PH: Analyzing the Philippines' traffic problem.

Archived: This is an old post from Medium, and was just moved here for archival purposes.
Some of the views expressed here may no longer apply in the present. Opinions change.

See anarchy in its vehicular form.

It’s thursday night, and it’s raining. This is how Makati looks like in Waze.

The traffic in the Philippines’ Metro has been an issue for ages. It’s where the majority of businesses, work and commerce happens, after all, and as time went on and new generations of people enter the workforce, it has then turned into this.

It’s turned from bad, to ugly, to outright unbearable.


It’s not just the Makati Central Business district either. If I had actually waited for Waze to load the entire map, I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw more red lines (that were borderline black) and more pins of complaints of standstill traffic.

So, how exactly would you fix this?

The Philippines is not a country for cars!#

At the very least, the Metro wasn’t built and designed for it, and no one can change that fact.

While in traffic, it’s easy for people to complain how horrible it is and complain why the government is doing nothing to fix the problem.

I think that to begin with, the country is not meant to use cars in the first place. Or at least the existing infrastructure that is already set in place (and cannot change) isn’t designed for it.

When I went to California earlier this year, my first impressions as I arrived in LAX on the way to Anaheim was that the distances between places were HUGE in comparison to places here at home. You REALLY had to use a car to get to places, and it’s just crazy not to. I found it even more impressive that the cities and its roadways were really built and designed to withstand multiple lanes of cars worth of traffic.

By the time I went back here, I had thought that people should be using bicycles instead, and perhaps buses and public transportation rather than giving every person in the workforce a car for a 21.57km^2 area. There’s a bloody reason why Singapore prohibits cars to an extreme, and why Hong Kong works so well even though it’s also densely populated in a similar metro situation; they made public transportation highly reliable and sustainable.

Unfortunately, that did not happen here. Especially not with the reasons below and cars everywhere.

No one follows traffic rules.#

This one is the most obvious, yet it has to be pointed out every time.

While I was on that road trip from LAX to Anaheim, and there to San Luis Obispo, even though there were five or six lanes worth of cars that were sometimes full of traffic, I’ve noted that they’ve all at least:

  • Went at a really fast pace.
  • Stayed at the same lane the entire time.
  • They actually followed traffic rules.

Failing to comply meant a nice photograph of you, a letter sent straight at your house, and a bill that was astronomically huge compared to the tickets here.

In contrast, seeing traffic in Metro Manila…

  • Was turtle-slow, because…
  • Everyone kept switching to the lane they believed was fastest…
  • Which then snowballed to slowing EVERY other lane, and
  • Thus causing everyone to not give a shit about traffic rules.

This problem is even more prevalent when seeing our public transportation. Our public transportation uses buses and jeepneys, but everyone just goes on their own pace (i.e., literally stopping at a corner) because they see a potential passenger who is about to ride, even though that corner is full of busy traffic that is expecting to go straight forward. Why? Because that passenger’s fares directly translate for their pay for that day.

That’s two wrong things right there. Public transportation right here isn’t paid on a standard salary (which then makes them work in a crab-mentality competitive way, rather than following rules and stops) and oh, bus stops simply don’t exist.

I shit you not, I’ve seen entire traffic jams in the busiest of roads in the country because ONE BUS thought it was a good idea to cut the middle lanes to switch from the leftmost lane to the rightmost, because a passenger wanted to get off immediately.

Calling this a mess is an understatement.

Traffic rules are bad, because enforcement doesn’t work.#

Mind you, I said that enforcement at all doesn’t work, not that enforcement sucks at doing their job.

If anything, I actually commend the MMDA for giving it their best to do their job. They actually provided a dedicated channel in Twitter for inquiries and announcements about traffic, and they do provide announcements.

It’s just that it’s too unbearable for a single entity to work out. In rainy events like these, Waze can look like that; a mess of driver reports of standstills in EVERYWHERE. There’s a fundamental issue we’re missing here, and adding more regulations may or may not help, but won’t have any feasible results.

If everyone drives around in a messy way, there’s no way you’d be able to enforce that everyone should drive straight. It’s anarchy in vehicular form.

