I love to drive, but I hate our streets. I drive an average of 45 kilometers a day, and consume 14 liters of gas a week. This list summarizes everything that pisses me off about being a driver in Metro Manila. Even when good men try to follow the rules, the following just convince me otherwise.
Heavy traffic isn’t unique to the Philippines of course. This is just a list of what makes traffic so “special” here.
Welcome to Manila
In my universe, I would outlaw traffic (the word is synonymous to heavy traffic here in the Philippines) and send a millions spam e-mails to any and all traffic violators. But seriously now, confiscate and burn their licenses then send them to the driving school for dummies.Here are the favorite offenses of the average Filipino driver, who is characteristically walang hiya (shameless), selfish and rude. Feel free to add to the list by commenting.
Note to foreign readers: Just to clarify the directions in this post, note that the Philippines is left hand drive, right hand traffic.
And now the list, in some weird order:
“How not to be a driver”
1. U-Turn Anywhere
Passed your destination by a few meters? Missed a street? Pull aside a bit, signal to the left, wait for an opening then turn to the next lane. U-turning can actually be forgivable, unless the inconsiderate fool does so in a two-lane street. Or worse, a bridge. While people generally tolerate this, it can’t be denied that this slows traffic down. It is unnecessary, a desperation manuever and something that can be avoided. But heck, it’s fun to watch sometimes. And there are several variations of the “U-Turn Anywhere”:
1a. Park and go: Filipinos love “pa-simple”. I don’t know how to translate this expression into english with the entire thought intact but I liken it to turning things to your advantage in a very shameful way after being disadvantaged. So let’s say you missed your destination and you want to u-turn but the roads are too packed, and too many people will snicker as you attempt to u-turn. So find a parking lot to the side — most buildings have parking lots right in front of them. Once you have found one, park. Count to five to create the illusion that you’re actually getting out of the building, then get out and exit to the other lane. Fun as hell to watch, especially when you know what they’re actually doing.
Some are even more shameless and do this on driveways (a Pinoy classic), gas stations and McDonald’s Drive Thrus.
1b. Double u-turn: Similar to ‘park and go’ but involving a side street to your right side. Get into a relatively empty side street, do your little u-turn there, and exit to the other lane. This consumes extra gas but at least you’ll save face. Unless of course, you get caught in the wrong end of a one way street.
1c. Sidewalks are for cars too: The ultimate u-turn! When there is no other possible way to go, go up. That’s right. Think out of the box and climb the sidewalk to get to the other side. If you hear a metallic crack, that’s just your suspension giving way. Don’t worry. There are several thousand cars like yours. Join the club.
2. The gas station access road
Filipinos just love this one. To avoid traffic or even just to overtake, a lot of drivers love to cut across the generous spaces in gas stations in order to get ahead. This is extra useful in navigating crowded corners and u-turns, but I find this extremely rude. I believe this is banned in some countries.
3. Emergency convoy
“You’re pathetic.” That’s the first thought that comes to mind whenever I see any vehicle pick up speed to join in a convoy of either politicians (and their security detail) or a quick moving chain of ambulances and relatives. The most shameful I saw was when someone joined in a rather long but very fast moving procession headed by a hearse.
4. “Press horn to move car”
Now this just pisses me off. I absolutely hate drivers who blow their horn when (a) the stoplight turns green and they’re nudging the car in front of them to move, and (b) when they blow their horn during heavy traffic and nudge the car in front of them to move at the slightest advance. This ruins my mood no matter how good it is. It is a commentary on how selfish and inconsiderate some Filipinos can be. I prefer a quick flash of the lights, provided that it does take the car in front forever before they move.
5. Full lights hold back the darkness; not my rage
I like driving at night, but that can be ruined by a oncoming driver on the opposite lane with their lights on full. I appreciate those who turn down their lights when I flash them with my full lamps too, but those who don’t just piss me off. How rude.
6. DO NOT OVERTAKE ME!!!
This is almost as bad as #4 for me. So you’re driving along and you decide to shift to another lane. You flick on the signal lights and tilt the car to the new direction. Then someone behind you in the lane you’re getting into suddenly speeds up, blows the horn and flashes their lights. And they’re too far back for you to cut them. That is so annoying. I don’t know what the root of this is. The Filipino machismo perhaps? It’s not like they were in a hurry five seconds ago, and now I’m infringing on their lane? Funny stuff.
7. I WILL OVERTAKE YOU!!!
This is often a continuation of #6 but happens only with the worst men. So you successfully enter the lane. Now the car behind you shifts to another lane, accelerates the car a bit, and overtakes you. This is annoying and stupid. Is this supposed to make you feel bad? Some people do you one better and enter the lane you’re in after they overtake you. Wow. Amazing.
8. [X] means keep intersection open at all times, right?
