EDSA traffic woes

Last Sunday’s editorial from the Philippine Star (29 Nov, 2020) highlighted the suffering of drivers and commuters using the EDSA highway which, and I quote, “is approaching pre-pandemic levels.” One of the reasons, according to the editorial, “is that with the road network limited as it is, traffic managers have dedicated one lane on EDSA to buses. The ride from Cubao to Makati may take five minutes on the Busway, but the drive is taking two hours for private motorists. Even with time and fuel being wasted while stuck on the road, motorists aren’t going to take the bus; they will sit in their vehicles and stew…”

My own experience traversing EDSA last Nov. 17 attests to the deplorable situation that the editorial cited. It once again resurrects the never-ending question about Metro Manila’s premier roadway which is used by hundreds of thousands of vehicles and millions of commuters on a daily basis before the pandemic. With the pandemic quarantine putting face-to-face learning on hold and most companies have asked their employees to work from home, I am assuming that a good number of that EDSA throng has probably been reduced. But why, if it is not too much to ask, did my travel time from BGC to QC take two and a half hours that evening?

It had been nine months since Metro Manila has been in one kind of overall control or oversight because of the pandemic. And we need to ask why the authorities have not figured what to do with daily commuting and provide some solution to the traffic disaster which in Metro Manila comes to the daily economic impact calculated to be 3.5 billion pesos (US$67.4 million) in 2017 according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency. For all the billions that have been poured into the government’s pandemic response, did they fail to take note of the traffic disaster which has exacted a terrible toll on our lives as well?

And speaking of pandemic response, the Philippines scored 46th out of 53 countries when it came to handling the COVID-19 crisis with the least amount of economic and social disruption, a Bloomberg study showed. In its “COVID resilience ranking,” the US news site measured the 53 largest economies on how they did along 10 key metrics, including increase in cases, mortality rate, healthcare system capacity, lockdown impact, community mobility, GDP growth forecast, and agreements on vaccine supply. The Philippines was lowest ranked among the Southeast Asian countries that were measured. Vietnam, which according to experts, has managed to control the virus infection in its borders was the highest ranked ASEAN country or topping at No. 10 globally.

One major area that the Philippines had stumbled is in the area of public transportation or how a country puts its people back to work in their factories and industries once the initial phase of lockdown has been completed. According to Bloomberg, the Philippines scored especially poorly when it came to community mobility—the “movement of people to offices and retail spaces compared to a pre-pandemic baseline in the past month”—with a -39.4% score. It ranked 51st or among the lowest for transportation response — only two other countries were below it. So, with the MCEQ declared months back and the Department of Trade saying that 80 percent of the workforce can go back to work again, what happened was that there is just not enough transportation to take them to and from home. Hence, the right arm of the government is saying that people can get back to work again while the left arm does not know how people can get there. It is a transportation/traffic conundrum and we are all suffering because of it.

Finally, let it not be said that Filipinos do not have the capability or the mental resources capable of solving our very own problems. We have some of the world’s established epidemiologists and public health specialists in the National Institutes of Health (UP NIH). Have they been consulted or tapped to address the issue of how to prevent virus infection when people ride our jeepneys, our buses, our MRT, our planes, etc., and be reasonably safe? We have, in the University of the Philippines, the National Center for Transportation Studies which is world-class. Have they been consulted or tasked to help address the post-pandemic transportation scenarios or even consulted on the government’s EDSA Busway setup which must have costs hundreds of millions with only paltry effect on how the commuting public goes through their daily grind?

Travel in this era of the pandemic is a travail to say the least — with our traffic clogged road network and the checkpoints and writing down of contact address just to ride on a jeepney, for example, and all the encumbrances that our authorities have come up to make our lives difficult in these most trying times.  

Peachy Vibal – Guioguio is a PR strategist who has lead communications departments in GMA Network, ABS-CBN, and TV5. She enjoys long drives, taking scenic routes, and finds a thrill going wherever she pleases behind a wheel. She has yet to learn how to replace a flat tire.

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