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It’s the most wonderful time of the year to drive… not!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year to drive… not!

Mikko David

Filipinos are a celebratory bunch. It’s hard to find another place in the world that starts celebrating the Christmas season as early as September, complete with a balladeer’s Christmas songs echoing in malls and elevators.

Despite the joy the season brings, here, we are totally fine with the fact that we go shopping for Christmas gifts as early as October and attend Christmas parties as early as November. All of that happens because of a perennial problem that only worsens at this time of the year – traffic.

Technically, we should call this dilemma what it truly is: congestion. Traffic is merely the flow of vehicles along a route. It is the congestion that we live with close to 24/7, and it has gotten so bad in the past decade that people have no choice but to learn to live with it.

Adjusting one’s travel time to factor in congestion is now the norm. While the Christmas Season sees it going from bad to worse, there’s no denying that congestion has become a year-long phenomenon for motorists.

To add to all our woes, the lack of road discipline and the “me-first-at-all-costs” mentality of many on the road have relegated the Christmas driving experience to a mere necessity deprived of any pleasure and satisfaction.

Is it worth the drive?

Not to take anything away from the festive season, but December is guaranteed to see the worst of the worst again when it comes to congestion. This makes me wonder if the exercise of being on the road this month is worth the hassle.

Frayed nerves will be the norm as you try to keep up with your daily schedule, given the slow-moving traffic. Getting from one place to another will necessitate adding another hour or two to your already unreasonable travel time. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you would give up going to that Christmas party while already on the road because of being caught in standstill traffic.

At the same time, Christmas shopping will be a major undertaking as more people scramble to malls to buy gifts. Parking lots will again be full to the brim, causing long queues and even longer waiting times. And now that the Christmas rush is in full swing, it wouldn’t matter what time of day you decide to hit the road. Traffic congestion will still be an inevitable part of every journey.

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No obvious solution

Like many other problems plaguing our society, answers to the daily congestion problem have been drawn mainly from the palliative solutions bin. The 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. mall hours directive, the rejuvenation of the Maharlika routes, the stricter implementation of the number-coding measure, and even higher fees for bus lane transgressions, all merely address the symptoms of the problem and not the root cause of it all.

Nothing much in national policy has been done to anticipate the volume of vehicles filling our streets. More worrying is the realization that this congestion issue will extend beyond the holidays as more vehicles are added to the limited road network next year and in the future.

Meanwhile, government officials and their families ride unimpeded with police escorts carving paths through the glacial traffic. It is not that those in power are unaware of the issue affecting millions in the metropolis and other urban centers in the country; it is just that they don’t care enough to find long-term and sustainable solutions. What can you expect when they’re hardly affected by congestion?

Christmas is a season of gift-giving for Filipinos. And while we will likely receive a gift or two from family and friends this season, wouldn’t it even be more fulfilling if we receive real and achievable solutions to our daily commuting woes instead? The thing is, we have people who are supposed to work on those for us, not just some imaginary white-bearded guy who slides down a chimney, to leave toys under a tree.