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This Is the Most Sensible Solution to Manila's Traffic Crisis We've Heard in a Long Time

It's either that or 'mental adaptation'
IMAGE At Maculangan
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Horrendous traffic is a fact of life in Metro Manila. But how do we cope with it on a daily basis? For most of us, there are short and long-term fixes available (or necessary lies we tell ourselves). Stuck on the road, we can listen to podcasts, send out work emails, or catch up on sleep while life passes us by faster than a blind beggar knocking on our windshield. The more fortunate ones among us manage to live close to work or commute during off-peak hours.

For the rest of us, a 2016 study conducted on the commuting experience of MRT-3 passengers has the answer: get used to it, buddy. The blue line is arguably the most important rail line in the metro, running along EDSA and connecting business districts, malls and landmarks. But, the study notes that “service has deteriorated since 2005 when its ridership exceeded its design capacity” and “trains are also packed beyond crush capacity.”

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Crowded, polluted, and inconvenient, it’s unfortunately still the best transport option for hundreds of thousands of commuters, which means that “mental adaptation” is the best and only strategy allowing them to deal with their soul-crushing commute. Unfortunately, coping also entails getting used to a bad situation, and that can lead to continued bad service since no one has the energy or will to demand improvements.   

Since our public transport system doesn’t seem to be on track to sufficiently serve the many commuters that depend on it, we might as well stay home. That’s according to the “Telecommuting Act of 2016” approved by the Senate last May. Acknowledging that telecommuting increases productivity and improves quality of life, it’s an innovative and cost-efficient way to reduce traffic congestion in Metro Manila.

Unlike other ill-conceived but well-meaning policies, implementing this law properly could mean billions of Pesos in productivity gains and millions of hours spent working instead of “mentally adapting”. A recent blog post by Sharad Saxena, a transport specialist working for the Asian Development Bank, concludes as much, pointing out that “[f]or those of us who spend the better part of the day working on computers, it is quite immaterial whether we work from the office, home, or a coffee shop.”

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The ADB expert believes that this policy “will help reduce peak hour traffic, [freeing] up road space on the most congested routes, as well as relieve the stress on public transport.” The traffic issue is too complex to be solved with one easy fix but innovative and affordable solutions are the right path forward. Saxena notes that the ‘work-from-home’ policy can even be used to enhance other existing policies such as color coding, in a scenario where employees are allowed to work remotely on days they can’t use their cars.

Of course, there are many possible solutions out there and working in your pajamas alone won’t solve the traffic problem. But combining several sensible, tailor-fit options with sufficient public infrastructure improvements could be a way out of this mess. There already are a few examples from which to learn: the free bus service in Pasig, the bike paths in Marikina, the walkable High Street in BGC, and the pedestrian bridge connecting NAIA Terminal 3 to Newport City. Until then, it might be worth asking your employer if they’re in favor of flexible working arrangements.

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Christopher Puhm
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