The other day I had to take a cab from one end of Makati, (Jupiter and Makati Avenue intersection), down Sen. Gil Puyat/Buendia Avenue to the LRT station on Taft. Straight run down one road, more or less. I entered the cab at 09.21 am, as proven by the printed receipt I have in my possession! Yes, a Manila cab with a receipt printer on the dash! The driver said he mainly works the Alabang area and sadly had to bring someone into Makati when I snaggled him. He promised he was heading back there as soon as he dropped me at the airport. I wasn’t going to the airport. He swore. I digress, where was I? Yes, in a cab at 09.21am heading down Sen Gil Puyat Avenue.

I arrived at my destination at 10.44am, 83 minutes and just 4 kilometres later! At a cost of P152 I had spent 71 minutes of that time standing still. At least the cab was stationery, I was squirming a fair bit in frustration! The “waiting time” is recorded via this machine the taxi was fitted with and this is how I know we didn’t move for exactly 1 hour and 11 minutes, in total. I wonder how long the journey would have been if I had taken it right in the middle of the peak “hour”? Of course peak hour in Manila lasts from 6am to at least 10am and then again from about 3pm to 8pm!

When I arrived in Manila the other week I took a taxi from NAIA2, the PAL terminal. I had to go upstairs to the departure drop off area as the airport management have cleared all taxis away from the arrivals area so they can maximise their revenue from airport “limo” services. In other words, the official going rate for a ride into Makati was P345, yet my cab cost me P120, and that included stopping twice to repair a busted fender and change a flat tyre! And this was at 7pm, the very height of peak hour!

edsa
EDSA.

When I came back to Manila this week I grabbed a cab at 9am for the trip to Quezon City. It took 90 minutes and cost me P200. The meter said P172 but the driver had asked for an agreed upon fare. I didn’t mind but I insisted he run the meter just so we could compare. Now maybe he was trying to get as close to the agreed P200 as possible, just so I didn’t do a Filipino on him and change my mind, but another person on the same flight arrived at the same destination as me 30 minutes sooner and for P150! His taxi took him via the “very traffic” EDSA route whereas my driver ducked through the middle of town following for the most part the northern railway line and squatter camp.

Traffic in this city is heavy, no doubt about it. It is, however, better disciplined than Cebu traffic, of that I am certain. Far more policing and more effective policing as well as more stringent road rules do make some difference. My favourite giggle is the “color coding” system used to limit the amount of traffic. On Mondays, cars whose license plates end in 1 or 2 are prohibited from being on the road. Tuesdays its 3 and 4, Wednesdays 5 and 6, Thursdays 7 and 8 and Fridays 9 and 0. Sensible system and one day a week is easy enough to overcome, arrange a lift with friends, work at home, use the other car, swap plates whatever. Now, can someone tell me where the “color” comes in to this system of coding? Another case of Taglish at work, methinks!

I have only been living and working here in Manila for a few days now but already the traffic is the locus of control over my life. Where I go and when I go, even if I bother to go anywhere, all is determined by the time of the day or night, the position of the stars and the planets and the omens in the entrails of the sisig soup the jeepney driver is having for his lunch! Where I am working and staying is right across from the Pantranco Jeepney Terminus, or Bat Cave as I call the dark and dreary dive. What it means is I can hop on any one of several jeepney lines and ride them to the end of their route, then simply ride back the same way and know I will never pass my stop!

Naturally, the best way of beating the clogged streets is to rise above it all and ride the LRT or MRT. These light rail systems are terrific. For less than P20 you can go from one end of town to the other, then swap lines and go somewhere else! The LRT has two carriages at the front reserved just for women, as I found out the hard way! I didn’t follow what the security guard was trying to tell me (move along, the first two carriages are women only you stupid foreigner!) and I stepped into a clean, quiet, orderly carriage…….full of women! I knew something was wrong and, concerned it was a trap set by my wife to tempt me into cheating on her, I quickly leapt out and ran to the next carriage. I was then able to stand at the end of the carriage and look through the large window into the women only car all the way to my station.

It can get crowded and those stairs leading up off the street are steep and many, but the MRT/LRT system can’t be beaten. There is a new east-west MRT line I will take one of these days, just to say I have done it! My only hesitation is to warn that pickpockets love the crowded conditions and they are very, very good at their craft. Never think for a second your wallet or purse is safe whenever you are within spitting distance of an MRT/LRT station or car. Then again, keeping one hand on your wallet is a small price to pay for missing out on sitting in the traffic for hours at a time.! If you have plenty of time to spare then why worry? Of course Manila is hardly an ideal retirement destination so most foreigners here are here for work and time is important.

An alternative might be to have a driver so you can sit in the back, read the newspaper or a report, make some calls on the cell phone and generally get some business done while in the traffic. At least it hasn’t degenerated into what Bangkok residents were forced to do a few years ago; basically live in their cars! They would leave home very early, give the kids their breakfast from the back of the family van parked outside of the school at the crack of dawn, then head for work, drop off hubby then fight back to school for the kids then back to work for hubby and then home so late it was re-pack car with the meals for the next day and hit the sack! What a life!

Manila’s traffic problems won’t go away, even as gasoline prices rise higher than ever before. More and more people are buying cars and more marques are opening dealerships to offer their wares to the car buying Filipino public. As the population moves upscale and can afford more and more luxuries such as personal vehicles, the only question left will be where can they enjoy them? More freeway systems are called for but the disruption caused during construction can be immense. I remember back in 1997 while the Skyway and the Ortigas overpass were being built, the traffic was just as bad as today, and there were fewer cars on the roads! Getting rid of the jeepneys and death-rattle buses is one answer, but hard on the lower income earners who need cheap mass transport. More light rail is another possible solution, but again construction will be a pain. Meanwhile, be as Filipino as you can, smile and go with the flow!

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