Cars vs. Manila

At a recent job interview at a market research firm, I was asked the usual recruitment questions like what are my reasons for leaving my present job, where do I see myself five to seven years from now, and the like. By the time one of the interviewers asked about my current compensation package, I knew that the interview was about to end. Unfortunately, they still had one question for me to answer – how many cars are there in Metro Manila?

I wanted to ask if it was a trick or a rhetorical question, but their facial expressions told me that they wanted me to answer it seriously.

Why on earth would a multinational research firm ask me this during my final interview, when they should be asking me about my work ethics or an instance in my life when I had to deal with a difficult person? It was the first time I was unable to answer definitely.

I used the process of deduction to churn out a logical answer. Last term, one of my classmates had worked for Toyota Shaw, and according to her, the branch she is working in sold the most cars in a month – 650 cars. Most probably, the buyers of those 650 vehicles reside or have businesses in the Makati, Mandaluyong, and San Juan area. There are 14 other cities and municipalities in the metro with their own set of Toyota branches, and there are other car manufacturers that could be selling just as many cars as Toyota.

I also knew that an average of 250,000 cars traverse the highway, according to news reports I have read. Additionally, some of these car owners could use a different car in a day of the week because of the number coding scheme. That’s another 250,000 cars, more or less, added to the count.

After considering average car sales and car traffic in EDSA, I also factored in the average number of cars a household may have, which is around three. This brought me to my answer: 3.5 million cars.

The interviewers looked surprised by my answer. They weren’t expecting me to give out a value in the millions and they repeatedly asked me if I wanted to reconsider. My high hopes for the outcome of my application – initially because of their nods and smiles at the earlier parts of my interview – plummeted because of that last “trick question”.

Luckily, I still received an offer from the market research firm despite being unable to answer correctly. But in retrospect, I realized that my key takeaway from the interview was not the job offer, but the afterthought that the roads and thoroughfares of Metro Manila are already too congested to function.

I was bothered by this not only because I traverse the main roads of Metro Manila everyday, but because many middle class Filipino car owners complaining that their socioeconomic standings have dipped are also the ones who buy cars that are more luxury good than everyday utility. The same people who complain about excessively congested roads are also those whose cars contribute to long lines of traffic, as the increase in vehicle units overwhelm the unchanging road capacity. Many of these yuppies drive their private cars alone as well, to bask in the glory of financial freedom.

The persistent problem of heavy traffic and congested roads, I believe, is overstated. Not because it’s recurring, or that the media has sensationalized the issue, but because many Filipinos don’t understand the consequences of their actions. Many drivers would insist that their comfort remain paramount, given that one of the main purposes of cars is to travel comfortably and securely. This kind of thinking produces an artificial right to complain, resulting to the unending argument over who to blame for the heavy traffic situation in Metro Manila.

This artificial right can be traced back to the country’s long history of oppression. Filipinos were made to think so lowly of themselves that they developed a thirst to prove themselves to other people, most especially to oppressors. They were not constructive or humble when achieving success in this regard, but were proud and spiteful. Their experience of oppression does not pave the way for any life improvements, but only adds to the existing oppressive state of Filipinos – the successful Filipino now wants others to go through his suffering as well, just to prove the oppressors wrong.

Typical telenovelas of today illustrate this still – Filipinos can relate to underdogs who finally get a chance in life, and sympathize with characters whose sudden success after prolonged oppression turns them into antagonists.

Case in point, drivers tend to think they can complain about the congestion issue because they have already earned the right to do so. They were able to afford their cars, so now they are expecting to get the security and comfort of owning a car, regardless of their circumstances or what other people may go through, for as long as they get their way.

Practically speaking, it is nearly impossible to create new roads or even widen existing ones given the urban planning (or lack thereof) of Metro Manila. Today’s roads were designed for the lesser number of vehicles present several decades ago, and commercial establishments and residential areas have taken up the space adjacent to the main roads. I doubt that the government would exercise its police power to reclaim these properties, or that private entities would give up their lands for road widening purposes.

Different government agencies have been trying out different schemes like the truck ban, the number-coding scheme, rerouting, and – just in time for Christmas season – Christmas lanes, which could ease congestion, if not instill discipline among drivers. I’m not a fan or a supporter of the government, but I completely understand that working with asphalt, bulldozers, and cement is not a one-day process.

Majority of Filipino commuters and drivers do not share the sentiment. Many only strive for instant gratification – what would benefit them the most at the fastest time. All government efforts that dare block their path will be persecuted verbally on social media and the government is the usual scapegoat of everything bad that is happening to the country.

If only both drivers and commuters would do their part in observing the simplest of traffic rules and city ordinances, the traffic situation might improve. Drivers could avoid switching lanes and counter-flowing, and uphold the concepts of right of way and of alternating turns in turning or crossing forks. Commuters, on the other hand, should only alight and board public vehicles in designated areas, they should also refrain from patronizing any opportunity that would contribute to the congestion like taking up one lane of the road just so they can board public vehicles faster than the rest of the law-abiding commuters.

These suggestions are easy to follow. They are in written examinations taken by everyone applying for a driver’s license, and safety precautions for commuters are for their own good as much as it is to ease traffic congestion. The blame game among drivers, commuters, and government agencies may not end soon, but the congestion and traffic situation needs to be improved, by every single one of them. There is a certain level of conscientiousness expected from both drivers and commuters, the same way we expect accountability from the government.

To end, there is an estimated 2.75 million cars in Metro Manila. My guess was close enough.


Jessy Go

By Jessy Go

18 replies on “Cars vs. Manila”

Bla bla bla bla bla

You were close. The true reason why people choose to use cars is because public transportation is unbelievably inconvenient, dangerous, congested, and so on. Do you really think people would consciously choose to drive in gridlock traffic “to bask in the glory of financial freedom”? It is true that a lot of people are unaware of the consequences of their actions, but this also applies to commuters who spit inside LRT stations, throw their garbage on the streets, etc. That’s what you get with poor governance. A fucked up transportation system, AND a fucked up education system.

The author WAS implying what you say as the “true reason why people drive” when she wrote that people who can afford to do so expect the comforts and convenience that come with it. They drive because it is more comfortable and convenient than taking public transportation. So yes, her point is not that far from yours.

Just my opinion – some form of governance isn’t needed if everyone behaves accordingly and justly. You and I know, however, that this isn’t the case in this country. Before you blame poor governance as the reasons for the horrible transportation system, I suggest you consider examining yourself, your mindset, and how you really act when you’re out there on the streets, whether in a car or on foot. Then think about if your answers are the same as everyone else’s with regards to themselves.

Leave a Reply