A few weeks ago, Waze released some rather interesting data. According to reports, Waze said that our capital region is the worst place to drive in in the world based on average speed.

Based on Waze's data from September, it takes an average of 4.9 minutes to drive one kilometer in Metro Manila, resulting in a drive at an average speed of just 12 kilometers per hour. That data placed our metropolis dead last when compared to other major metropolitan areas like Bogota (4 min/km), Jakarta (3.8 min/km), Tel Aviv (2.3 min/km), and Sao Paulo (2.3 min/km).

MMDA Nebrija image

Earlier today, we were able to catch up with a key person in the very real struggle to improve traffic: Edison “Bong” Nebrija of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. We asked him for a comment since much of the Metro's traffic falls on Nebrija and his crew. They are, after all, responsible for EDSA: the capital's primary north-south thoroughfare.

Nebrija says traffic in the capital region is a complex problem, which is why many were not surprised at the reports citing Waze's data. Nebrija says population density is a major issue, especially since Metro Manila has most of the best job opportunities in the country. There's also the issue of the sheer volume of vehicles, both public and private, plying the very limited road infrastructure of the capital. There's also the lack of discipline amongst drivers, but one issue the MMDA man points to is not so obvious, but very apparent.

“I don't think it's fair to compare Metro Manila's traffic to other cities,” said Nebrija. “It's not one city, but 17 combined. Well, 16 and 1 municipality.”

He's got a point. All the reports based on Waze's data never clarified if they meant the City of Manila, or Metro Manila, or even the greater Mega Manila (which generally includes provinces such as Rizal, Cavite, and Bulacan). And having multiple local governments means there will be some issues.

“One of the big problems is that each LGU [local government unit] has different traffic ordinances and different traffic enforcement agencies,” continued Nebrija.

MMDA Nebrija image

If you've been driving for a while, you'll know how much the rules can vary, particularly when it comes to traffic violations and claiming confiscated licenses from the different traffic management bureaus of each city. The MMDA is only responsible for some major national roads (i.e. EDSA, C-5, etc.), but much of the inner roads are managed by the LGUs they fall under. 

“We established Mabuhay Lanes as alternate routes (to EDSA) that use some of the roads of the cities, and these are roads we try to keep clear,” continued the MMDA man that was the former head of TFSO that cleared them. “But the LGUs allow parking on some of them like Connecticut [in San Juan].”

Nebrija also pointed to the geography of Metro Manila as a factor.

“If you look at a map, Metro Manila looks like an hourglass. You have Manila Bay on one side and Laguna lake on the other, and then there are cities in between. That's like having two natural bottlenecks.”

More recently, however, it's the government's aggressive infrastructure program that is contributing heavily to traffic. The administration recognized that the issues facing the capital are very much infrastructure related (specifically the lack of it) and initiated a comprehensive action plan to build new roads, elevated toll roads, bridges, trains, airports, and more.

Much of that construction (i.e. Skyway Stage 3, Harbor Link, LRT-7) has had a very profound effect on urban traffic. Just a few weeks ago, the company that manages the Skyway commenced construction to extend the road further south, heavily affecting the northbound side of the South Luzon Expressway.

Once these projects go online however, traffic in Manila, Metro Manila, or Mega Manila should start to ease up, or at least be more manageable.