« Build Build Build ! » Neoliberal Chaos and Segregation Through Mobility

Beyond the difficulty of coordinating municipalities to respond to the urgent need for satisfactory mobility options, the structuring nature of mobility raises important social issues (Hickmann 2017). In particular, galloping neoliberalism is visible in the “stratification of mobilities” (Guéguen 2014).

A city-wide issue symptomatic of neoliberalism

No comprehensive public transport nexus exists in Manila. The three Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines barely meet demand (Regida et al. 2017). Instead, a plethora of public transport means competing with each other – including Jeepney (local informal minibus), moto-taxi, tricycle – reflects social segregation and chaotic development.

The most popular transport mean, the Jeepney, overlaps with rail transit lines, when it could be servicing surrounding areas. Correspondence from the LRT to Jeepneys often requires crossing dangerous roads. The poor are left navigating into this mess of uncoordinated informal and formal transport options. They often have to take different routes successively, which ends up very costly and time-consuming. On average, 20% of household income is spent in transport (Oxford Business Group 2016). In Jakarta, a comprehensive public transport reform took place recently, integrating informal minibuses into an organized system to increase the efficiency of transport without affecting the – already precarious – informal sector job market (ITDP 2019). This could be a source of inspiration for Manila.

More than 300,000 jeepneys circulate on Metro Manila’s streets
Source: NPR

The deregulation of the transport market significantly contributes to congestion. On EDSA, the city’s biggest avenue, numerous bus companies compete for customers, slowing down the traffic (Boquet 2013). in the informal sector, due to harsch competition between Jeepneys -Manila’s minibuses- drivers lack time and financial means to unionize. They are atomized and work long shifts to earn a living. They have to drive unreasonably fast and stop regularly to fill their minibuses to the brim.

Flying over congestion

Literally flying over congestion
Source: Pickytourist.com

Meanwhile, Duterte’s “Build Build Build!” program of private infrastructure investment disproportionately favors an economic elite. Elevated “elite avenues” (Graham 2018) are built throughout the city. These tolled flyover highways built on top of the main public roads enable the rich to escape from the congestion under their feet, thereby also avoiding their responsibility to solve this alarming city-wide problem. This urban development trajectory reflects a century-old colonial construction of “modernism” in the city: in the 1910s, a racially motivated hierarchy classified individual car, tramway and bus as three different levels of modernity, with Westerners enjoying to be alone in their car, or between themselves in the tramway. Individual car ownership can still be identified as a “modernist”, exclusive institution today (Pante 2014).

Manila’s long-lost tranvias were once the envy of Asia
Source: SkyriseCities

Flyovers also enable the wealthiest to settle in Newtowns faraway from Manila, thereby escaping from its exposure to floods, its polluted air and crowded space. Privately built and managed Clark City, where the state is only a facilitator, is marketed by Ayala Land as an attempt to decongest Manila. 1.2 million inhabitants are expected to settle there by 2025. This phenomenon exemplifies the privatization of public space, as mobility becomes segregated in the same way as housing, where “mixed-use enclaves” increasingly separate the consumerist world of the elite from the rest of the city.

Automobile sales keep rising in Metro Manila.
Source: Rappler

Filling the gap left by the Metro Manila Development Agency (MMDA), incapable of handling Metro Manila’s expansion, the only holistic vision for transportation was provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Its “Dream Plan” (2014), which was adopted by the MMDA as roadmap until 2030, seems biased towards enhancing economic openness and trade: the plan prioritizes facilitating the accessibility of industrial ports and airports over the mobility of Manila’s 23 million inhabitants.

Wordcount: 579

Resources used:

Featured image: BusinessWorld. (January 13 2020). Most congested city eyes limits on car ownership. Retrieved from: https://www.bworldonline.com/most-congested-city-eyes-limits-on-car-ownership/

Boquet , Y., (2013). Battling congestion in Manila : the EDSA problem.

GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) & DOTr (Department Of Transportation) (2016). Transforming Public Transport in the Philippines. Eschborn.

Graham, S. (2018). Elite avenues. City, 22(4), 527–550.

Hickman, R et al., (2017). Understanding Capabilities, Functionings and Travel in High and Low Income Neighbourhoods in Manila. Social Inclusion , 5 (4). 161-174.

JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency). (2014). Roadmap for transport infrastructure development for metro Manila and its surrounding areas (region III & region IV-A) in the Republic of the Philippines. Japan International Cooperation Agency: ALMEC Corporation.

Kirk. M, (2017), Saudi Arabia’s $500 Billion Fantasy of a Utopian Megacity, Citylab, available at https://www.citylab.com/design/2017/11/ saudi-arabias-latest-planned-city-costs-500-billion-and-is-insanely-huge/544748/ 

Malthus, T. (1978). An Essay on the Principle of Population. 1998, Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project.

Oxford Business Group. (2016). The Report: The Philippines 2016. Retrieved from: https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/philippines-2016

Pante, M. D. (2014). Mobility and Modernity in Urban Transport Systems of Colonial Manila and Singapore. Oxford University Press: Journal of Social History 47(4). 855–877 Rizzo, M. (2011). ‘Life isWar’: Informal Transport Workers and Neoliberalism in Tanzania 1998–2009. International Institute of Social Studies 42(5), 1179–1205.

One thought on “« Build Build Build ! » Neoliberal Chaos and Segregation Through Mobility

  1. This post is really fascinating! You demonstrate the shocking reality of how social inequalities manifest themselves in inequitable access to different means of transport. Automobile urbanism has proved disastrous all over the world, from its origins in cities like Los Angeles to its contemporary prominence in many developing cities in East Asia. I find it shocking how the flyovers come to represent class divides, as roads have literally become private space which by definition excludes lower-income individuals. While I think toll roads may have some benefits in alleviating financial burdens from taxpayers for unsustainable automobile infrastructure, I’m concerned that privately run toll roads are relied upon by cash-strapped governments which may not have the means to develop public transport. It seems that the development of strong public transport networks is the key to re-balancing the mobility of residents from different socio-economic classes, and I really hope that Manila can continue to make improvements in this area. However, it is really upsetting to see that the coronavirus pandemic may undermine arguments in favour of communal public transport. It will be interesting to see how cities adapt post-lockdown, and if there is a surge in car usage, or if we see innovative improvements to the hygiene and safety of public transport networks.


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