Manila may be the most congested city in the world. On Monday we took the two dominant forms of public transportation for a trip to the fish market. The first was a tricycle, a motorcycle with a sidecar. Swarms of them pour through the streets filling the air with noise. We took the tricycle to a jitney stop. A jitney is among the most enduring symbols of the Philippines, a short chrome bus decorated in garish colors. They work like this: A man, working with the driver, stands outside yelling “Ari, ari ari,” over and over to indicate that the bus is taking passengers, almost until people are sitting on each other’s laps. Once on board, each passenger passes money up to the front. Whoever is sitting behind the driver yells “Bayad, po,” as each payment reaches the front, and the driver reaches a hand back, sometimes making change, all while navigating the busy streets. When it’s time to disembark, passengers yell “Para,” and the driver stops.
This is the most prominent form of mass transit in the Manila, among the biggest cities in the world. The city recently built a small train service, but it is always packed. We’re taking it to dinner tonight.
My aunt and uncle’s commutes take two or three hours each morning and afternoon. Manila’s streets are arrayed like veins and capillaries, a far cry from the grid of Manhattan, the ideal of urban planning. A typical commute is spent winding through curled backroads and then stuck in the clogged arteries of the city. Yesterday my aunt left for work at 6:30 a.m. and only returned home at 8 p.m. My uncle typically sets aside two-and-a-half hours for his journey to work. It’s difficult to imagine how many productive hours are lost to Manila traffic each day.