This I hate as much as #4. In an eight-way intersection (N/S, S/N, E/W, W/E, N/E, S/W, W/N, E/S) with a stoplight, a phenomenon happens when linear flows are about to end and what follows are non-linear ones. We call this phenomenon “inching”: when those next in line enter the intersection before their turn in an attempt to cross the intersection before everyone else. I find this incredibly infantile and again, a product of Filipino machismo. I think people must be reminded that those markings in the interesection — similar to this: [X] — mean that the intersection must be kept open at all times. When you’re within those lines, you should always be moving. This of course, is to minimize crashes and to keep the channels open in case of an emergency. I’ve seen ambulances and firetrucks delayed because of this and that’s just a shame.
9. Pedestrian lanes are for pedestrians
Pedestrian lanes — even when there are no people crossing — are supposed to function like STOP signs. It pisses me off when drivers just zoom pass by the lanes especially when there are people crossing. I made it my personal advocacy to teach people how these lanes are supposed to work. I often stop right in the middle when I see cars accelerating as they head into the lanes. I raise my palms to stop sign height and wave my arms at the painted lane to show them that what it is. I do this more often particularly when I’m not the only one crossing. I know it’s a shameless thing to do but so is their driving. And I’m not the one with the problem.
10. Slow cars on the fast lane
On a right hand side highway, the left lane is for fast cars. As you go farther into the right, the slower you should go. Roads are designed that way because on the right you find access roads, exits and buildings. What happens in this country is the reverse (see next item too). I find it incredibly odd why the slow buses and trucks insist to stay on the left lane. This becomes incredibly frustrating when driving in the large expressways north and south of the metropolis. Like the past two items, this is a matter of education.
11. Overtaking on the shoulder
Related to the previous, fast cars now end up either weaving or worse, overtaking on the shoulder. That particular lane is for emergency purposes only, ladies and gentlemen. But I see this more as a function of the slow moving cars on the left lane because drivers now compensate by driving faster on the rightmost lanes. Recently, they enforced the no overtaking on shoulder policy to limited success. I recommend the toll officers to distribute flyers or whatever to educate our people on basic road etiquette.
12. Curiosity killed the cat and the dead cat caused more traffic
Butch Dalisay once said that the Filipino is naturally voyeuristic. Next is the bane of a unique Filipino trait: pakikiusi. Filipinos just love minding the business of other people, but I won’t get into the details of that right now. What worsens traffic after an accident happens is not that the altercation consumed a lane or two. What makes traffic worse is now everyone crawls so slowly since they want to catch a glimpse of the action. Beneath the gasps you can almost hear the expressions of the passers by: “Sino kayang sira ulo ang may kasalanan?” (Who was the idiot who caused this?) “May namatay kaya?” (Did someone die?) “Grabe naman yung sira!” (Look at that damage!) “Magkano kaya aabutin nila sa pag-aayos?” (How much will these repairs cost?) “Kawawa naman siya!” (That poor thing!)
The good news about this attitude is that a lot of Filipinos have begun to realize how stupid it is to admire and speculate about a wreck, especially when it causes them their own delays. Post-accident traffic has moved faster as of late but not as fast as it can. On this point at least, there is some improvement.
13. No lines, no lanes
Observe the following picture. What’s missing?
Lines to mark the lanes. If you didn’t notice, then I rest my case.
What I want out of our streets by 2008
14. Picket the fences!
Alright. Who is the genius who thought that putting fences in the middle of streets will make traffic flow more smoothly? Definitely someone who doesn’t know how traffic works. Reestablishing the yellow lanes for public transportation is a good move though, but putting up barricades? These fences actually disrupt the flow of traffic since vehicles move through highways like molecules do through air. They shift and accomodate in order to flow better. Fences stop that from happening, and therefore worsen traffic as it is.
These two pictures are from manila.metblogs.com
My proposed alternative to fences would be the establishment of certain lanes as bus lanes, carpool lanes, etc. and above all, to enforce them. A carpool lane, in particular, would give commuters incentives to ride together and thus reduce cars on the streets. But I guess it’s too much to ask Filipinos to think that way.
I suppose that’s why they put fences in the first place. So they don’t have to think. I admit, in that sense, there’s some wisdom in the move.
Smurfs? What do you mean smurf? I mean those little blue guys. I mean these dudes who stand in the middle of the road. These ones.
Oh, here’s another one looking for pie!
Yeah, these guys help ease traffic but most of the time they make it worse. And I hate it when they make the traffic flow contrary to the stoplights. Ever noticed that? That actually makes traffic worse. The least they can do is to make sure cars stay on their lanes (no #8) and move quickly when their turn comes.
But be careful. They’re evil. Read on to find out.
