Words by Hazel Cruz
Art by Alyssa Belena
Even before the pandemic, one of the major problems in our country is the traffic congestion. In fact, at the beginning of this year, Metro Manila was identified as the second most congested city in the world by TomTom, an independent location technology specialist. Note that this is Metro Manila alone. Other cities in the country like Metro Cebu, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, and other highly urbanized cities also experience traffic congestion. Ever since then, commuters have already been suffering from our country’s inhumane public transportation system. The Filipino masses have been desensitized by it that they already got used to waiting in long queues, riding at the back of the jeepneys, overcrowding in trains and other PUV’s, and travelling through hours and hours of traffic just to get home. Heavy traffic in the metro is so normalized that commuters are used to waking up in the wee hours just to arrive at their destination on time.
With the pandemic, imagine these conditions not being allowed anymore because of the limitations of COVID-19. These modes of public transport are only allowed to operate with half of their original capacity. Crowding is not allowed, therefore lessening further the capacity of our pre-existing modes of transport. At first glance, this sounds like a dream to our commuters. However, this would also mean more limited public transportation. Adding to the burden of commuters is the limited number of public transportation allowed to travel.
Now that we are still in lockdown, half a year later, public transport still hasn’t gone back to normal. Aside from health issues it has brought, the COVID-19 pandemic has also emphasized the hazards and inaccessibility of our current transport systems. Although restrictions are slowly easing in, public utility vehicles still aren’t enough to accommodate all the commuters in need. Meanwhile, other commuters have resorted to cycling and walking due to the limited transportation services during lockdown. However, this mode of travel still isn’t the most ideal given our current lack of effective policies and quality urban transport systems.
The ‘new’ normal
1. Some PUV’s allowed to travel but with limited capacity
Due to new restrictions, public transport will, again, not be allowed in Metro Manila. In other cities, on the other hand, they will still be allowed but with limited capacity. Because of these limitations in capacity, the usual one-hour travel pre-pandemic, now takes a longer time due to limited supply. Moreover, it is more expensive to travel due to limited choices.
Although some PUV’s were allowed back on the road, PUJ’s still aren’t back in operation. Since the government is also pushing for the modernization of jeepneys, many PUJ drivers are suffering, with some left with no choice but to ask for alms from motorists passing along the highway.
2. More people shifting to active transport
More and more people are turning into cycling and walking as alternative modes of transport. However, about 70 percent of the road space is occupied by cars. There is not enough space provided for bike lanes, so it’s not safe yet for cyclists to travel on highways. Good thing, initiatives by cycling groups have started organizing pop-up bike lanes in EDSA.
However, not everyone can afford buying bicycles. Most of those who can’t afford it, resorted to walking from one town to another, some even leaving their house at 3AM only to arrive at their destination—which is a couple of kilometers away—at night, leaving them with no place to stay at, while waiting for dawn to arrive just so they can walk back home. For those who chose to walk, sidewalks are usually narrow and most times, non-existent. Despite the large volume of pedestrians walking, pre-pandemic, sidewalks weren’t built to accommodate that large of a number of people. Now, with the need for social distancing, spaces for sidewalks become more insufficient to the needs of the people. As if that’s not enough, there were even stories of PWD’s who used their wheelchairs to travel along highways just to go back home.
Addressing these problems during the pandemic
The Move As One Coalition urges the government to
- contract and pay transport operators to provide transport services, focusing initially on high volume corridors
- raise capacity and efficiency of public transport with improved infrastructure (dedicated lanes, improved bus stops, terminals, etc. enabling more round trips/bus)
- shift to automatic fare collection as soon as possible to minimize subsidy requirement (revenues going to Government)
- activate safe walking and cycling road networks in every urban area so that persons who cannot access public transport will have good mobility alternatives
We, as citizens, on the other hand can also become an advocate by educating ourselves more about the movement and engaging with our friends and family about it. AltMobilityPH, a member organization of the Move As One Coalition is currently having a series titled “ON THE WAY” which covers various topics in mobility. In their first episode, the speakers further discussed the solutions to address our transport problems during the pandemic. In that episode, they talked about their paper titled “Overhauling Land Transportation in the New Normal and Beyond” where they suggested necessary reforms in the Philippines given the effects of the pandemic on our public transportation system.
To further step it up, you can also volunteer and become an advocate for the Move As One Coalition. For more details, check out: bit.ly/MoveAsOneAdvocate
Gearing up for post-pandemic
The Move As One Coalition also proposes a P110 billion urban mobility support package implemented in three stages and spent over three years:
- In the next 6 months, we must sustain a safe public transport system by investing P30 billion to engage thousands of PUVs nationwide. The pay of our drivers should be stable and independent on the number of passengers they carry.
- In the next year, we must create better and safer conditions for all by investing P10 billion in active transport infrastructure such as wider sidewalks, dedicated bike lanes, urban shade trees, and safe, walkable streets. Our people have a right to nothing less than streets which are safe for users of all ages – from our children to our grandparents.
- In the next 3 years, we must improve our land infrastructure for road-based public transportation by investing P70 billion in building bus stops, bus-only lanes, depots, and terminals nationwide, and ensuring these follow health regulations. We must incentivize people to choose active and public transport instead of private vehicles.
To read more on their detailed support package, check out: bit.ly/MoveAsOne
Sign their petition: bit.ly/MoveAsOneSign
Traffic congestion is just one symptom of a bigger problem that we have. In order to eradicate this, we must also improve mobility in our cities. This pandemic is the perfect opportunity to reset our urban transport systems and re-think better solutions to our country’s long-standing problem in transportation. It’s about time we rebuild our cities with safer and more accessible transport, and redesign roads with bicycle lanes and sidewalks because who likes commuting through hours and hours of traffic, anyway?
Born and raised in Lipa City, Philippines, Hazel is a creative who is currently studying in the University of the Philippines Diliman. In her down time, she likes to create digital art and write in her journal. With her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, Hazel dreams to help create a more sustainable future for the world.
Ali is currently a communications intern at makesense who considers both Nueva Ecija and Metro Manila her home. If she’s not up in the mountains, you’ll catch her reading a book, playing with her dogs, or just looking up for new recipes to bake.