Manila Traffic: How to Decongest the Metro

The Philippine traffic problem consumes hours of every Filipino’s life whether they want it or not. Learn what causes it, what it affects, and how to solve it.
Manila heavy traffic Edsa

Manila is well-known all over the world for its bustling city life and a plethora of tourist attractions that showcase the rich culture of the Philippines. But aside from the impressive display of hospitality and the wide array of delicious food sold in kiosks and various Filipino restaurants all over the metro, Manila is also infamous for one other thing: traffic congestion. With millions of cars and public utility vehicles traveling to and from the city on a daily basis, motorists and commuters are subjected to Manila traffic daily during the rush hours, with travel time taking up to 2 hours.

With Metro Manila being subjected to hellish traffic conditions, local government units, as well as traffic authorities, have experimented with various solutions to decongesting traffic in Metro Manila. These include number coding schemes and rerouting of public utility vehicles. However, with millions of private vehicles (which is still on the increase) still circulating the congested streets of Manila, these solutions only work as a band-aid solution. In this article, we will discuss what the probable causes of Metro Manila traffic is, its effects on citizens and the economy, and possible solutions that can put an end to the city’s traffic problems.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Traffic in the Philippines?

With traffic congestion being one of the most pertinent problems in Metro Manila and in other major cities in the country, it might still be a mystery for some what really causes the hours-long traffic jams. From overpopulation to unreliable public transportation, there are numerous reasons why Manila traffic is just a worsening problem even with numerous proposed solutions.

1. Lack of infrastructures

While Metro Manila is home to impressive skylines and high-rise buildings that can attest to the advancement of the metropolitan area, the same cannot be said about the road infrastructures developed in the cities.

The number of motor vehicles plying Metro Manila’s roads continues to increase, but the road network in the metropolis has hardly increased. According to some estimates, the NCR road network of 4,755 kilometers should be doubled to accommodate the vehicle population. That means that the additional roads that are being built or widened are eaten up by existing demand, which continues to outpace infrastructure development.

Together with roads with insufficient vehicle capacity, the constant road repairs and the ongoing completion of road projects to ease traffic congestion means that it will become worse before it becomes better. However, while inadequate road infrastructure is a big issue behind the traffic congestion in the metropolis, the inadequacy is brought about by other factors.

2. Economic Boom

As one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the Philippines has seen significant growth in the demand for automobiles. Low inflation, low interest and easy access to credit enabled the domestic automotive industry to increase sales by more than 24 percent in 2016, with total sales of 359,572 units.

In 2016 a total of 11.2 million motor vehicles were registered with the Land Transportation Office (LTO), of which 2.5 million (28.7 percent) were in the National Capital Region (NCR) and 8.7 million (71.27 percent) were in other parts of the country.

While the pandemic caused a significant crash in vehicle sales in 2020, it has now since picked up with almost 300,000 automobile sales documented in 2021. As more and more Filipinos in Metro Manila secure private vehicles, we can expect worse traffic in Manila as the slow infrastructure developments in the city cannot accommodate the increase in vehicle density.

3. Centralization of the Economy

Metro Manila is hailed as the main center of commerce and education in the Philippines, with millions of people flocking to the region in search of a job and educational opportunities. With multinational companies and established institutions taking root in the Philippine capital, people from the provinces choose to relocate and secure jobs in this economic center. Not only does this mean that more people are residing in the cities of Metro Manila, but more people are also expected to commute and travel around the cities during rush hour. This in turn translates to denser Manila traffic and more vehicles on the road.

4. Poor Public Transport

One of the reasons why Metro Manila traffic continues to worsen is due to the poor management of public transport, which pushes public utility vehicles and jeepneys to compete for passengers. From jam-packed buses and jeepneys to constant breakdowns of the railway systems, more and more citizens are opting on using alternative transportation services or investing in their own private vehicles for easier and more comfortable daily travel. Because of this problem, one possible solution is for cars to be limited, and public mass transportation be given priority on Metro Manila roads.

5. Flood-Prone Geography of Metro Manila

Philippines is a flood-prone country, thanks to the 20 or so typhoons that hit us every year. Because of Manila’s geography and low altitude, as well as the rising sea level, the city is subjected to worsening floods in certain parts of Metro Manila after rain showers or storms. Because of these flood-prone locations and main roads where motorists need to pass, Manila traffic becomes worse, and motorists are forced to either go through flooded roads or find alternate routes.

