You might have heard of the horrendous Metro Manila traffic. Before the pandemic, solving the traffic situation was one of the things in campaigning politicians’ platforms.
Early March 2020, when there were only a handful of those who tested positive for COVID19, the roads began to clear. I remember en route to my apartment one weekday rush hour afternoon, my GRAB driver was musing about how surprised he was that there was not much road congestion and we were able to make it from my office to the apartment in less than 20 minutes. Before dropping me off he sheepishly declared that it only took a virus to solve Metro Manila’s problems. I ignorantly agreed as I stepped out of the car. Then the announcement of the lockdown happened, and this virus brought the world economy to its knees.
As Metro Manila slowly opens up despite the still climbing COVID19 cases, lack of transportation options poses a major challenge for most Filipinos, among other priorities like healthcare, continuing education and livelihood. To begin with, even before all this, there was a lack of an efficient mass transit system. While efforts to improve and connect the decades old MRT and LRT systems, we still have a very long way to go to be able to accommodate the millions of commuters who go through the heartbreaking commute everyday. If we only have wider walkways, or bike lanes it would somehow enable other ways of going to and from work – but those sadly remain as wishes.
Going back to the topic of opening up – jeeps are still very rare. When I visit our apartment, I see my kababayans (fellow Filipinos) waiting at stops for I don’t know how long. As we drive past them, I wonder if they will ever get a ride?
A frequent sight these days that sparks relief, hope and a tinge of sadness is seeing more of my kababayans riding the bicycle (or scooters). Relief and hope because people found a way to be able to go to and from work (I remember early in the lockdown, the supermarket cashier and bagger were telling me they walk 1.5 to 2 hours per way each day to get to the supermarket because there was no public transportation). Sadness because the cyclists would be riding alongside cars as because there are no bike lanes.
More than anything, I admire my kababayan’s courage and determination. I know there’s a lot of lessons learned from this pandemic, and I hope and pray that we can all bounce back and move forward, and remember the learnings this year has put forth.