WE could have, for instance, been struck by a mile-wide asteroid. Or a surprise invasion from North Korea. Or a plague of bees.
Tuesday night may have been the moment when, after having managed to hold it together for five years, two months, and nine days of the Aquino Administration, the country finally gave up and began to collapse.
While President BS Aquino 3rd’s hokey, smirking performance in a stage-managed “press conference” with the Inquirer group was being played and replayed on the evening news—and while on a different channel, ABS-CBN’s Karen Davila was asking MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino if the proposed subway along Edsa would be built above ground or underground (yes, that really happened)—Metro Manila was grinding to a complete halt, overwhelmed by a flood of vehicles and a flood of actual water from a relatively short-lived but intense thunderstorm.
By now everyone has probably heard the stories and seen the pictures of Tuesday night’s traffic disaster, and likely most everyone reading this experienced it in some way—if you did not, you should fall to your knees and offer thanks for that to whichever Supreme Being you follow; it was that bad. As of 2 am Wednesday, when I finally stopped monitoring the situation and went to bed (having made my own 20-kilometer commute from office to home in a comparatively painless four hours and 15 minutes earlier in the evening), much of Edsa was still gridlocked, and several thousand passengers were still stranded at different points by a lack of buses or other public transportation.
What is ironic, or would be ironic if we weren’t already used to the Administration’s bizarre reverse Midas touch, is that the first two days of a new “traffic management plan” have resulted in progressively worse gridlock. The Administration will, of course, find something to blame for it. Too many people driving cars with only one or two occupants; too much little patience on the part of the public. And of course, every finger the government points is three pointing back at itself. We’ve been through all that; repeating the litany of Aquino’s failures to plan, manage, or even mentally grasp the concept of infrastructure is not really going to help at this point.
What might help are some suggestions on how people can survive this mess, which at this point looks like it will continue to grow worse until frustration provokes a mass exodus out of Metro Manila.
If you’re a driving commuter, consider leaving your car at home. You probably will not be saving any time by doing so, but at least you will not be wasting fuel or causing excessive wear on your vehicle or your nerves, and you will be making a tiny contribution to reducing traffic. If you must drive, try to take two or three people with you, preferably people who would otherwise be driving as well.
If you’re a business owner, you must accept the reality that you can no longer pretend dealing with traffic congestion is solely the responsibility of your employees, and that whatever they have to go through to make it to work by the designated starting time is their problem. The commute is destroying everyone’s productivity, and that is going to quickly manifest itself in your operations if you do not account for it. Consider shortening shifts where possible, allowing your employees extra rest days, and doing as much work as possible—depending on the nature of your business, of course—online. Do not schedule face-to-face meetings, seminars, or other get-togethers unless absolutely unavoidable; instead opt for conference calls, videoconferencing, or e-mail exchanges. Call the folks over at Google Philippines. They’ll set you up with all sorts of neat tools for doing group work online.
The traffic crisis is going to cost businesses, and it is going to cost the overall economy; even if it is regarded as strictly a “Manila problem”—which it is not, although it is more spectacular here than in other urban areas—the greater Manila area accounts for a significant chunk of the national economy, and the crisis here is likely going to shave a couple tenths of a percent off GDP growth. The negative impact cannot be avoided. But with a little planning, it can be mitigated. The real solutions—actual solutions, not just putting 100 more traffic cops on one road—are years away. The sooner we realize that and take steps to live with it, the more likely we’ll be around to actually see some improvement.