Infrastructure News Analysis

Traffic – the killer of Manila

The picture above may look like a mega-multi-car pile-up, but it’s not. This is gridlock Manila style and something, to varying degrees, which commuters across the Philippines capital face every day. It’s not difficult to see how the city earned the distinction of having “The Worst Traffic on Earth” – the conclusion of a December 2015 poll carried out by Waze, a GPS-based navigation app for smartphones and tablets which surveyed 50 million users in 167 urban centres across 32 countries for its Driver Satisfaction Index. That aside, though, Manila’s tangled traffic is costing the economy a minimum of US$64 million (PHP3 billion) every day.

This figure, from the government, is based on a 2012 study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which provides a conduit for technical cooperation and assistance from the Japanese Government to the Philippines. Four years ago it found that Manila’s traffic congestion came with a US$52.32 per diem price tag – or 0.8% of GDP. The JICA warned then that the costs will continue to rise if the government fails to provide adequate solutions. It didn’t and they did. JICA believes, given rising traffic levels, that by 2030 the capital’s daily traffic costs could rise to US$130.82 million (PHP6 billion). That could buy a lot of roads.

Here is the anatomy of the problem. The Metro Manila (National Capital Region, on NCR) population is 12,877,253 according to the 2015 national census. Of this number, around 46% have full time employment and 36% part time jobs of piecework. Conservatively, then, somewhere in the region of 9,500,000 citizens commute across the city each day – by bus, jeepney, trike and train.  Currently, buses and jeepneys are the biggest people carriers, accounting for 71% of journeys. 650,000 daily passengers use the Mass Rail Transit System, where breakdowns and delays occur regularly.

Data from the Department of Transportation and Communications – Land Transportation Office in 2013 showed that 27% of the entire country’s vehicles are registered in the NCR – 2,101,148 of them. Add to that, the convoys of haulage vehicles tramping to and from the Port of Manila from every part of the country around the clock, and the constant stream of long-distance coaches travelling in daily from the provinces, and the picture above becomes more understandable. And adding to the sclerosis are the broken roads with constant repair works and the total lack of driving discipline which results in minor and fatal accidents that further petrify the traffic flow.

The good news is that Manila can be saved from this traffic hell. The bad news is – according to a study carried out by the National Economic and Development Authority – is that it could take another 15 years and will cost US$65.3 billion.