How Manila’s traffic steals more than minutes | Inquirer Opinion
Just Thinking

How Manila’s traffic steals more than minutes

As the radio static signals the end of the pilot’s prompt, a chime and flash of the seat belt sign tell me I am almost home. As we begin our descent, the sea of clouds becomes a canopy, and a peak outside the airplane window reveals the blue ocean. An expanse peppered with islands, boats, and if you were to look hard enough, even people.

Yet in a blink of an eye, the water seamlessly dims. And it is when the blue turns to black that I know that I am, indeed, home.


But the city, too, hides another sea of surprise. Experienced Manila-goers know that their hours-long journey does not end at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It continues along Highway 54. Our view, once looking down on seas of clouds or black and blue is now exchanged for a serpentine red. Brake lights illuminate Edsa like a Christmas tree.


In a 389-city study, the Philippine capital ranked ninth most congested city in the 2022 Traffic Index. On average, it took 27 minutes for Filipinos to travel 10 kilometers in Metro Manila last year. That’s the equivalent of running the UP academic oval four and a half times at a steady six minutes per round. An impressive pace for man, but a more than dismal performance for the motor.

But the reality is: These numbers are not the worst our gravel has to offer. The daily southbound commute from the heart of Quezon City to the Makati central business district, for example, is only a 20-km trip yet can very well demand a two-hour investment.

A worldwide study says that the average person will spend about one entire year of their life sitting in traffic. Yet for the Manila commuter, that may very well be the dream. Here, a twelfth of the day—one-way, mind you—is spent confined to the seat of the commute, and only if they’re lucky enough to grab one. Now, I’m no modern-day Pythagoras, but I don’t have to hold a bachelor’s degree in mathematics to crunch those numbers and see that Philippine traffic congestion is a much bigger problem than the global figure.

Last week, the Philippines welcomed Peter Gene Hernandez home. Bruno Mars, as he is more popularly called, held a two-day concert at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan. But in reality, the actual arena was outside of it! Along the North Luzon Expressway, “hooligans” (the self-ordained name for Bruno Mars’ fanbase) lamented crawling the choked veins of the NLEx hours-on-end, only to see the concert campus from a few kilometers down the road and missing the “uptown funk.” Talk about being “locked out of heaven.” So close yet so far.

But the problem is not only about trivial things like squandered tickets or temporal hassles. The trouble with traffic congestion is not just the time it takes, but the time it takes away. It is about minutes wasted, and moments missed. Moments that could have been spent with friends and family. Memories that could have been made. The tragedy of traffic is not the journey delayed, but the life deferred.

The issue here is much more than finding more efficient ways to get from point A to B. At its core lies a deeper consideration. A question on the value of time. Time we could’ve spent not just by ourselves but on ourselves. To take up a hobby or learn another language. For personal development. For rest, and for growth. Stuck in the labyrinth of the metro, the opportunity is lost to the growl of engines and the blare of horns. Traffic is the author of the unwritten pages of the Book of Life.


Metro Manila’s traffic misery is the reality, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. The common solution proffered by the infra-giants of our time is to build more roads. But to borrow from Doc Brown: “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” At least not just!

Skyways and highways are part of the solution as much as they are part of the problem. Mayor Gustavo Petro of Bogotá (now president of Colombia) once said: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” With this in mind, we need to look beyond the gravel and find alternative modes of transportation. Never mind highways to leisure our private commute. Trainlines and busways should be developed, too.

Not to mention, at times the solutions to our problems are right where we stand. Practical problems beg practical solutions. In case we overlook the most basic mode of transportation: In the infra-discourse, we need to give room for our feet too. Metro Manila can decongest traffic by developing walker and biker-friendly pathways.

Journeys need not be jammed. Traffic should not pose as roadblocks to memories, nor should we lose moments to the metro. To address traffic congestion is to reclaim our lives from the gridlock.

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TAGS: Just Thinking, Metro Manila traffic

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