Metro Manila has often faced criticisms for its traffic congestion. Detractors use this as a deterrent to dissuade foreign tourists from visiting the country. While it is undeniable that Manila’s traffic can be overwhelming at times, it is crucial to acknowledge that traffic congestion is not unique to Metro Manila. Many other global cities face similar challenges.
TomTom is a software company that develops and sells navigation and location-based products and services, including maps, traffic navigation software, and portable navigation devices. Based on the 2023 Tomtom Traffic Index, Metro Manila topped the list of Metro areas with the worst traffic in 2023.
Many studies on traffic and transportation systems analyze various metrics to assess the performance and efficiency of a city’s traffic network. And those making the study can subjectively choose the cities they want to include in the study. It is possible for them to focus on specific metrics that unfavorably affect a city’s ranking in the world.
From tomtom.com: “From the thousands of cities covered by TomTom Traffic, we selected and ranked 387 cities in 55 countries and 6 continents. The Index aims to rank these cities based on their average travel time and provide free access to city-by-city information.”
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) questioned the TomTom “2023 Traffic Index” calling Metro Manila traffic the worst in the world. MMDA Acting Chairperson Don Artes aired questions on TomTom’s methodology, after it claimed that it takes 25 minutes and 30 seconds to travel 10 kilometers, with over 117 hours lost per year during rush hours.
“We want to know the methodology employed. If there is an actual count and when did they conduct the study,” he said, citing as example Quezon Avenue, which, according to the study, was the busiest street in Metro Manila last year. “Per our data, it is still Edsa as Metro Manila’s busiest road based on our regularly conducted actual count. With this alone, we can see that there is a difference between our data and TomTom’s,” he said. “Quezon Avenue is only the third busiest road per our data.”
Artes acknowledged that traffic congestion in the metropolis is a decades-old problem and attributed it to various factors, such as vehicle volume, lane blockages, diggings and road repairs, ongoing construction of government flagship infrastructure projects, road configuration and conditions, and suspension of the No Contact Apprehension Policy.
“Metro Manila has exceeded its carrying capacity for vehicles since it has 3.6 million vehicles on a 5,000-kilometer road network. In EDSA alone, there are more than 400,000 vehicles traversing the highway daily, but its carrying capacity is only for 300,000 vehicles,” he said.
Despite these factors, Artes said the agency has ongoing and proposed initiatives to further alleviate the traffic congestion in the metropolis. The MMDA is also studying the proposed EDSA elevated walkways, and has recommended to the Department of Public Works and Highways and Department of Transportation that train systems that are yet to be constructed will all be subway or underground.
Also part of the agency’s current interventions are the new and improved MMDA Communications and Command Center, JICA-funded improvements in intersections of Metro Manila, Intelligent Transport System, and regular clearing operations conducted by the Special Operations Group-Strike Force.
While the whole of government approach will be employed, Artes also appealed to the public to help address the traffic problem in the metropolis.
As the MMDA seeks clarifications on TomTom’s 2023 study stating that Metro Manila has the worst traffic among 387 Metro areas in the world, it must be noted that in any global traffic study, comparability of metrics is important. It is crucial to examine the methodology and metrics used in the TomTom study. Different studies may use different criteria, such as traffic volume, average travel time, or road density, to assess traffic congestion. It’s possible that the study focused on specific metrics that unfavorably affected Metro Manila’s ranking.
In this kind of study, context matters. By emphasizing the “worst traffic” claim without acknowledging the vast number of unrepresented cities, headline writers who have immense power in shaping public perception and opinion risk painting an incomplete picture.
In the case of labeling the Philippines as having the “worst traffic in the world,” it is important to consider the limitations of the TomTom study and the vast number of cities worldwide that were not included in the rankings. While this study that ranked 387 cities may offer valuable insights, it represents only a fraction of the more than 10,000 cities across the globe. Failing to acknowledge this limited scope can lead to a distorted representation of reality and unfairly stigmatize the country.