IT is difficult to stay calm in the midst of worsening traffic, but it sure helps that this time around the President seems to understand how bad it actually is, not spinning it to talk about development and progress, not saying things like it ain’t fatal. Instead his appeal for the public’s understanding and cooperation seems sincere, and one realizes that he can’t want this either.
Stop those road repairs
I’ve been traveling from Mandaluyong to Manila for the past two years, at least once a week, this semester three times (!) a week. I pass through Shaw Boulevard, down P. Sanchez, down the stretch of Magsaysay Boulevard, into Legarda and Casal Streets, and then Ayala Boulevard.
When I started teaching at the Manila Times College (MTC) in late 2013, it would take me 40 minutes maximum to get to work. On Thursday, I traveled two hours just to get from Mandaluyong to Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM). Both MTC and PLM are inside Intramuros.
This increase in travel time did not happen suddenly. Traffic gradually worsened since early this year.
One of the more obvious reasons has been endless road improvements and repairs. First it was down the stretch of P. Sanchez, which they did an area at a time, which also meant that it happened across a longer period. It was unclear what it was for until it was done and revealed a wider road.
This did not mean less travel time though, because after that, countless other repairs happened on this stretch. There’s the Ayala Bridge repair that we were promised would end in May but is still ongoing. There are the endless road improvement projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which happen one after the other.
One wonders why. But also one would like to suggest a reprieve from all these “public works” on our roads. What about no digging up the roads, not for water lines or “road widening,” not for “flood control” or asphalting – not for getting more votes in 2016 or being able to say look! infrastructure spending!
What about we stop messing with our roads while we have this record number of vehicles plying it.
And then we start thinking about how to lessen those vehicles.
Specifically for Manila, what about putting back that truck ban Mayor Erap? Because no matter what time of day you travel, you are at the mercy of huge container trucks in a long queue to pass through roads that are too small to hold trucks, public transport vehicles, and private cars, especially during rush hour. This means nothing but traffic, no matter efficient traffic lights and traffic police – which Manila has by the way.
Of course the easiest answer is to stop bringing our cars out, stop with taking Uber. And that is also what the President’s odd-even scheme suggestion will require all of us to do. The President imagines that this will be met with complaints from people who will not be allowed to use their cars.
Yet I think the louder complaint we will hear is not about being disallowed from bringing our cars out. It’s the fact that we don’t quite have options as far as commuting is concerned.
While there would be less traffic because there are less cars on the road, that also means competing for cabs – ones that would hike up their prices because there’s such a high demand. There is the option of Uber and Grab Taxi of course, but with higher demand, that only really means paying more for those rides, too.
The best option is to start a culture of walking and biking, alongside the good ol’ commute. I grew up in a Manila where I could easily get on a bus from EDSA-Crossing and get to school in Quezon City. There was a time I lived on Visayas Avenue and could get to Katipunan Avenue for work in 20 minutes, taking three jeepney rides. Even just a year ago, I could walk to the Shaw Boulevard station of the MRT, and get off at the Magallanes station to go and look at exhibits on Pasong Tamo.
But we haven’t had these options the past year. We don’t have the option of public transport, at least not in terms of buses and jeeps that are safe and efficient. Bus drivers are forced to drive like crazy madmen if only to meet their day’s boundary; the same with jeepney drivers. The stories are numerous about our unsafe streets, and one isn’t even talking about crime – just the fact of no sidewalks for the pedestrian. Let’s not even talk about bike lanes. Or the MRT.
It is ironic that the easiest option is also the one that we are not open to. The better treatment of our bus and jeepney drivers that would allow them to earn a decent living without risking their and their passengers’ lives. Better inspections processes for public transportation, and stricter penalties on unsafe buses and jeeps. An easier way of reporting taxi drivers who charge more than what’s on the meter, or who do not treat passengers well. Reclaim the sidewalks from malls, commercial buildings, parking lots. Give us our pedestrian lanes. Make us feel safe on the streets because the police are there to protect us, and not just direct traffic.
Then, the odd-even scheme just might work. Otherwise, disallowing private vehicle owners from using their cars so often will just mean more absenteeism from work, and more people becoming dependent on Uber, which will really only mean more people buying cars still, to turn it into a business.
That’s like keeping us off the street so that Uber can take our place on it.
Now that’s reason to get all riled up, yes?