Wisdom > Frankly

Is Metro Manila traffic a lost cause?

The megacity seems to be regressing, rather than progressing

Just because there are many shiny new buildings doesn't mean the city isn't any better. PHOTO BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

I love Metro Manila, and I feel fortunate to have known this vibrant city for almost 15 years now. Not only have I met the love of my life here and made some great friends along the way, but spending such a comparatively long time in this place on and off has also given me an opportunity to observe the progress that the nation’s capital has made (or rather, the lack thereof).

Sure, there are plenty more skyscrapers, restaurants, and malls here than when I first stepped onto Philippine soil, but sadly many issues on the nation’s roads appear to be the same. And worse: I can’t see them being resolved anytime soon.

Traffic congestion in Metro Manila is world-class. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Look at any of the (in)famous Carmageddon pictures on EDSA over the years, and if it wasn’t for the newer-model cars appearing over time, you’d be hard-put to date any of them. Traffic chaos on that road has looked, felt, and been the same for many years.

The people tasked with solving this car-caused conundrum also appear to be stuck recycling the same old ideas. Just look at the recent talks about a dedicated motorcycle lane on EDSA. Guess what we already had in the past? Exactly that, and the blue markings of it can still be seen in places.

Or look at other problems like the abuse of emergency signals to beat traffic. Wang-wang convoys and rent-a-cops have been an issue for years, but even an order to stop it right from the top is seemingly being ignored by everyone.

Just days after President Bongbong Marcos signed Administrative Order 18, we saw multiple VIP escorts making their way through town in contravention of it. On one occasion, a private company even created its own wang-wang convoy and barged its way down EDSA. It’s like nobody cares anymoreat all. Laws? Where we are going, we don’t need no laws.

The first rule of driving in Metro Manila is to assume no one follows the rules. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Except we do, and we need them enforced equally and fairly, or this place will never move ahead. This neatly brings me to the next point: the utter state of Metro Manila roads.

Every time we post about ticket traps on our Facebook page, the comment section explodes in ways that aren’t normal for a modern Southeast Asian city in 2024. Let me call it as I see it: While many of these ticket traps are simply down to bad road design and signage (and could be fixed quite easily), much of it also has to do with street-level corruption. I’m not saying all enforcers are corrupt, but there are bad apples in the orchard and we all know that.

It’s hard to overstate how much damage corruption causes, and while every single country on earth experiences it, to see this type of blatant street-level rule-bending still being a thing around here is shocking.

I’m not sure people realize how bad this makes the megacity look compared to its international rivals. The only way to clean this up is to remove human enforcers from our roads. To see them at almost every junction is an anomaly in Asianever mind the worldand there is no logical reason for them to be there. Their job can be done better and more reliably by technology.

Yes, with that, I mean NCAP. A lot of groundwork would have to be done before any No Contact Apprehension Program could be brought back, but it’s really the only way forward. It’s also better for the street-level employees themselves.

Standing in this pollution all day is deeply unhealthy, and I would be curious to know the average life expectancy and cancer rates among any profession that spends a lot of time surrounded by these toxic fumes. I bet the numbers would be shocking.

While other LGUs have neglected their bike lanes, Quezon City is continuing to improve them. PHOTO BY LEANDRO MANGUBAT

While there are glimmers of hope in the metro (Quezon City and its leadership, for example), much work remains to be done to move this place in the right direction.

It’s also saddening and incredibly frustrating to see the lack of progress, or in some cases even a reversal of it. Just look at the idea of removing EDSA bicycle lanes, which incredibly came from the MMDA’s chairman who not long ago went to Amsterdam to learn about the benefits of bike lanes and sustainable transportation.

The only people winning in Metro Manila’s traffic chaos right now are the private companies selling us even more toll roads as the solution. NLEX Corporation recently revealed that toll revenues rose 19% to P21,500,000,000 last year, thanks to increased traffic volume and the implementation of overdue toll rate adjustments. At least someone is laughing because the people on the roads surely aren’t.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.