When you read through the public Facebook profile of MMDA Task Force for Special Operations (EDSA) head Edison “Bong” Nebrija, you could get the impression that he is a brave soldier fighting traffic, a fearless martyr who is throwing himself at the mercy of daily rush hour, and a bold general trying to win a war with his troops on this battlefield we call Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. In reality, however, it seems he is none of those things. The continuing trial-and-error strategy of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the failure of the agency to get to grips with traffic is creating the impression that he is just another egotistical government official who is more interested in appearances than actual solutions. And because he is a public official who puts himself out there and actively promotes a strongman image, I feel it is entirely justified to criticize him in this way, especially as his actions affect hundreds of thousands of people every day. I do believe, however, that any criticism must always be constructive, which is what this piece will try to deliver.
If you want an example of where the MMDA and its current leadership are going wrong, then you don’t need to look any further than a recent video shared by Nebrija on his Facebook account. In it, we can see a crowd of people standing in one lane of EDSA while trying to catch a bus. In the caption, he is using the clip to justify the nonsensical idea of a provincial bus ban and the closure of all provincial terminals along the megalopolis’s main thoroughfare. What he and seemingly the whole MMDA are totally missing is the reason why those people are standing on the road. It’s because there is not enough space for pedestrians in this city. You just need to open your eyes to see that. Time and time again when I’m out cycling, I get annoyed by pedestrians stepping onto the roadway in front of me or blocking my path while waiting for a jeepney or a bus, and every time that happens I realize that they aren’t doing this because they’re morons, but because they have nowhere else to go.
You just need to look at Mount EDSA to realize that in the eyes of the powers-that-be, pedestrians aren’t much of a priority around here and are instead forced to take part in a giant game of Survival of the Fittest. For some reason, the MMDA appears to have adopted a world view in which the private car is sitting atop the transport food chain and everyone else is having to bow to the whims of car drivers. Maybe this is because politicians enjoy their big limos too much, or maybe it’s because they don’t know any better. But one thing is for sure: If we don’t stop worshiping the automobile and start changing, we’re all going to continue living in hell.
What nobody wants or needs are empty postures and cringe-worthy Facebook posts from the very people who are supposed to sort this mess out
So, what should the people in charge of our roads actually do? Well, here are a few ideas to start with: (1) Abolish the quota and boundary systems as they cause drivers to behave badly; (2) abolish the parking minimum, or the required minimum amount of parking that developers need to put into new buildings, and get rid of cheap or free parking in town; (3) prioritize more sustainable modes of transportation such as electric kick scooters and bicycles; and (4) implement a vehicle volume-reduction program that targets the private car population, which makes up 70% of EDSA traffic. Some of these are technically not within the jurisdiction of the MMDA, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from suggesting them to the higher-ups or the politicians who can do something about it.
What nobody wants or needs are empty postures and cringe-worthy Facebook posts from the very people who are supposed to sort this mess out. Some of the pictures remind me of Nero looking out over Rome while the city was burning. Rome survived and is still standing, but Metro Manila may not—unless we figure out this traffic crisis soon. A good portion of the blame also falls on motorists. Don’t ever forget this aphorism: “You’re not stuck in traffic; you are traffic.” We’re all in this together, and as much as it is the MMDA’s duty to manage traffic, it is our duty to support them in their task, but any solutions must be well thought out. Good solutions, not grandstanding, are needed.