Traffic problem may drive Manilans to Iloilo

IT was in 1981 when I left behind 14 years of life in Metro Manila to reside and work in Iloilo City, my birth place. I had gone weary of the back-breaking daily bus rides between my residence and my office.

Looking back, I realize that my feared scene has come true. On a weekday today, riding bus on EDSA – say, from Caloocan City to Baclaran, a distance of 20 kilometers – would take three hours.

As a college student in Manila in 1967, I remember it was much easier to grab a bus, which would cover the aforesaid distance in only 45 minutes.

True, the advent of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) has cut travel time to 30 minutes. But the thousands of passengers struggling to squeeze in and out of its coaches nowadays is not fun. There never seems to be enough trains to accommodate the growing number of harried and hurrying passengers.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) never runs out of ideas to solve traffic congestion at EDSA, only to fail.

An outlandish bill introduced in the House of Representatives in 2018 called for granting the President and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) “emergency power”. When the bill failed to move up to the Senate, not a few congressmen wailed, arguing “it could have been the solution to the transportation crisis.”

But not one of them could explain how the President would wield that power to reduce traffic. Emergency power as we know it merely fast-tracks contracts with favored constructors and suppliers sans bidding, hence prone to graft and corruption

This corner dares say that the population and transportation problems are intertwined.

The first time I came to Manila as a 10-year-old boy in 1960, traffic congestion was rare. There I was with my parents, riding a fast bus ride from Manila to the farthest point of Novaliches. It was literally cool as we passed by long lines of giant trees dotting both sides the road between houses.

The same road looks and feels different today. Bumper-to-bumper traffic hampers mobility. Gone are the roadside trees; in their places have mushroomed thousands of concrete houses and stores.

On my next trip to Manila to study college in 1967. EDSA was still the most desirable highway to traverse points between Caloocan and Baclaran. I could count on ten fingers the “brand” names of buses covering that route, such as MD Transit, CAM Transit, JD Transit, Yujuico Bus Lines and  California Bus Lines. It took them only an hour to breeze through EDSA.

The color green dominated both sides of EDSA, what with tall grasses locally known as talahib drowning the low-rise commercial and residential buildings.

Where I lived was a stone’s throw away from what is now the MMDA building in Guadalupe, Makati. The entire distance from Guadalupe bridge to that cite was still a straight row of grassy vacant lots.

The same periphery today leaves no room for building a new edifice. To exaggerate in Filipino, “hindi mahulugan ng karayum.”

By comparing the same places yesterday and today, I am sure that the meteoric increases in vehicles and population account for what is now the “transportation crisis.” The population in Metro Manila in 1970, 3.5 million, is nothing compared to today’s 13.7 million.

I personally know Metro Manilans who have migrated to Iloilo to trade discomfort for comfort. This is evident in the hotels, condos, subdivisions, malls and motor vehicles that seem to have appeared overnight.

To quote Mayor Jerry Treñas, “Let’s meet in Iloilo.” ([email protected]/PN)

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