Manila Jeepneys, Pollution and the Traffic Abomination with a Silver Lining

Let’s face it, there is really not much good about the thick layer of smog that blankets the city at all times. The buildings turn an awful grey/blackish color, and I am sure our lungs are looking the same after trying to breathe the heavily polluted air. Unfortunately, this has become yet another issue that is a serious problem but has turned into the norm over many years. Solutions are not on the table, and the acceptance of this by the masses will only equate to the slow poisoning of the citizens of Manila.

The only bright spot is through the haze we are treated to a spectacular, and ever-changing sunset almost every day. The array of colors visible as the sun muscles its way through the smog is one of my favorite things about living in this city. Unfortunately for the other 23 hours of the day it is an inescapable biohazard that makes walking around a city block less beneficial than sitting down to smoke a cigarette.

Manila’s traffic problems are without a doubt the biggest contributor to this problem. Something that could only be solved by a massive overhaul of the cities road network, public transport system, and stormwater drainage networks. While I do have hope that over time Manila will become a world class city in these areas, it would take decades of work and a true visionary leading this transformation. The latter being something that I do not see in the country’s current political ranks.

So what could be done in the short term to give some relief? I think an excellent first step would be to phase out, or reinvent, the Jeepney over a five year period. While these vehicles are an iconic feature on the country’s roads, in their current form they are environmental monstrosities. Any sentimental feelings towards these beasts must be pushed aside for the sake of the nation’s health. There is a big opportunity to innovate and improve, and modernize these things, with the end goal of preventing the endless clouds of black shitty smoke that fills a street when one passes by. Surely there is an enterprising Filipino out there who is willing to take on this challenge?

A huge step in the right direction was the recent introduction of the P2P bus services along EDSA. These modern, clean, and higher capacity buses will make the commuter experience much more tolerable. A big win for commuters! Replicating this system to all corners of the city, quadrupling the number of busses, and creating designated bus lanes (and actually enforcing this) would make a huge difference in the short term.

While many may cringe at the thought of losing a whole lane for regular traffic on what are already congested roads, the current disorganization of the busses and many drivers lack of regard for others on the road probably does more harm than good to traffic flow anyway. Losing a lane may be inconvenient, but if the results are faster moving busses and slower moving traffic then more may take the bus.

The reality is that even a top class bus network is only going to provide short term relief. The massive population of the city is crying out for a high capacity, and high frequency train network. Unless storm water drainage was improved a subway would be out of the question. It would only fill up with water when a slight shower came through. So above ground would be the only way to go. This would be a 50 year project and the challenges would be significant. Neighbourhoods throughout this congested city would need to be bulldozed to make room for such a thing. An inconvenience that many citizens may welcome if it means they can get from one end of the city to another in 30 minutes, instead of four hours.

Most conversations I have had with local Filipinos about such needs are usually met with resignation that these things will not happen due to the potential for inappropriate handling of the funds required. A way of thinking that I am sure many Filipinos can relate to, and it is something frustrating to observe. If people cannot expect even a basic level of public services for their tax dollars then something is seriously wrong. The tax revenues are big enough to complete big projects up to world standard, and the Government is not burdened with a welfare system that accounts for 30%-40% of the nations total budget, as is the case in many western countries. I will leave out any personal political opinions on the subject (my Visa conditions prohibit this), so just some things for all Filipino readers to consider.

Anyway, coming back to my main point for this article. Something as simple as having clean air to breathe is a basic human right that the citizens of Manila have to compromise on.

This brings with it short term discomfort, but long term problems that will shorten peoples lives and burden the already stretched health systems in the country.

For me, the first step to improving this all points to one thing. Retire the Jeepney!

They are vehicles with a lot of character, and no doubt part of the national heritage. They belong in Museums where they can be admired, not on the roads where they slowly kill everyone for miles.

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