada, buhay na buhay ang ating economiya kaysa naman walang trapik sa EDSA dahil wala ng makabili ng gasolina na patakbuhin ang kanyang sasakyan.”

That’s the President of the Philippines, ladies and gentlemen, spinning the bane of the public’s existence, the dangerous daily commute, into something good.

We have all the luck.


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  1. victor m. hernandez on

    Ariel Inton of the LTFRB must have been just thinking aloud when he said something to ban private cars from EDSA. His idea, whether he was just thinking aloud, or have not really though seriously about it, it definitely a dumb idea, for which I wonder why he is at the LTFRB at all.

  2. victor m. hernandez on

    Traffic, floods, development, and some “wish ko lang”.
    BGC or Bonifcacio Global City in Taguig City (and Makati City?) is a good enough example of effective urban planning, a development that was ushered in by then Adminitrator Singson, now the Secretary of DPWH. On a pouring torrential rainy day, one will not see flooding or when driving will not go through a flooded street. What, no floods in a pouring torrential rain? No floods, that is because, Mr. Singson had built an underground water impounding facility that collects all rain water to prevent flooding, and will e be released gradually by pumpin the water out to the creek, streams, and river when rain subside or when flooding in other areas subside. Some water are retained in the impounding pond for watering the plants and grounds during dry period. Mr. Singson had the good fortune of starting at ground zero to develop a master plan and implement it to its present success of urban development .
    Unfortunately for him, he inherited an urban sprawl that has been overtaken by development. So there we have it, a Metro Manila which is considered by an author as the “gates of hell”, or to recall what a retired multi-national executive said about the metropolis as the “asshole of southeast asia”. In management science, there is what is called “creative destruction”. The idea can be extreme, but I wish we could just bomb the whole of Metro Manila, and start at ground zero to redevelop the metropolis. As an afterthought, maybe Mr. Singson will be designated as the Development Czar for Tacloban, Leyte, and Guian, Eastern Samar. The two areas where Haiyan made its landfalls that devastated both areas.

  3. God help the Philippines where a president of the country doesn’t accept reality. Always painting rosy pictures.

  4. Cynthia Cruz Bushman on

    Hello, Katrina, I am a regular follower who appreciate your column so much that I can always relate with your articles especially when I used to live and work in Manila. This particular article certainly brought back a horrible experience I had walking on flooded streets from Roxas Blvd, Manila to West Avenue, Quezon City after work at 5 pm and reached home past midnight. Obviously, nothing has changed in more than three decades since I left the country, traffic jams and flooded streets are still ignored by those elected officials in both national and local governments.

  5. 99.99999% recurring of drivers in this country have a total disregard of other drivers & the law & the highway code. This is a me me me society you live in. The church tells you to put others first, but the populace are deaf to those words. In the old days on a sinking ship it was women & children first ( to get off the ship ) in the philippines its survival of the fittest. When waiting in a queue in any store other filipinas will just walk up & give their order totally ignoring the queue beside them.
    To improve traffic congestion & to get people moving more quickly to their destinations you need to prioritise public transport. Give them the inside lane, no cars whatsoever to use it, but it has to be enforced. Let all these cars with 1 or 2 passengers sit in long queue’s. Let the public transport move better, 1 bus carrys up to 100 people most cars have just 1 person with a maximum of 5, so carrying the maximum you have 1 bus to 20 cars. But this stupid government doesnt have a clue.

    • I hope MMDA implement 4-car pooling in heavy-traffic roads, e.g., EDSA, C-5, Osmena blvd, Quezon Ave, Katipunan Ave.