Review: Daily journey through inferno

"What can be done about the hellish Metro Manila commute? A lot, apparently."


A photo essay by Eloisa Lopez published in The Guardian last March 8 threw into high resolution clarity the hellish nightmare that is a commute through the metro.

Entitled “Manila’s commutes from hell,” the essay followed several workers as they traveled from their homes to their jobs in the city at dawn.

The piece cited a 2015 survey by GPS-based navigation app Waze as having found that “Manila had the world’s worst traffic congestion, partly due to a trebling of annual car sales from a decade ago.” 

And according to the  Japan International Cooperation Agency, the “daily loss of business in Manila because of traffic woes has risen to P3.5 billion in 2017 from P2.4 billion in 2012.”

President Rodrigo Duterte recently said that the only problem he has been unable to fix the traffic situation in Manila. He doesn’t sound optimistic about getting it done at all. 

I’ve written about this before, most recently last January 17 about the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange. It was supposed to be a transportation hub linking Cavite and Batangas to Manila, but commuters “complain that there are few, if any, vehicles waiting for them” at PITX. They often wait “three or four hours more before being able to ride, arriving home at 10:00 or 11:00 at night, many after working an eight-hour day.”

The government is building more compensatory infrastructure such as roads and a subway system, but the construction projects are also contributing to the traffic snarl. Dan Brown was right when he called the city “the gates of hell” in his novel ‘Inferno’ in 2013. It has only gotten worse since then. 

Quality of life is poor for many in the metro and developing cities of the country, not only because the traffic itself but the air pollution that comes with it, hence the popularity of face masks to filter out smoke and particle-laden air. 

As the government works on improving infrastructure, what other solutions can managers in the public and private sectors consider? (Not all would apply to front-line employees.)

1. Allow work-from-home. The recently-signed Telecommuting Act institutionalizes work-from-home for the private sector, but not for government, which considers its employees as unruly children who require constant supervision. 

While there are indeed ‘pasaway’ and ‘abusado’ workers, most are responsible adults who understand what outcomes are expected of them. Allow work-from-home also for government workers whose jobs are based on output, not presence, as would be the case for front-line employees. 

2. Adopt flexi-time. The vagaries of traffic make it inevitable that schedules cannot always be met. Do away with the concept of ‘tardiness’ and let employees clock in when they arrive, and clock out when they complete their hours for the day, within the compass of the business’s hours.

3. Consider a four-day workweek. This has already been adopted by the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the wheels of the country’s administration have not shuddered to a grinding halt just because no one’s there to receive documents on a Friday. Properly executed, this option can help a company save on electricity and other utilities. 

4. Decongest the city by establishing companies and government agencies elsewhere. Ayala Corporation is already doing this with their Vermosa mega-development in Cavite that incorporates a central business district. Government should look at their clients and consider this option. For example, a certain agency is still based in Makati although the the majority of its clients are now, because of changes in the industry, based in Cavite and Batangas. 

In fact, many of Manila’s employees live in the southern and northern provinces because they cannot afford the cost of housing in the metro. 

5. Timed schedules and designated stops for public transportation. More efficient and organized public transportation would encourage some from using their cars. Also, the habit of many public utility vehicles of stopping wherever, even the middle of the road, to let passengers on and off not only contributes to traffic snarls but is also unsafe, particularly for disabled persons, the elderly, children, and pregnant women. 

6. Encourage biking and walking. I challenge the authorities to institute bike/pedestrian lanes except on highways and they might be surprised by just how many people will use them. Heat and rain a problem? Our intrepid fabricators can make canopies for bikes. Many commuters are already using electric people scooters on main roads like Buendia and Ayala Avenues. The bonus of this idea? A healthier people and less air pollution.

Some urban planners insist that living in the metro makes it better for the growth of the city, and for employees to access their workplaces, they should live near them. That’s an elitist argument. The majority of employees cannot afford the condos that are being built left and right, at P4 million and more per unit.  

There is no quality of life in that scenario, where people live in cramped boxes high up in the sky, vulnerable to fire, earthquakes, and faults in construction, without access to fresh air or space for gardens, hobbies, and pets. 

Lawmakers and the managers of government and private offices have it within their power to make life better for their employees. I’m calling on the Senate, House of Representatives, the Civil Service Commission, the Department of Budget and Management, and the Office of the President to consider beneficial work arrangements not just for private but also for government workers. It’s to everyone’s advantage—happier workers are more productive workers.

It only takes common sense, political will, funding, research and information, and genuine compassion to get things done and bring a stop to the ‘commutes from hell.’

Life spent in traffic is not living, it’s existence. / FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO 

Topics: Eloisa Lopez , The Guardian , Traffic , Senate , House of Representatives

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