By Brian James Lu

Christmas and Traffic: Navigating the Festive Gridlock

December 24, 2023, 4:22 pm

Why is it that we always experience nightmarish traffic in Metro Manila during the Christmas holidays? We call it the Christmas rush when traffic is not moving at all. Filipinos call it “carmaggeddon” to illustrate the severity of traffic.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) announced as early as Dec. 7 that the public should expect the start of heavy traffic, leading to the Christmas season. Indeed, the monstrous traffic jams at SLEX, NLEX, EDSA, C5, and on arterial roads are miseries to everyone. Not even the clearing of Mabuhay lanes can ease the traffic situation in Metro Manila.

Christmas has become synonymous with traffic, even in major cities such as Baguio and Cebu.
Traffic during the Christmas season has become a natural thing. I have been stuck in traffic countless times, so I know how it feels to be sitting inside your car and watching as time passes by and, indubitably, burning needless fuel. Many studies have already been conducted to prove the monetary effects of traffic.

No less than National Economic and Development Authority chief Arsenio Balisacan acknowledged that time lost by people in Metro Manila traffic and the cost of operating vehicles in gridlock amount to PHP3 billion a day. He admits that this is even a conservative estimate. How much more during the Christmas season when we experience carmaggedon?

In 2016, the vice chairman of the Climate Change Commission (CCC), Sec. Emmanuel de Guzman, said that according to a global GPS-based survey, Metro Manila has the worst traffic on Earth. Some 80 percent to 90 percent of air pollution is caused by vehicles, mostly jeepneys, buses, and commercial vehicles that use diesel. That was in 2016, and after seven years, hundreds of thousands of vehicles have been added to the already congested roads in Metro Manila. And traffic continues to exacerbate.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the holiday traffic is the consumerism of people who engage in gift-buying. This leads to a higher volume of vehicles on the road, especially near malls and shopping centers.

On Oct. 20, the MMDA announced that starting Nov. 13, malls will open at 11 a.m. and close at 11 p.m. This will last until Jan. 8, 2024. Why the adjustment in mall hours? Well, according to the MMDA, there is a need to spread mall hours in the evening to spread out the presence of cars plying the roads.

Another reason is road closures due to events such as parades and festivals. The arbitrary closure of roads affects traffic on secondary roads, resulting in gridlock. Tertiary roads are also arbitrarily closed due to programs, mass, and community Christmas parties. It has become customary for just anybody to close roads, even without the approval of the village chiefs.

Mall sales and promotions during the Christmas season contribute to traffic congestion. With people and employees getting their 13th month pay and bonuses, mall sales are opportunities to buy goods at lower prices.

The inadequacy of our public transportation to accommodate the increasing population in Metro Manila and to respond to the spike in people’s activities during the holidays remains a principal reason. Hordes of people line up the streets and struggle to ride the diminishing number of public utility vehicles. What complicates the traffic situation is the non-stop construction and maintenance of roads, leading to bottlenecks and traffic jams, especially during peak hours. There are roads undergoing construction that have been left unattended, with the contractor seemingly abandoning the project.

The inclement weather during holiday seasons also contributes to traffic. Rains and typhoons often occur in December. Just recently, Tropical Storm Kabayan hit the Philippines on Dec. 18, causing flooding and rain in various areas in Mindanao.

But traffic should not dampen our resolve to celebrate Christmas. We are passionate about celebrating Christmas because perhaps 90 percent of our population is Catholic. Christmas is the biggest and longest holiday in the Philippines. Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s Christmas season may be one of the most celebrated, considering the penchant of Filipino families to spend the holidays outside Metro Manila and in other places. Even malls are teeming with people, especially families, unmindful of traffic on the streets. Baguio City is a recipient of many visitors, with traffic resulting in gridlock.

Perhaps this year’s Christmas signifies the normalcy that we need. Businesses are recovering. Entrepreneurs are happy that, finally, customers are back. Businesses have reasons to be happy since, at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 380,000 small businesses immediately stopped operations, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). About 1 million more were forced to operate with a skeletal workforce. Eventually, a lot of businesses permanently closed shop, unable to recover from the incessant lockdowns for two years.
I am hopeful that we are indeed on the road to economic recovery. We must not lose sight, however, of the fact that the Covid-19 is still out there and continues to mutate. A new Covid-19 sub-variant has been detected in India and may spread across the globe.

The Department of Health (DOH) continues to advise people to wear masks in crowded spaces to avoid infection. Everyone understands that we cannot afford another lockdown. The lockdowns have brought us where we are right now—happy to be outside our homes, not minding the traffic.

In closing, while Christmas traffic may test our patience, it is a reminder of the vibrancy of our society and the shared joy that accompanies the holiday season. As we navigate through the gridlock, let us cherish the moments of celebration and hope for a brighter, less congested future.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Brian James Lu

BRIAN JAMES J. LU, MMgt, is an entrepreneur, business adviser, government consultant, and is deeply involve in civil society organizations. He advocates good governance, ethical business practices, and social responsibilities. He is the President of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) and Chairman of the Foundation for National Development (Fonad). His broad experiences in the private and public sectors give him a unique perspective to advance his advocacies.