Reality Check: How Much of Our Lives Do We Really Spend in Traffic?
I timed my minutes on the road to find out
I used to be able to squeeze in a bit of work before hitting the sack. I’d come home, get settled, enjoy a little me time, have a good dinner, get ready for bed, check on a few work things and then call it a night. Sometimes, I’d squeeze in a workout. Over time, however, things changed. Now, as soon as I get home, I realize that traffic has chipped away at most of my evening and that I am far too exhausted from being in transit to do pretty much anything.
So is all this traffic the price we have to pay for progress? Or could it be that the loss of energy that comes with aging can hit you as early as in your 20’s? Maybe this is just another way the universe is telling me to leave my work at the office. It’s telling me to treat the home as a sacred, stress-free, work-free space (as it should be anyway). But it could also be that Manila’s traffic situation is finally taking its toll. As traffic in the metro worsens each year, this was bound to happen—and, proportionately, only worsen, too.
I acquired a new habit to remedy the situation. As soon as I hop into the car after clocking out at the office, I whip out my laptop again. In fact, as I type this, I am making my way over the bridge connecting 32nd street in Bonifacio Global City and C5. A warm drink situated in the foldable beverage holder, a car charger adapter at the ready, a hotspot connection if needed: I’ve managed to turn hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic into productive ones. Hallelujah. A silver lining.
There’s comfort in knowing I can turn our car into an office on wheels, but it’s equally disconcerting. Because while I’ve typed up some 400 words for my next writing assignment, I have been on the road for about an hour now…and still in BGC.
In a little under the time it takes to get to Batangas from Taguig (an estimated one hour and 13 minutes at this given point in time according to Google), I have managed to get from just one end of this street to the other, a distance I could walk in 10 minutes—five to six, even, if power walking. Setting aside hypotheticals, it begins to sink in that this makes one hour of my life I am never getting back. And since this has become the new normal of traveling home from work, I am wasting hours of my life in traffic.
Traffic and Productivity
“Carpe diem! Seize the day!”
“Wait lang; ang lala ng traffic sa EDSA.”
So much of our time that could be dedicated to something worthwhile is wasted sitting in our cars (now more than ever, too), but how much exactly? To find out, I began filling in a traffic log for my travels to and from work. The final numbers were less than inspiring.
I learned that on average, I spend a total of 1 hour and 54 minutes on the road each day…all the while considering that my office is only 10 minutes away from my house with light traffic. My morning trips to BGC from Kapitolyo in Pasig typically take about 16.2 minutes while trips back home take 1 hour and 37 minutes on average. That’s roughly six times the travel time to work. Should our current traffic situation (read: terrible) persist, I computed that I will have spent an estimated 20 full days on the road by the time the year ends. And I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for colleagues residing in QC, Laguna or Caloocan who have to make similar trips under conditions that are way more unpleasant.
“Should our current traffic situation (read: terrible) persist, I computed that I will have spent an estimated 20 full days on the road by the time the year ends.”
Putting this in a “time is money” perspective, the Japan International Cooperation Agency or JICA reported in February this year that the country actually loses ₱3.5 billion in opportunities a day because of traffic jams in Manila. In 2014, the loss suffered was at ₱2.4 billion. Hit fast-forward to 2035, this is said to reach ₱5.4 billion a day should the government neglect to take proactive measures.
When one has to leave one or two hours early in order to show up on time for an important commitment, true enough, productivity levels will really have to make a nose-dive. And in the grand scheme of things, we deplete so much of our energy just sitting, standing and waiting around.
This puts the ongoing debate about the effectivity of the eight-hour work day into perspective, too. “How many productive hours actually are there in a work day?” a 2016 survey posed. The answer? Just two hours and 23 minutes. This may be a separate pressing issue worth poring over another time, but it allows us to put two and two together about just how mismanaged our time is collectively and on a systemtic level.
Traffic, Unhappiness and Life Satisfaction
The various stimuli a person has to encounter—be it taking the LRT, riding a jeepney or riding in a Grab car—all contribute to one thing: stress. Those who take public transportation, in particular, experience higher levels of stress overall compared to those who have the privilege of travelling in their own vehicles. In a 2014 study, it was founded that “commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.” In addition, the study found that time spent in transit is directly proportional to the amount of anxiety and stress experienced by commuters regardless of the mode of transportation.
Just imagine the impact of travel-induced exhaustion, fatigue and unhappiness Manilenyos have to endure compounded by the prolonged time in transit (since transit here begins at the queue for the LRT, jeepney terminal or FX drop-off), the conditions in these waiting areas, the amount of air and noise pollution, Manila weather that may be unforgiving at times and congestion in the vicinity.
It seems there really is no winning, for now, for the common commuter. Traveling in Manila is hard; you just have to pick your “hard.” While I personally advocate for picking your battles wisely, I do believe this is one that shouldn’t even be up for debate. The general wellbeing of the Filipino is not something that should have to take a backseat as we all try to make a living and contribute to the booming economy the government boasts about. Until public transportation systems here become adequate, until the administration’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” delivers on its promise to alleviate traffic congestion in Metro Manila, we have these options: move closer to work, switch up our work hours, become a recluse or simply endure. Because hey, Metro Manila may hold the third place for the worst traffic in Southeast Asia, but we have that double-edged sword of a fallback: the Filipino is the most resilient people in the world. We’ll survive.
I implore you to start your own traffic log to answer this: how many days of your life will be wasted in traffic this year? Just be sure to brace yourself for likely hard-hitting, unideal results.
Art Alexandra Lara