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Carpocalypse Now

“Hell is a place on earth,” someone said, and I can tell you where it is—in Manila during a traffic jam when it’s raining.

The night of Sept. 8 was one of the worst for traffic in recent memory. A downpour during evening rush hour caused motorists to be trapped for hours on Edsa and other roads in Manila and Makati such as Buendia and Pasong Tamo, which were flooded.

Trips that usually took an hour took three or four—and all because it rained? It wasn’t even storm-level rains! We’ve known since birth that we live in the typhoon belt—why have we not found solutions for this until now?

Various motorist groups and urban planners have made their proposals. Some say we must reduce the volume of vehicles on the road. One way this could be done is by taking some buses off the road. I read somewhere that Edsa’s capacity is 1,500 buses, but over 3,000 have been given franchises. These behemoths take up space and cork traffic. At least one photo on the Internet shows three southbound buses on Edsa blocking the entire road and preventing a mass of cars behind them from proceeding onward.

There are also proposals to create pedestrian and bike lanes to encourage walking and the use of bicycles rather than cars. This sounds good, and people would get some exercise, but does not fully take into consideration the climate—often blazing and humid, sometimes raining.   Air pollution is also a factor to consider.

How many will actually opt to walk or ride if it would mean that they would arrive at their destinations sweaty, late, and in respiratory distress? This is more of an option for those homeward bound, who could begin their treks in the late afternoon or early evening when it is cooler.

Although perhaps practical for half the day, the walk and bike lanes are better options than the proposed carpool system, because you’ll never know the reason why people get into a car by themselves. Are they on their way to the hospital for an emergency? To a meeting? In the US, there are stories of drivers propping up mannequins and inflatable dolls in their cars to get around the carpool restriction.

Before restricting private transport, improve public transport first. Make it more attractive and convenient for motorists to take the train instead. In the Bay area of California for instance, people drive to the nearest BART station, park their cars there the whole day, and take the train to San Francisco to get to work.

Fix the MRT and LRT now! How hard is that?

We must hold accountable those who are tasked with the traffic and transport situation—the MMDA, the DoTC, the LTO, the local government units in the metro, the traffic and law enforcers. How can we trumpet economic gains when we lose P2.4 billion every day because of traffic, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency?

It’s also been alleged many times that traffic is a mess because Filipinos are undisciplined motorists. If that were true, then why do Filipinos abide by traffic laws when they are abroad?

One reason for that is because bribable traffic enforcers have made obedience to the rules unnecessary and a mere matter of slipping a P50 bill in your license case when you’re pulled over.

There is also a sense of entitlement on the side of the rich and powerful. Some politicians and bigwigs roar down streets paced and followed by close-in security in convoys that bend the laws when they feel like it— “Si Cong ito!”—and are waved on by traffic enforcers, because they’re VIPs and they have to get somewhere immediately, like the rest of us don’t.

This leads to a “monkey see, monkey do” mindset—if he can get away with it, why not me, if all it takes is the leverage of folding money and influential friends.  

Enforce the traffic laws without fear or favor, and Filipinos will comply. Do not say we are undisciplined because we can be when we want to. Make it grossly disadvantageous for anyone to disobey the law, and no one would do so. It’s a matter of political will.

Good urban planners, we have those. The latest transport solutions, we can buy or build those. What we need are leaders who will put the needs of the country and their countrymen first and have the courage to get it done and make it happen. It will take strong governance to fix our transport problems.

When we have such leaders, then we may be delivered from hell on earth.

Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Instagram: @jensdecember, Blog:  http://jennyo.net

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