Has anyone seen Doc Brown and his time-traveling DeLorean? Because 2020 really needs a do-over. A volcanic eruption, a deadly respiratory virus, city-wide floods—seriously, if someone can think of a rougher 12-month period in recent history, we’re all ears.
Filipino commuters and motorists were among the hardest hit this past year, too. There were months when the country’s entire transportation system ground to a halt, resulting in stagnant cars and people, which in turn led to a stagnant economy. This didn’t stop traffic from rearing its ugly head whenever the opportunity arose, though.
Below is a list of the 10 biggest issues, both good and bad (though mostly bad), that shaped the transportation scene in 2020. Which one affected you the most?
1) Taal Volcano
When Taal Volcano blew up in January and spewed ash all over Luzon, ruining countless paint jobs in the process, we thought it would be the worst of 2020. Boy, we couldn’t have been more wrong. On the bright side, the face masks commuters bought to protect themselves from harmful ash would come in handy later in the year. More on that in a bit.
A fire would have to be pretty big for it to be able to take down a segment of elevated expressway. Unfortunately for the Skyway Stage 3 project, the nearby Pandacan warehouse fire was one such blaze. According to the San Miguel Corporation (SMC), it took 50 fire trucks to extinguish the fire, and the resulting collapse delayed the project’s completion.
In November, the Skyway Extension ran into misfortune after a crane accident caused a steel girder to fall onto the nearby East Service Road. The accident resulted in one death and four injured people. SMC president Ramon Ang issued an apology following the mishap, saying it has affected him in “ways I can’t even begin to express.”
One day you’re out on the road driving to work or to meet up with friends, the next you’re stuck at home for the next couple of months because of a deadly new respiratory virus going around. Yikes. The country went on lockdown in mid-March 2020 and a transportation shutdown ensued—no motorists on the road, no public transportation. Nada.
While local movement has somewhat stabilized, with several public transportation options now available and barely any restrictions on movement by car, it’s still far from the normal we used to know. Will we ever go back to the way things were? We don’t know. We doubt it.
No cars, no trains, no cabs? No problem—if you have a bicycle, at least. One bright side to the COVID-19 lockdown was that local governments, after seeing a severe shortage in transportation alternatives, finally started giving the local cycling scene the attention it deserves. Bike lanes were put up, and it appears future infrastructure projects and budgets will begin taking cyclists into account during planning. While Metro Manila still has a long way to go before one can consider it bike-friendly, it’s a start.
The debate over whether to allow Angkas to operate or not was quite the spectacle. The real facepalm moment, though, was the whole fracas between the ride-hailing service and transportation agencies over the use of barriers to prevent COVID-19.
Engineers and experienced riders deemed the contraption unsafe, but this didn’t stop those in charge from pushing for it. The sight of government personnel “simulating” the use of motorcycle barriers using office chairs and an electric fan was a good source of laughs in an otherwise miserable situation.
Motorists asked for it, and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) has finally delivered. Obtaining a driver’s license is now, well, more difficult. Student-permit applicants are now required to go through a 15-hour theoretical driving course, while non-professional and professional driver's license applicants must take a practical driving course with an accredited driving school. Hopefully, these changes achieve the desired effect: Better drivers.
Some government agencies saw the COVID-19 situation as an opportunity to drastically change to way Filipinos commute. On paper, the EDSA Busway system sounds great: Give public buses a lane of their own to make trips more efficient, hopefully, make the thoroughfare more organized. Implementing it, though, was anything but simple.
First, the exclusive bus lane had to be moved to EDSA’s inner lanes to prevent it from blocking motorists trying to enter and exit the thoroughfare. The problem is that buses in the Philippines have their doors on the right side. Then, there’s the issue of motorists running into the concrete barriers that separate the bus lane. Let’s see if this system will last.
Speaking of buses moving to EDSA’s inner lanes, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is now shutting down U-turn slots to make Busway trips safer, faster, and more efficient. Naturally, this is causing a buildup of traffic leading to places where U-turns are still available, and many motorists aren’t happy.
Typhoon Ulysses battered the Philippines last month, causing fatalities and leaving countless localities submerged under floodwater. In Metro Manila, scenes of inundated cars and houses caused by an overflowing Marikina River brought back memories of 2009’s devastating Typhoon Ondoy. Cagayan and Isabela arguably saw the worst of the typhoon’s wrath, though, after water released from Magat Dam left large parts of the region underwater.
Still don’t have your hands on an RFID sticker? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, you might be better off waiting for demand to die down before lining up for one, lest you end up stuck in a sea of cars like countless motorists were on December 1.
Thankfully, the RFID situation might not remain like this for long. Both northern and southern expressways are reporting steadily increasing RFID compliance, and the Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation says it’s only a matter of time until things normalize.