PGTW: Carpocalypse Now

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 24 April 2014, Thursday

Carpocalypse Now

Last Holy Week, many turned their thoughts to religion, heaven, and hell – and to the steadily dawning conviction that they’re getting a foretaste of the netherworld with their daily experiences in Manila gridlock.

The city is sweltering under hellish temperatures close to 35C, commuters queue for what seems like kilometers to take a jeep, bus, or train, and once on board, they’re packed like sardines in a jar, and getting to their destinations smelling like.

Worse, the ground vehicles they’ve taken flow through traffic like frozen molasses across a tabletop, if they’re not stuck and unmoving.

The Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit are perhaps the best forms of transportation to take from one end of EDSA to another; at least they used to be. They’re fast and convenient. MRT can take you from Pasay to Quezon City in under an hour.

Jeeps and buses, as forms of ground travel, take too long to get anywhere because they’re guaranteed to get entangled in traffic snarls. This is why people prefer to take the train – there’s no chance of traffic up there on the elevated platforms.

But the convenience of the trains presupposes also that there is hardly any lag from the time you get a ticket to the time you get on board, except to wait for the next approaching train; if you have a long-term pass, then it should take even less time.

This is what it was like when the LRT and MRT had just been installed, and the government even had to encourage commuters to use the newfangled contraptions.

The bad news is that MRT 3’s daily capacity of 320,000 is unable to keep up with demand of 560,000 passengers each day, and lines for the trains are getting demonically long, snaking out of stations and spilling into the streets.

Respite isn’t coming soon, either – new MRT coaches won’t be delivered until early next year, barring mishaps.

The need to immediately find solutions for the transport crisis isn’t only about comfort and convenience of commuters. This is also about economics and productivity. The Philippine economy grew 6.8 percent in 2012 and 7.2 percent in 2013. An economic boom is often accompanied by an influx of residents into the cities where work can be found, such as Manila, a mega-city of nearly 23 million people.

According to a Bloomberg news item, Asian Development Bank’s Gil-Hong Kim, director of sustainable infrastructure, said that Manila will become an “unlivable city” if the government does not address infrastructure problems and its “wealth and business opportunities will be gone.”

How can we keep touting the country as a business process outsourcing haven with an almost unlimited supply of intelligent and caring manpower if that manpower can’t get to work on time, or even at all?

How can we convince foreign investors to put up manufacturing plants to take advantage of China’s slipping competitiveness in that area when something as basic as transport infrastructure is a nightmare right out of a modern Dante’s Inferno?

How can we say “It’s fun in the Philippines” when no one can even get from one end of the city to the other in a reasonable and “fun” amount of time?

Such pronouncements will gain no credibility with the world’s investors and tourists if they aren’t backed up with concrete proof of adequate infrastructure.

Meanwhile, employers, for their part, could try adopting non-transport-related solutions, such as flexi-time, four-day workweeks (something the Senate and Lower House have already implemented) or allowing working-from-home for at least several days a week.

Local government units can designate some parts of the roads as bike and pedestrian lanes to keep bikers and walkers safe from motorists. Some US employers encourage the bike movement by giving incentives to employees who ride their bikes to work or take other forms of transport instead of cars.

Employees can carpool, sharing fuel costs and alternating use of their vehicles, which saves wear and tear.

Government can help too by enforcing some of these methods among its agencies. All it would take is political will in the form of a memorandum circular from the Office of the President, “for strict and immediate compliance.”

One thing to realize is that Manila is already practically unlivable; it’s hell on earth to get anywhere in it. Many of us thought and prayed about it last Holy Week. Now, it’s time to act.


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