How Does Manila Traffic Affect the Economy and Business?

Manila traffic affects millions of people in Metro Manila, from workers trying to clock in on time at their offices to students travelling to their universities for their classes. The social effects of traffic congestions are undeniable, with studies showing that the average Filipino wastes about 188 hours per year stuck in traffic during rush hours – this adds up to 28,000 hours in traffic. Considering that the average productive life of an individual is 30 years, this means more than 10 percent of your working years is lost in traffic.

Unfortunately, that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a multitude of other costs and problems that is brought about by the horrendous daily traffic situation in Manila. Aside from these, Manila traffic also affects safety, the economy, and the utilization of the country’s most important resources. In 2014, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) estimated the country’s loss due to traffic at about PHP2.4 billion. In 2022, it’s predictable that the losses have now increased drastically as the traffic problem still has not been solved. Here’s how Manila traffic may be causing more harm than you know:

Additional Pollution

With the global awareness of the detrimental effects of continuous pollution from burning fossil fuels and carbon emissions, it has now become more apparent how congested traffic negatively affects the environment through increased vehicle emissions and harmful chemicals.

The longer you are on the road, the more emission your public transport or private vehicle emits. Additionally, the efficiency of engines tends to be less when it is on idle or at slow speed since incomplete combustion is more likely – which is what more or less happens when motorists and passengers are stuck in Manila traffic. Naturally, the more pollutants the population is exposed to, the more effects it has on the general public health, leading to more medical bills and a shorter life span.

Poor Public Health

The Manila population’s constant exposure to emissions and air pollution has taken its toll on public health. The inefficient Manila traffic scheme and constant exposure to road emissions from both public since the longer you are on the road, the more emission your public transport or private vehicle emits. Naturally, the more pollutants the population is exposed to, the more effects it has on the general public health, leading to more medical bills and a shorter life span.

Lost Time and Revenue

Public transport, delivery trucks and shuttle services are also victims of the perpetual traffic in Metro Manila. Instead of being able to do three or four round trips, they are lucky to be able to do two, which translates to lost revenues and, in many cases, a shift from profitable operations to a losing business. Public service also suffers in that the available schedules become less frequent, and the waiting time becomes longer.

Without a doubt, the public, transport companies and businesses are all losing time and money, even the government is losing taxes because of the lost revenues from the traffic situation.

More Fuel Expenditure and Vehicle Maintenance Costs

With the skyrocketing gas prices and inefficient traffic conditions in Metro Manila, it’s now becoming more and more challenging for people to budget in gas expenditure in their day-to-day expenses. Unfortunately, Manila traffic only adds to this due to the perennial traffic situation. Because of constant traffic standstills, your fuel bills go up since you will be travelling at less efficient speeds or going nowhere while your engine is consuming fuel.

Not only that, but the additional wear and tear of Manila traffic on vehicles that are on standstill or moving at a snail’s pace is also much higher. In a hot country like ours, the additional burden of lack of air flow increases the engine temperature to dangerously high levels, such that seeing cars stalled in heavy traffic situations is not uncommon.

What Are the Possible Solutions for Traffic in the Philippines?

While traffic congestion in Metro Manila has been a problem for years, there are certain solutions that can help decongest Manila traffic through strategic monitoring, stricter government policies, and improved transportation systems. While decongesting Metro Manila may be an issue that will require years to solve, here are a few possible solutions that the government and citizens can take part in to further improve Metro Manila traffic:

1. Carpooling

Carpooling is a practice wherein motorists try to pool passengers together with the same destination. Not only does carpooling help allow commuters a safe and efficient transportation option, but it also lessens the need for more private vehicles to ply through Manila roads during rush hours.

2. Implementation of Road Infrastructure Projects

The government needs to allocate adequate budgeting to road infrastructure projects, from modernizing road plans to increasing road capacity for the streets of Manila. As Manila still continuously increases its population and the vehicle density and a decongestion of the city is still far into the future (if not at all), improving traffic systems and building better roads should be at the forefront of the government’s response to Manila traffic.

