#MUNIonThis: We spend on average of 2-3 hours a day to go to places of work and rest, and now with the serious Carmageddon situation in Manila, it’s closer to 4-6 hours, depending on where you live. That’s close to 25% of our lives dedicated to just moving around the city.
It was 12:40AM on September 9, 2015, when I had landed back in Manila coming from a Global Shapers conference in Dalian, China from September 5-8. And then there I was, at NAIA Terminal 1, unable to find an Uber or GrabTaxi/GrabCar back home, being fed news that there were areas that had knee-high, waist-high, and even chest-high floods, leaving many people stranded and forced to walk home.
On my Facebook feed and in the news, I would see photos like this:
And also like this:
I had been compelled to attend the Global Shapers’ SHAPE event because mobility, a topic I feel strongly about, was on the agenda. Ironically, I had traveled a great distance to be part of this conversation (huhu I hope I make up for the carbon footprint in other ways). And interestingly, the session was made possible by Ford, manufacturers of one of the biggest contributors to congestion.
I looked forward to finding out what could be done in my city — whether through MUNI, the Global Shapers Manila hub, or quite simply, as a regular bike-commuting citizen and sustainability advocate who just wants to keep her sanity and get around in the most resource-efficient (time, energy, etc.) manner possible, especially so after coming home to an increasingly dire mobility situation in the Metro.
CONGESTION: WHO’S TO BLAME?
I might put a large part of the congestion blame on the mindless purchase of new cars, and 4- to 5-person vehicles being driven around by one person. However, I don’t think outright hate for the entire industry is productive either, especially when they come forward asking for help to address new mobility challenges. Besides:
So obviously, there are many other things that also come into play in mobility, and a positive outcome requires public, private, and civil society working together.
DECONGESTION THROUGH COLLABORATION
At lunch prior to the mobility session, I was seated between Ford’s Future Mobility Manager, Erica Klampfl, and Product and Technology Communications for Asia Pacific, Abhishek Mahapatra, I was pleased to see their desire to address modern mobility pain points and contribute to the creation of other possible solutions that didn’t involve the production of even more cars; progressive enough to see the company’s role not just in automobile manufacturing, but in mobility in the grander scheme of things. They didn’t wince, flinch, or sneer when I would say things like cars are the biggest contributors to congestion and that my dream would be a world where no one really owned a car anymore.
I wanted to learn more about what (in my own opinion is) one of the leading names in one of the biggest congestion-inducing, air-polluting, waste-creating industries is doing to address the new issues on mobility. And during the session, I learned about initiatives such as:
- Godrive – A pay-by-the-minute car hire service in London (also featured on Mashable)
- Zoomcar – A self-drive car rental service in India
- Innovate Mobility Challenge – A worldwide approach to finding mobility solutions
This is only scratching the surface, but more solutions could be uncovered if we engage more people in finding solutions.
CROWDSOURCING IDEAS TO INCREASE MOBILITY
I wound up leading a breakout session for the topic Gridlock, aptly so, given that I live in one of those most painfully congested cities in the world. In my group, everyone was impassioned in speaking about their mobility issues and ideas, because regardless of your city, background or industry, mobility is a concern that affects everyone (though perhaps some more than others).
For a very brief 20 minutes, we were tasked to discuss:
How is congestion on city roads & national highways prompting changes in mobility?
What are the solutions / behavioral changes that innovative cities can adopt to ease congestion?
It’s no longer just about building new automobiles that move faster because there’s no point in a fast-moving car if you can’t really go anywhere, so now, we ought to consider things like:
- Creating more compact, energy-saving personal mobility innovations (bikes, e-bikes, scooters, etc.)
- Existing and needs-to-exist infrastructure (improved public transportation systems; pedestrian walkways and bike lanes; mixed-use establishments to minimize the need to travel; moving certain places of home and rest outside of congested cities)
- Greater incentives for those who take up less road space (lower taxes for compact vehicles vs. higher taxes for cars; priority lanes for pedestrians, bikers, compact cars and carpoolers)
- Environmental impact (reduce air pollution and resource consumption – energy, water, and waste through reduced travel or minimize)
- Human interaction (work-from-home / telecommute options, changing work hours / what times we travel and how frequently, what modes we take, what regulations we follow, etc.)
CAPITALISM, CONSUMPTION & THE CLIMATE
At the end of the day, it’s also a mindset shift that’s needed, where we think more about access to efficient mobility solutions like public transportation, bike infrastructure vs. ownership of more and more resource-intensive, space-hogging, high maintenance cars — heeding caution from the words of Fight Club’s Tyler Durden that: “The things you own end up owning you.”
Capitalism has often been critiqued for the hastening of climate change:
“Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”
― Naomi Klein,
Some may critique Ford as doing this as a sort of green marketing ploy, or a necessary move for the company to survive given changing consumer preferences, more so than an act of genuine compassion. To disrupt themselves before they get disrupted. Whatever the case may be, I acknowledge that the company has the resources, reach and scale to make big, positive change happen, and that’s what I’m banking on.
Furthermore, consumers and everyday citizens have more power to catalyze change than we care to admit, and I believe that the private sector will adjust accordingly since consumers have a greater say now than ever on what types of products and services are put out by various businesses.
CHANGING HOW WE MOVE
Personally, I’ve resorted to doing most of my meetings this week over Facetime / Viber / Google Hangout (particularly if I just have one meeting with one person in a particular area), unless it’s a place I can safely bike-commute or take public transportation to in ~30 minutes, or carpool with someone to, simply because being stuck on the roads of Manila can’t be very good for my psychological well-being, or my wallet if in an Uber. I am lucky that I have this option. Not everyone is as fortunate.
Quoting from a recent Inquirer article: [Commuter Jolord Rapada thought the traffic meant something else. “Sa totoo lang mas nakakapagod pa yung traffic kesa sa mismong work mo (Truth be told, traffic is more tiring than work),” he said.]
Imagine how much of our country’s productivity, progress and well-being is sacrificed by the very same thing some of our countrymen use to measure growth and success – cars and more cars.
While action need to happen with government and the automotive industry, civil society and business owners can already mobilize change by how we interact with our surroundings and how we find ways to get around by lessening the frequency of commute and changing the times during which we travel.
I sincerely hope more people will engage and enable constructive discussions on mobility vs. just bitching about Manila traffic, and see beyond the comfortable bubble of their air-conditioned, yet immobilized vehicles. We need to work together to improve mobility for all immediately, so that less of our lives are devoted to our daily commute, and more time will be devoted to doing work that will actually move our country forward.