16. Jeepneys — symbols of Philippine backwardness
“The ‘jeepney’ is a testament to Philippine ingenuity. Making the most out of the tools and resources left by the Americans after World War II, the jeepney was born to become the main mode of public transportation in the provinces and cities. Since then, jeepney operation has become a lush industry, with drivers and owners adorning their rides with slogans and iconographies that champion the spirit of the Filipino.”
In other words: we suck. Have you noticed any breakthroughs done for the jeepney in the past years? Thank you, Uncle Sam, for feeding us the scraps off your table.
Alright, warning. I’m about to get bloody serious here.
Has there been any new invention or technology introduced to make this vehicle run more efficiently? People see the jeepney as their source of income, but I see it as one reason why the Philippines remains where it is. The main goal of the jeepney, besides providing cheap public transportation, is to help people make ends meet. And so I find it tragic that there is has been no move to innovate the jeep over fears that it will raise costs for people who can’t afford that. So our cities continue to get more polluted and our streets continue to get even more congested.
On my way from our subdivision to EDSA, I pass a two-lane service road that has its intersections clogged by jeepneys. For instance, all the jeeps in the picture below are in a full stop. This makes things particularly bad during rush hour when the jeeps wouldn’t move since they compete for each other’s load. It’s a sad sight when you think about it.
Jeepney drivers are mostly undereducated (I’m being nice) and don’t know the basic rules of the road, signages and road courtesy. I can’t blame them for wanting to make ends meet because that is all they have. However, I would like to believe that things can be done to make the jeepney system in this country to work for all of us, rather than against us.
Off hand, I think there is a potential to create an engineering sector that would revolve around making our public utility vehicles — especially the jeepney — run on more efficient, quiet and cleaner machines. There is a lot of room for innovation here, and I think this is one very real application of science and technology in our country.
Then there must be education. We can’t assume that these drivers know the rules because they don’t have the means to know them. I think this can be a cool project university students can undertake, don’t you think?
Whew, alright that’s over.
And finally for this edition:
17. Ang Hari ng Daan (The King of the Road)
And of course, honors go to that thing which has caused us drivers the most suffering in EDSA, that infamous 10-lane divided avenue that cuts across the metropolis, and other major roads.
Northbound at 9:45am
The above picture shows you that size matters. And when several of them converge during rush hour, all hell breaks loose. But it can’t go anywhere. Traffic, eh.
Southbound at 5:15pm
These monsters behave like jeepneys, only bigger. These guys know you know they’re big and so they wouldn’t think twice to throw that weight around.
Even though there are smurfs around to tame them, it isn’t enough. Often, their queues take up so much space thus engulfing the avenues even during the off hours. Look at exhibit A and B:
The only solution to the bus problem would be to strictly enforce their registration and lisence to operate. Most of these buses are on colorum (unregistered and unlisenced) and are bankrolled by the very smurfs (they’re evil, see?) and police who are supposed to keep them off the streets. When buses are pulled over, that’s just for show. They’re all trying to pull a fast one on us. Welcome to the Philippines.
People cry that our country is corrupt but don’t realize the ordinary, everyday consequences of that corruption. Now you know that the bus problem is one example. And so is traffic.
This list is a rant inasmuch as it is a commentary on the state of affairs in the Philippines as seen through the point of view of an everyday occurence: heavy traffic. What causes it? How can we solve it?
While it is my style to analyze the phenomenon, perhaps give it some historical grounding or a perspective into human nature, I won’t do that right now. Well, I’ve spilled some anyway and I hope you caught them. Regardless, I want you to come to your own conclusions about what traffic says about our people.
I in no way claim to be the perfect driver. I can speak of the above sins because I’ve commited some myself. Yeah, my car has been wrecked once and I became a spectacle for all to see. And yes, I had often fallen prey to road rage since, as you have read, I have a lot of bones to pick. But the past years have made me more patient, even as I observed how inconsiderate and undisciplined most Filipino drivers continue to be.
As for my position on public transportation, I’m not going to the extreme and declare that public transportation be outlawed (although I’m tempted). I’ve had my own experiences taking public transportation, and have met real operators and jeepney drivers who cling on to driving each day in order to keep their families alive. And I am sure that millions of commuters will agree that we just can’t get rid of them.
So while I recognize that we need these jeepneys and buses, I also realize that we can do this better. Any country, no matter how advanced, will need to provide their people with affordable, safe and efficient public transportation. I feel that better technology, more education and improved law enforcement are all it needs. But again, this is the Philippines and that may be too much to ask. Yet that doesn’t mean we stop knocking and bugging the powers that be until it happens because one day, we’ll have no choice.
This list is by no means final. I hope a lot get to read it and add to it. If you’ve noticed, I haven’t even pointed out the problems with public utility vehicles, and that is an entry by itself.
So until the next edition, stay safe. Happy driving to those who drive and safe trip to those who place their lives in the hands of others. The road, as you can see for yourself, is a dangerous place. Good news is it just doesn’t have to be that way.