3. Limited Sale of Vacant Public Lands for Commercial Development

In recent years, the government has taken it upon itself to sell public vacant spaces to corporations to raise close to billions for public funding as a revenue-generation measure. It seemed the government had declared a policy against making these vacant spaces into green public parks.

Selling vacant spaces to developers means transforming the vacant spaces into malls, office buildings and other commercial structures, which further aggravate the shortage in road infrastructure. While the government might have rejoiced in raising additional funding, the roads that would need to be developed to accommodate rising commercial spaces will far exceed the budget.

To solve this, the government needs to avoid the sale of vacant public lands for commercial development, but they need to allocate these to developing more open and green parks for the people.

4. Better Manila Traffic Monitoring

Traffic monitoring is a crucial part of planning for both companies and government traffic authorities. With effective techniques for monitoring traffic, authorities can easily plan out and tailor traffic policies for better mobility, while commercial companies can design roadways into their businesses better so that it will be easier for motorists to access their business without causing significant traffic congestion.

5. Raised Taxes on Motor Vehicles

Raising taxes on motor vehicles may be seen by some people as restrictive, but other countries with fewer traffic problems than the Philippines are actually imposing more restrictive measures.

Singapore, one of the most advanced countries in the world, and which probably has the most efficient and modern transportation system in Southeast Asia, announced last week that no more extra vehicles would be allowed beginning February 2018. The measure complements the government’s efforts to further improve the public transport system.

Today, the Philippine government I starting to raise taxes on cars, which will, hopefully, slow down car sales by some degree. Under the proposed reforms, the vehicle excise tax would be doubled from 2 percent to 4 percent for vehicles worth P600,000 or below, or raised to P24,000 plus 40 percent of value in excess of P600,000 for vehicles worth P600,000 but not more than P1.1 million; and P224,000 plus 100 percent of value in excess of P1.1 million for vehicles worth over P1.1 million but not more than P2.1 million. The excise tax will also be at P1.224 million plus 200 percent of value in excess of P2.1 million for vehicles worth P2.1 million or higher.

6. Stricter Traffic Fines

Owning vehicles and driving one requires high levels of skill and responsibility on the open roads. With one of the reasons for congested Manila traffic being irresponsible drivers who don’t follow traffic rules, stricter traffic regulations need to be put in place to reprimand erring drivers. This may include paying fines for traffic violations to a system that may lead to license suspension after repeat violations.

Metro Manila Traffic Is Only a Facet of a Wider Social Problem in Manila

Metro Manila traffic congestion and the woes of daily commuters and motorists have been a constant issue whenever the topic of Metro Manila management comes up. With commuters losing precious hours in their days just to navigate through different modes of transportation to get to their destination, that in itself offers a rough reflection of how middle-class workers and citizens in Metro Manila suffer through traffic because the government officials are not giving enough importance to trying to solve traffic congestions, simply because it doesn’t necessarily affect them.

In this article, we’ve discussed the various causes of traffic congestion in the Philippines and possible solutions to how this can be solved through achievable strategies. However, as long as the government, traffic enforcers and supervisors gloss over the issues in traffic and the lack of effective transportation and travel utilities, Manila traffic will remain horrendous and continue to affect generations of workers and students traveling to the country’s capital and costing all of us three years of our lives.

Image credits: Aldar Darmaev | Dreamstime.com

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3 comments
  1. I am utterly disappointed that you forgot to mention a solution to our traffic problem that works in the top industrialized cities in the world.

    Are we still analyzing number of cars and available roads until today? That is a worsening problem every week. There is no way even the richest countries in the world can build more roads faster than our obsession with cars.

    There is only one word to fix our traffic problem – trains. If we have to build roads, they need to be efficient per square meter of use. Even a 10km LRT/MRT/Subway is 10x better than any road used by single occupant vehicle. Build mass transportation facility so that even those with cars will opt to leave them at home and ride trains instead.

  2. There is another simplistic solution we have not experienced nor have we validated its effectiveness or otherwise. It is this: remove all parked cars on all roads and streets, suspend all LGUs parking schemes that use our roads and streets. This has not been done. For example all the roads and streets leading to Araneta commercial Center within a 60-km radius should be free of all parked vehicles. Let us see the effects of these changes. Former MMDA Bayani Fernando said we have enough roads for all the motor vehicles to use. Then let us see if this works.

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