102 million people call an archipelago of 7,107 islands home. The Philippines tucked away in South East Asia is the 12th largest country in the world by population. In a 1903 census conducted by the then American colonial administration, found that the former Spanish (later American) colony was home to 8 million people spread throughout the archipelago. In a 2015 study by the National Economic Development Authority, the now independent Republic was found to be home to 105 million people. This represents a 1170% population jump in the last 113 years.
The Philippines, one of the world‚Äôs fastest growing economies in South East Asia has 24% of its population residing its capital Manila, Metropolitan Manila or Greater Manila ‚Äď to locals. This represents over 24 million people crammed into a highly urbanized area of 1,580 km2 which is only about 0.5% of the country‚Äôs total land area. Manila is ranked the fourth largest urban area of the world. (Demographia World Urban Areas, 2016) Ranked just above Seoul, South Korea and below New Delhi, India. The top spot is taken by Tokyo, Japan with a population of 31.7 million people and a density of 4,400 km2. Manila has a population density of 15,000 people per km2. Measuring that density up to other world cities such as Hong Kong (26,400 km2), New York (1,800 km2), Shanghai (6,100 km2) Mexico City (9,700 km2), Madrid (4,700 km2), and London (5,900 km2).
Huge traffic jams, long queues on the metro, dilapidated buses, red lights, and road ‚Äúcarmageddon‚ÄĚ have all become a way of life in Manila. Unsafe and unreliable public transport have all become one with city of Manila. The roads are littered with all sorts and forms of transportation on wheels. Manila‚Äôs roads are most famous for the ‚Äújeepney‚ÄĚ. Rather a stretched World War II US Army Jeep which can carry about 12 passengers ‚Äď or more, as is notoriously known in the Philippines. These ‚Äújeepneys‚ÄĚ ply Manila‚Äôs back roads and main thoroughfares getting people from one point to another usually in a melody of chaos and disorder stopping as they or their passengers please. A normal commute would usually merit a ‚Äújeepney ride‚ÄĚ. Manila‚Äôs streets are crammed with 50,000 of these World War II vintage vehicles still moving since 1945.
Congestion, unruliness, and chaos have been the ‚Äúlords‚ÄĚ of EDSA ‚Äď Manila‚Äôs main thoroughfare. EDSA alone is plied by 266 different bus companies and 1,122 other bus companies ply the rest of the city‚Äôs thoroughfares. Some people would ask how about the metro? This is where things get a little more complicated. Manila does have a metro. But just with 3 metro lines with queues that could reach over a kilometer long. The city is just too congested with inadequate infrastructure.
It has turned the rule of the game from avoiding traffic to living with traffic. In 2014, if you were to hop into your car and drive 12kms from Quezon City (residential district) to Makati (financial center) it would take about an hour‚Äôs drive. Today, in 2016, it can easily take between 1.5 to 2 hours for the same commute. (Punongbayan, JC; Mandrilla, K.; Rappler , 2015) Some people are bound to 5 hour daily commutes just to get to work in the city‚Äôs main financial center. What is happening to the city?
This is all mixed into what Manila physically is. The city, from the sky, literally has an hour glass shape and the capital‚Äôs main central and financial districts scattered right smack in the middle of the narrowest point. Bounded by Manila Bay in the East and the Sierra Madre mountains and Laguna de Bay on the West. In the sense of its urbanity, Manila lacks roads. And lots of it. A quick look back in time and it makes it a little easier to understand Manila. The city is essentially somewhere between a cross breed of the old of Spanish philosophy of small narrow roads and a dash of the United States with big highways and open spaces. This is well noted as you go along the different zones of the metropolis. What‚Äôs worse is that during the Second World War, Manila along with Warsaw were the two most devastated cities. All the infrastructure and improvements built up by the Spaniards and Americans were then sent to ruins. The devastation of the war brought the worst to the metropolis. Years of bad governance and lack of foresight brought the city to an infrastructure black hole. The city failed to build an extensive road network after war. It lacks high volume mass transit. The American dream and car culture has strained the metropolis‚Äô network of roads which hasn‚Äôt changed much since the colonial times.
