Commuter Diaries: My Hate-Frustrate Relationship with Manila Traffic
by Anne Marielle Eugenio, August 06, 2019 5:35pm
Art by Dani Elevazo
Before my senior year in high school ended, I knew I wouldn’t want to stay in our town to finish college. When I managed to secure a slot in a university in Manila, I prepared myself for new people, harder subjects, and fresh knowledge. But nothing could ever prepare me for the commuting experience Manila has in store for me. From my home, I had to ride a tricycle to our town’s transport terminal, ride a jeepney, get on board a train, then get on another jeepney ride before I could get to my school.
Several years later, I am still the girl who commutes, only older and with a different path—one with the worst traffic. Now that I’m working, I’ve come face to face with the big bad EDSA. To get to the office in Mandaluyong, I have to choose between the long MRT queues or the congested highways filled with PUVs and private cars. And get this: if I have an event that starts at 8 am on a Monday, I have to wake up at 5 am and be at the train station by 6:30 am (at the latest). I would arrive really really early then, given that the MRT won’t have any delays. Events usually take one and a half to two hours. My commute? Almost three hours. Yes, I spend more time on the road than work at times.
If it’s not yet obvious, I’ve been in a hate-frustrate relationship with commuting and Manila traffic.
A commute that leaves me tired, sleepy, and hopeless is already a part of my norm. I can’t understand how even though I get up and leave the house early every morning, I still end up late. I’ve done my part but the Manila commute scene would always make me feel it’s never enough.
My worst commuting experience was an MRT technical failure. I left home at around 6 a.m. only to arrive in the office at past 10 a.m. That time, expensive cab fare was not an option (and yes I know. I should've taken the bus despite the heavy traffic). I was in line for nearly two hours to get on board a crowded train with equally pissed and sweaty passengers. It’s frustrating how I’ve drained all of my energy without even having started my job yet.
It’s always a contest between who breaks down first, the MRT or me.
During these times, I always think to myself, “Are my efforts not enough? Am I not entitled to at least one smooth ride a week?”
It’s The Battle I Choose to Face
People keep telling me to rent a dorm in the city instead. But the comfort of knowing there’s a family I could come home to after a long day is something I wouldn’t trade the world for. It’s actually what makes everything worth it.
Not to romanticize the traffic jam, but every time I get to see the sunrise on the Manila cityscape, I’m filled with a certain joy. I won’t be able to witness a sunrise if I will not wake up early for a commute.
Traveling to and fro Manila is like experiencing the city’s history and culture—and the city for what it is. Commute makes me appreciate Manila even just for a fleeting moment. I’ve learned to love it, at its best or worst. And I only hope it loves me back.
The Lessons and Realizations
Because of commuting, I was able to navigate my way even though I have a poor sense of direction. It showed me how being street-wise is important, and that involves asking questions when you get lost.
Commute taught me the value of patience and empathy. And most of all, commuting showed me there’s always hope. I see it every day—in the faces of street vendors who still smile despite the heat and difficulty to make ends meet, of drivers who endure traffic as part of their lives, and of my fellow commuters who go on with their lives despite the MRT breakdowns and traffic jams.
Manila is a beauty in its chaos. As they say, Manila is not without its traffic. But if we look beyond that, we’ll see it is more than just a city. It’s actually a part of history, and for commuters, it’s also part of us—one that we’ve come to accept, understand, and yes, love.