As someone new to the workforce, one of the biggest adjustments I had to make was commuting. I went from spending my time at home for weeks at a time during the height of the pandemic to spending three to four hours a day on the road.
This is by no means an isolated incident. Every commute, I was met with long lines and crowded vehicles; each person going through the same struggle as I was.
Heavy traffic further extenuates unfavorable commuting circumstances, extending what would be a thirty-minute ride to work to two hours. It is said by urban planners that the average Filipino loses nine to 15 years of their lives waiting in traffic and that the economy suffers a P520 billion loss.
The difficulty and inconvenience of commuting in the Philippines push people to invest in cars. They would much rather brave heavy traffic in the comforts of their car than in a hot, overfilled jeepney with virtually no social distancing.
Government development seems to be leaning the same way, with the solution to traffic congestion in the metro primarily being the construction of several new highways. At least five new expressways are being constructed.
A particularly contested project is the Pasig River Expressway (PAREX), deemed to only be a band-aid solution, temporarily easing traffic congestion in the Metro. This creates an ‘induced demand’ and would encourage more people to purchase private vehicles. Eventually, this will result in pre-PAREX congestion levels, if not worse.
Apart from traffic congestion eating away so much of one’s time, it is also quite expensive to drive to and from work. Imagine someone traveling back and forth from Las Piñas City to the Makati Central Business District, a distance of about 25 kilometers, which can cost just a little over Php 800. Of course, the use of these expressways does not come for free, taking up almost half of the computed travel cost. This does not even take into account parking fees which run up to an additional Php 200 per day. Should this person decide to commute and take the bus instead, it will cost them about Php 230, which saves more than 70% of the cost.
However, despite its impracticality, there is one intangible factor that public transportation cannot afford travelers: convenience. It is no secret that using public transportation in the Philippines can be hellish. For the reduced 70% cost, one would have to wake up and leave at least an hour earlier to also account for lines and traffic.
Deciding to take the train to avoid traffic does not afford one more time either. Rather one might have to wake up earlier to avoid long lines during rush hours that sometimes extend outside the stations themselves. Should you fail to do so, you not only spend more time in line, but you end up stuffed into a train car like a sardine - shoulder-to-shoulder with another person, with virtually no personal space.
Commuting also comes with security risks. Unlike in a car where you can lock your doors and be assured of your safety, one must remain vigilant in trains and buses to remain safe from pick-pockets and harassers.
In an ideal world, public transportation would be an economical and safe solution to combat traffic congestion in the Metro. It is also worth noting that the government is making strides to provide more avenues for accessible public transportation with the recently launched Metro Manila Subway project. I can only hope this marks the beginning and not the end of such-minded projects.
However, while it has yet to come to fruition and while we have not determined how much closer such efforts would bring us to the ideal situation outlined, it all boils down to the question of priorities. Would you choose safety and convenience over being economical and environmentally conscious?