However, despite the lack of infrastructure the boom the Philippine economy has seen the country growing at an accelerated growth above 6% since 2010. Far greater than the less than 4% growth the previous two decades triggering a mass internal migration into the nation‚Äôs capital of Manila where about a third of the country‚Äôs GDP is concentrated.
The growing middle class dream is to own wheels. According to the Philippine Land Transportation Office the number of cars on Manila‚Äôs roads has increased from 1.7 million in 2008 to 2.1 million in 2015. An increase of 26% in 7 years. The government estimates that there are about 300,000 vehicles that ply the 24km EDSA on a daily basis. That makes at least 12,500 cars per kilometer. There are just too many vehicles and not enough roads.
According to data compiled by Bloomberg, Manila is receiving on a daily basis 1,700 people who are essentially moving to the Philippine capital. (Yap, K.L.; Bloomberg, 2014) At this pace of growth, Manila is expected to rise to a population of 30 million by 2025 according to Belleville, Illinois based Demographia. This is also part of a regional mass urban migration where the Asian Development Bank expects that at least 1 billion people will be moving into urbanized areas by the year 2030.
This mass internal migration into the city as well as government and public neglect of Manila‚Äôs thoroughfares has effected the productivity of the capital and lead to huge significant economic losses. A study by the National Center for Transportation studies of the University of the Philippines ‚Äď Diliman, as announced by Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balasican, found that traffic in Manila alone costs the country‚Äôs economy PHP1.1 trillion (USD23.4 billion) per year. That is equivalent to a daily loss in the economy of PHP3 billion (USD64 million). (Philippine Star, 2015) It is no laughing matter.
Recently, the Japanese government has granted a USD2 billion Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to the Philippine government to fund the construction, operations, and maintenance of a 38km commuter railway which takes passengers from the outlying provinces north of Manila to the Central Train Station of Tutuban. (Lopez, T.; Manila Standard, 2016) It is expected to be completed by 2020. This along with other projects such as rehabilitation and construction of 323kms of railway running through the metropolis from North to South and East to West, 539kms of expressways, 499kms of national roads, a new international airport, and a PHP514 billion subway network for Manila. The estimated cost of all these projects amount to PHP2.1 trillion. But with the country estimated to be already loosing PHP1.1 trillion annually, the planned infrastructure investment is worthwhile.
Manila‚Äôs traffic is no longer just a great inconvenience. For a country with about 25% of the population falling below the poverty line and many more close to it, the problem is a huge economic burden that cannot be allowed to slip unnoticed. As the country struggles to pull itself out of poverty and close the gap between the rich and the poor, traffic is no longer just a normal daily concern as is with other highly urbanized zones in the world. Traffic is and has become a source of poverty. Fixing the traffic problem is an investment that will bring great savings to the economy. The country just cannot afford to be losing PHP3 billion (USD64 million) everyday as the traffic situation continues to deteriorate.
Demographia World Urban Areas. (2016, March 3). 11th Annual Edition - 2015. Retrieved from http://demographia.com/db-worldua.pdf
Lopez, T.; Manila Standard. (2016, January 20). The emperor and Manila traffic. Manila, Philippines.
Philippine Star. (2015, September 16). Metro Manila traffic costing Philippines PHP3 billion a day. Manila, Philippines.
Punongbayan, JC; Mandrilla, K.; Rappler . (2015, August 15). Carmageddon: why are there so many cars in Metro Manila. Manila, Philippines.
The Economist. (2016, February 27). Traffic in the Philippines' Capital: Slowly does it. Manila, Philippines.
Yap, K.L.; Bloomberg. (2014, April 10). Epic gridlock reigns over Manila's 23 million residents. Manila, Philippines.
Picture by Roberto Verzo in Flickr