When foreign visitors ask me about travel time within the Philippines, I sometimes crack a joke like, “Oh, the flight from Cebu to Manila is an hour, but to get from the airport to Quezon City it can take two.”
Monday night, I broke my own record of airport commuting ordeals, clocking 13 hours to get from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to my home in San Juan.
I’m sure many of my readers had similar experiences but I’m still going to recount what happened, and add an analysis of what the government needs to do, as well as some tips and reminders for surviving commutes during the typhoon season.
Let’s start with a quick recap of what happened:
I left Naia at about 5:30 p.m. in a taxi, calling the kids and telling them I was back, but because it was rush hour, I warned them it would probably take me about an hour to get home.
At 6:30 p.m., I called home again and said the traffic was really bad because of the rains, and I was still on Ayala and Edsa.
Half an hour later, the taxi had crawled to Buendia and Edsa. After some 15 minutes of not moving, I knew something was terribly wrong, but the radio stations weren’t very helpful except for sporadic reports of flooding in different parts of Metro Manila.
I turned to my phone. The Metro Manila Development Authority app (available for iPhones and android phones) has a “Line View” section giving updates on traffic on main thoroughfares. It said that traffic was L (light) on Edsa’s intersections: Ayala, Buendia, Guadalupe. I told the taxi driver, who was not amused. I later clicked on its “Map View,” which was working. The map view uses GPS, so I could see a blue dot representing our vehicle, hardly moving on Edsa, along a rather long segment in red, which means very bad traffic. (Other areas are either in green for light traffic or yellow for medium traffic.)
I went into the Internet, googled MMDA’s traffic updates, and was referred to a Facebook site. There were all kinds of postings from stranded motorists in varying moods: irate, hungry and pleading (“gutom na gutom ako”), and informative but panicky (the area in front of Megamall, one posting said, was “tire-deep” in floods and impassable by light vehicles).
Worried that I’d have to swim home and that the taxi driver would also have difficulties getting back, I had to think of alternatives. My son, disappointed about the delay, begged me to take a tricycle home. I thought of the MRT but the coaches were all packed, and besides I had heavy luggage.
I thought of a hotel. Makati’s hotels were already behind me, and besides they were all too expensive. Sogo Hotel on Guadalupe? No… I could imagine gossip spreading around me in a motel. Then I remembered that Gokongwei had some hotel along Edsa but couldn’t remember the name. Stupid me: Sogo, Gokongwei, what else but Go Hotel?
At 8 p.m., two and a half hours after leaving Naia, I got to Go, and to go (you know, as in senior citizens’ got to go, quickly now).
I went to a Tokyo Café next to the hotel for dinner and ran into a friend and her three children. Her son had walked all the way from Mapua (I presume from the campus in Makati), unable to get public transport.
I was still entertaining thoughts of returning home maybe around 11 p.m. but the MRT was still packed and the vehicles on Edsa were moving only a bit faster. I was exhausted, and knew the kids would be asleep anyway, so I went back to my spartan, windowless Go room.
The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn and dragged my luggage into the lobby. There were some Fil-Ams preparing to leave for the airport, for a provincial medical mission. They asked where I was headed for and I sheepishly answered, “San Juan,” about five kilometers away.
I finally got home at 6:30 a.m., 13 hours after leaving Naia.
Strokes, big and small
What dismayed me most about Monday night’s experience was that the traffic gridlock was triggered by “Emong,” a fairly small storm. To use a medical metaphor, what happened was a small or transient stroke, the flash floods stalling vehicles, which, like plaques and clots in our blood vessels, prevent blood from reaching the brain.
Like a stroke’s effects on the body, parts of Metro Manila ended up paralyzed. And if strokes impair speech in humans, the Metro Manila stroke aggravated our communications problems. Like a stroke patient, the radio stations were “saying” a lot of things but weren’t making much sense.
The taxi driver kept muttering about the MMDA having to do something, and I agreed. Why can’t we have a government radio station devoted to weather and traffic updates, rather than having people depend on private radio stations that tend to create panic with exaggerated reports but not much practical advice on what to do? The MMDA also needs to fix its phone app’s Line View. The Map View needs improvement as well, maybe a flashing red for areas where vehicles are no longer moving, and a blue one for flooded areas.
At one point near Guadalupe bridge, where we stalled for some 10 minutes, I had to endure a large billboard with a video of a woman model seductively showing off Jag jeans. Now, I thought, why can’t MMDA have a billboard advising people on traffic flow along Edsa and alternative routes?
Until the government acts, we just have to be prepared for long commutes, or worse, gridlock induced by rains. Remember it doesn’t have to be a typhoon, as we saw in the habagat (western monsoon) rains in August 2012.
By public or private transport, the stuff we bring may as well be for camping: some food and water, a smartphone that allows you to keep in touch with family and to check the Internet. The Internet got me Go Hotel’s phone, which allowed me to call in to check if there were rooms available.
I did have an iPad, which allowed me to continue reading a book I had started on the plane, but I’m not sure you want to drag around a tablet or iPad in the rain.
On the smartphone, you can download I-typhoon and MMDA apps that give you general updates, but, as I mentioned earlier, the Line View doesn’t seem to be working. Use the Map View. Power banks for the phone are worthwhile; you charge them at home, and then plug in your low-bat phone while on the road. A small flashlight will be useful (some phones have the flashlight built in), as well as a foldable umbrella and rainwear.
At the rate Metro Manila is deteriorating, we just might get to the point where swimwear, together with floating gear, will become essential for travel. What happened on Monday night was just a mini-stroke, a warning that a larger, more serious and debilitating stroke might be around the corner.