“Top Ten Curses of Driving in the Philippines”

Manila TrafficA Facebook writer named “Jeepneys Begone” posted an interesting series of four notes on the primarily causes of one of the worst traffic system in the world. Though many Filipinos are enamored with the jeepney as a symbol of Filipino ingenuity, Jeepneys Begone confirmed that there are also many Filipinos like me who believe that the time has come for a better mass transport system for the country. And again, I might differ on the order somewhat, Jeepneys Begone has hit the nail on the head on his infamous list. I’m quoting his series in full below:

What ails the Philippines? So many things come to mind, but one thing stands out over other things, especially if you live in Metro Manila: traffic congestion.

Why is the traffic so bad—one of the worst in the world—that one visitor remarked, “New York is nothing compared with this!” Most Filipinos would think of overpopulation, too many cars, and roads not built for such overcrowding. These are all valid reasons, but the causes of the horrible traffic jams are surely much more than these.

The reasons are more deep-seated than just overpopulation, too many cars, and narrow roads. I would propose that these more radical reasons can aptly be called “curses,” because when one looks at the situation, many Filipinos would conclude it’s a hopeless situation.

So here are my Top Ten Curses of Driving in the Philippines. I’ll start from the bottom, and work up from there.

10. Malls and markets. Because there are no zoning regulations, they are built anywhere and everywhere. For example, the whole length of the Alabang-Zapote Road is littered with malls, shopping centers, palenques, office buildings, restaurants, subdivisions, you name it. Instead of the traffic jams concentrated in a business section, a restaurant section, etc., the whole road is a huge traffic jam 24/7! As well, many malls are built on roads that have only one or two lanes.

9. Street vendors and beggars: They are found at every street corner. Drivers have to slow down so they don’t get run over. Many jeepney drivers would stop in the middle of traffic and buy cigarettes or water or whatever.

8. Bad roads and road signs: These cause many accidents and confusion. For example, I’ve seen people backing up on the Ortigas overpass from EDSA, a very dangerous (and stupid) thing to do. Why? Because they didn’t know that the left lane leads to the overpass–the sign telling drivers that the lane leads to the overpass to Ortigas is 100 meters into the overpass so it’s not visible to drivers from EDSA! Also, speed bumps and barriers litter major roads with no warnings, and these cause slowdowns and accidents.

7. Private vehicles. There are too many cars, small trucks, vans and SUVs for the little streets in the Philippines. The private vehicle population, like the human population, has to be controlled, maybe with high taxes, high parking rates, high gasoline and diesel taxes for private vehicles, and strict car pooling regulations. “Color coding” laws simply do not work because of too many cars. This is aggravated by the lack of knowledge of and obedience to traffic rules and regulations.

6. Commercial Trucks. As well, because of little or no knowledge of and obedience to traffic laws and regulations, truck drivers cause a lot of traffic problems. They scoot dangerously left and right on the roads, speed recklessly, and do not know any kind of safe driving. The trucks usually have no insurance and are big polluters. Most are are too big for the little roads. They are mostly old and inefficient gas guzzlers.

5. Buses. Bus drivers are some of the most unruly, reckless drivers in this country. Like most others, they simply have no knowledge of and obedience to traffic signs, rules and regulations. Many operate illegally and are so substandard that they are known as “rolling coffins.” Most buses have the same characteristic problems as commercial trucks. They’re ahead in ranking over trucks only because there are more of them, and so cause more congestion and accidents.

4. Tricycles (Pedicabs). While most countries have gotten rid of their pedicabs, the Philippines continue to encourage the proliferation of tricycles. If someone does not have an education or life ambition, go drive a tricycle.

Worse than all bus, truck and private vehicle drivers, tricycle drivers have absolutely no knowledge of traffic rules and regulations. They are a law to themselves, driving with no care for traffic laws, because traffic enforcers do not care to enforce the rules on them since they don’t have any pesos to give.

They cause many accidents, especially on provincial roads, where all other vehicles try to pass them, sometimes resulting in fatal head-on collisions. Just recently, a young former beauty queen, with three others, lost their lives in a head-on collision with a bus as the bus tried to overtake a slow tricycle. They were originally made to be used inside subdivisions, and they must be returned to subdivision roads where they belong.

What’s worse than tricycles are the tri-sikads, bicycles with sidecars. Many of them are driven on main roads at 5 mph and they are usually on the fast lane! At night, it’s even worse, because they have no lights!

Watch out for these, because if they hit you, they have no insurance. They are big polluters. The big problem is how to avoid these pests, since there are 2.8 million of them in Manila alone!

3. Motorcycles. All of the above dangerous characteristics of tricycles apply to motorcycles. In terms of drivers, they are second only to jeepneys in the Top Two Curses in Philippine driving. They cause most of the road accidents, most of them fatal. They should be restricted to secondary roads. Most of them do not have insurance, and many violent crimes are committed with the use of motorcycles.

2. Jeepneys. Like almost all public transport drivers, jeepney drivers have absolutely no knowledge of rules, and in case they know a few traffic rules, they ignore them. It’s common knowledge that almost all jeepneys have no insurance, so be forewarned, private vehicles: avoid them like the plague!

A recent report by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources says that most of Manila’s pollution come from jeepneys, buses and tricycles, in that order. A 2007 World Bank report says  that air pollution from these vehicles is the major cause of respiratory disease among the population, costing the country a whopping P7.6 billion annually. In addition to being the top polluter, jeepneys are old, inefficient gas guzzlers, costing several billions more in fuel consumption losses.

Since buses could only travel the major routes, jeepneys could still have a major role in the secondary roads. But the jeepney system must be integrated with the bus and train systems, with the drivers also being paid a regular monthly salary.

Topping all the nine other curses, my Numero Uno curse is…

1. Corruption. Like all other woes of the country, all of these traffic woes would be minimized if corruption among government officials, traffic personnel, drivers, commuters, and everyone else is minimized. Traffic rules would be enforced. A much lower number of people would be traveling, since transactions could be done by phone or online. And everyone would have enough discipline to make traveling safer, efficient, more convenient, healthier for the people and the environment, and most importantly, faster.

About Nollie

Associate Pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Walnut Creek, CA. Assigned as missionary to the Philippines. Lives just outside Metro Manila with wife and daughter. Three older boys live and work in CA.