I’ll ask you this: If you were doing their job, do you think you could actually fix the problem as a whole? Okay then, not as a single cop, but the head of the department. Could you?

I’m willing to bet that you won’t, because everyone only looks for the solutions that look like they’re working.

If something doesn’t appear to be feasible, all you’ll hear about it is the negative parts and why it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

If it is, you’re not going to hear about it at all because it won’t be viral enough for social media or newsworthy enough for news to report.

If anything, people will try to find ways to shoot it down instead, and make that viral. The only winner is everyone’s hatred, and no one actually wins.

If you were implementing the rules, all you have is a lose-lose situation: Either choose the seemingly bright but shortsighted solution, or the seemingly negative solution that requires sacrifice to everyone’s convenience, because it would introduce a new highway that will lessen traffic in the future.

Our complaints had ended up choosing the former, and now you’re all experiencing the reality that Waze has shown to you.

What makes it worse is that this is just one reason why it’s like that. I can go on ranting about enforcement not working because the penalty of money means nothing when jeepneys are involved, or that it solves nothing when you charge the middle-class, or why the current number-system only makes it worse by incentivizing people to buy more cars rather than choosing to commute at select days.

Heck, that goes to our trains too. The MRT train system lacked the improvements it needs and experienced accidents; because no fare hike likely meant an insufficient budget and an insufficient budget meant insufficient maintenance which then led to that. Introduce a fare hike again, have people hate it as it becomes a reality, then have viral posts about the lack of improvements because they expect results to come overnight. (Yes, that’s a very slippery slope, but I’m willing to guess that’s how it happened)

Okay then, how would you fix this?#

We need a cultural revolution.

Everyone has to do their part. And to do that, everyone must trust each other to do things, and everyone must hope that they will, and actually do it.

Change isn’t something that we can just expect the government to simply do and have it work right away. You have to do your part too.

Our culture revolves in the way that it isn’t centered on money, but on how people think of each other.

I could imagine a scenario where our culture would vilify drivers that are incompetent and stupid (social media is getting there, but we need to make it stronger and impactful). People should take the traffic matters more seriously and be involved in its enforcement (It’s so easy to complain, but no one ever takes the effort of actually expressing themselves when something gets to be done about things).

I could imagine another scenario where we can teach the masses on how to obey proper traffic rules. A strong media campaign on how traffic works would actually affect a lot of people, because I surmise that the majority of our jeepney, bus and car-driving countrymen don’t even know that their bad driving can actually affect the entire road, because all they knew in their heads was that they chose a way that benefited them a minute of their time.

Oh and seriously, our traffic authorities should make acquiring a license a very strict affair. Heck, have EVERYONE’S licenses invalidated, then have everyone take another bloody exam. No exemptions, put tough situational questions in, and no excuses. (Once again, easier said than done).

The third hidden problem from my previous example is that the drivers themselves aren’t even qualified to do so. And they’re technically professionals for it.

The places we work in might have to change too. The Metro IS way too crowded, and a bit of decentralization would be great. It’s easier said than done though, and is another discussion entirely.

Can we have a bicycle culture going on? Everyone seems to be in the fitness and health conscious trend of doing things, so I don’t see why bikes can’t be a thing. If it can’t, then more public transportation then, driven with actual people who can pass that exam and put it into practice. If it still can’t, then maybe we can get a carpooling culture among the workforce. If you can bring three of your fellow co-workers to work, you get a gas rebate! (Yet another easier said than done scenario)

The easiest thing I believe that we could do that appears realistic is a strong media effort that lasts years, and sticks to everyone’s heads. Something that tells us the basics of road etiquette, and make it something that everyone can relate to. Have someone easy to remember and someone easy to visualize and associate with making sure we don’t do the evils of bad road behavior. The media has the strongest influence in every person out there, whether you’re poor or middle-class or rich, and we should start from there with awareness and education. Then you can start bringing those stop signs and PUV stops back, and reclaim order one bit at a time.

It’s all the little things. The traffic problem isn’t going to be solved overnight. But if we do things bit by bit, and progress positively, then we will be able to fix this.

Because really, we are undergoing these issues because our culture is toxic to change in the first place.

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