As if the universe wanted to send a stronger and more unequivocal message to our leaders and everyone else in Metro Manila, traffic was once again hopelessly snarled Friday evening.
Most everyone automatically blamed Mother Nature for the gridlock. It’s as if a heavy downpour is all it takes to involuntarily transform motorists into mindless zombies who make traffic come to a standstill by deliberately blocking intersections, turning erstwhile two-way streets into one-way streets, and ignoring traffic signs, traffic enforcers, and everyone else on the road. Of course there was flooding in many areas, but not deep enough to make roads impassable. Heavy rains and flooding slows down traffic in many areas but if people continue to observe traffic rules, maintain discipline, and display basic road courtesy there really is no reason for traffic to come to a complete standstill.
We can’t do anything about the fact that torrential rains visit us every so often during the wet season (theoretically we can mitigate global warming by being more environment-friendly, but that’s not going to alter the regular visitation of the monsoon rains). Sure we can put in place better infrastructure to manage flooding. We can install more traffic lights with those digital timers that tell motorists how much time is left before the traffic light changes colors. We can put more traffic signs and build more state-of-the-art communication and warning devices. We can even reduce the number of vehicles on the road. But all these will not work and the traffic situation will continue to deteriorate unless we first put order into our streets and require people to adjust to the new systems. Yes sir, the traffic problem is first of all a people problem.
Unfortunately, we Filipinos are a spoiled bunch. We smirk at the slightest hint of inconvenience. We expect systems to adjust to our quirks and peculiarities rather than the other way around. We immediately complain when asked to walk another block to get on or off a bus.
Take the case of this latest wrinkle involving the city government of Manila. The city’s board recently mustered political will to implement what many others have been talking about for ages already, which is to rationalize the use of streets, particularly major thoroughfares. The city government disallowed buses that did not have terminals in the city from passing through the city’s major thoroughfares. As can be expected, bus operators raised a howl. And of course, commuters followed suit complaining of inconvenience from being made to walk some distance to designated terminals and bus stops.
Many did notice that roads in Manila were suddenly passable last week due to the exercise of stronger political will. Unfortunately, angry people with a complaint make better news stories so media chose to focus on the downside of the issue. If we are to go by the reports, commuters would rather get stuck for hours inside a bus rather than walk a few blocks and get home faster, everyone takes some perverse pleasure in seeing bumper-to-bumper traffic. There were those who turned the whole thing into a class issue and insisted that there are more private cars on the road than buses. We will have to address the issue of too many private cars on the road at some point. But first things first—our narrow roads were and are not meant to accommodate too many buses. Just one large bus weaving in and out of the narrow lanes and often positioning itself diagonally to load and unload passengers creates monstrous traffic jams. Think of the impact of one hundred buses doing this at the same time at any given time and at every point where there is a passenger who wants to get on or off the buses. Traffic on Gil Puyat Avenue is snarled every single time a bus is trying to get in or out of the JAC Liner Terminal right at the corner of Gil Puyat and Taft Avenue, and there are three other bus terminals in the area.
The problem is that everyone in this country is stricken with the jeepney mentality—we all think buses are just like jeepneys that can stop anywhere, go anywhere, and be parked anywhere.
We need to impose order in our roads and the first step is to designate specific routes for every type of public vehicle as well as specific places for parking, loading, and unloading.
The recent moves of the City Government of Manila and the setting up of bus terminals from Cavite by the Metro Manila Development Authority are correct steps in this direction. We should support these initiatives.