An EDSA epiphany: congestion in Manila’s key thoroughfare

By Henry Motte-Munoz

Epifanio De Los Santos, commonly referred to as EDSA, is the key arterial road of Manila, a city with 12 million inhabitants and the capital of the Philippines. Stretching 24 kilometers with 6 lanes each way, it is the longest and most congested thoroughfare in Manila, and despite its circumferential nature, is the main North-South transportation corridor. ~350,000 people use it daily, with much of the traffic caused by 4,000 semi-empty private buses fighting for commuters.  Solving the “EDSA problem” has eluded presidents, mayors and dictators for decades – should it be viewed as an infrastructure or policy problem?

  1. 1.     Previous Solutions

In 1999, a Metro Rail Transit (MRT 3) was opened in the heart of EDSA; despite criticisms of poorly accessible stations and limited capacity, it now serves ~500,000 daily users.  Continued traffic, however, suggests that this merely matched growing transit. Policy measures such as alternative-number plate (circumvented by buying fictitious license plates) or designated bus pick-up areas (not addressing the oversupply of empty buses), have mostly failed.

This would suggest hard infrastructure, usually financed by the private sector, is the only viable option; however, I would argue that both infrastructure and policy measures are required to eradicate congestion.

  1. 2.     Hard Infrastructure
    1. EDSA road quality: the government has recently announced a PHP 4 billion ($100m) program to repave EDSA.  This is an inefficient allocation of scarce government capital – the few potholes that dot EDSA are fairly irrelevant on an artery with 15km/h average speeds.
    2. MRT improvements: Commuters are packed like sardines– the government should allocate the $100m from paving towards increasing rolling stock; it should also accelerate bidding out other MRT / LRT lines to reduce road usage demand (Exhibit 2)
    3. NLEX / SLEX connector: the government has allowed two of the largest conglomerates in the country to push through with separate NLEX / SLEX connectors on a BoT basis. This will remove all the price-insensitive North-South traffic at no government cost (Exhibit 3)


  1. 3.     Policy Measures
    1. Pollution standards: enforcing existing standards on car emissions could easily remove 10-20% of private vehicles & buses. However, this would require going head to head with the vote-rich private minibus / jeepney operators, and the politically well-connected (often retired army generals) private bus operators
    2. BRT lite: the government should levy a small but increasing fee per bus to operate in Manila. As Bogota showed, merely controlling bus capacity in one artery causes all the buses to move to other areas – congestion is merely displaced. Unfortunately for Manila, a full BRT system would be difficult to implement as the bus operators are too concentrated and powerful.


There is no silver bullet for EDSA’s congestion, but three policies stand out: bid out profitable routes to the private sector to remove price-insensitive traffic; a deeply integrated city-wide system is superior to multiple transit options on a single lane; use environmental standards to slowly improve vehicle utilization and tighten the noose around rent-seeking monopolies. No epiphany, but  a start nonetheless.

Exhibit 1: EDSA


EDSA Manila

EDSA Manila

Exhibit 2: Existing & Proposed MRT / LRT network in Manila


Proposed BRT MRT Manila

Proposed BRT MRT Manila

Exhibit 3: Existing & Proposed Road network in Manila


Existing and Proposed Road Network Manila

Existing and Proposed Road Network Manila,-mpic-partner-for-light-rail-system-bid


One thought on “An EDSA epiphany: congestion in Manila’s key thoroughfare

  1. Henry – thanks for the interesting post on the difficulties facing Manila’s transportation infrastructure. It certainly doesn’t sound like EDSA has a well-articulated plan for alleviating the congestion issues within the city’s busiest thoroughfare, but I do wonder if the incremental options that you have outlined will really solve the overall problem. The Philippines are experiencing robust growth (6.8% GDP growth in the 4th quarter of 2012 alone), and Manila will likely be an economic and cultural center for many years to come. With this in mind, it would seem that Manila will need a true long-term solution to the public transportation issues currently plaguing the city. While better than nothing, improved environmental standards and increasing the number of well-operated buses don’t seem like long-term solutions. In my mind, the city needs to start planning now for future growth beyond a simple MRT system.

    As I touched upon in my post on scalable mass transit, the long-term solution will likely need to come from multiple modes of transportation in a coordinated fashion. Do you know if the Filipino government has looked beyond the MRT to alternatives like metros or aerial transport? Given your comments regarding the strength of the incumbent bus operators, perhaps the best way to address the issues lies in deep public-private partnerships that combine the resources of the national government with the entrepreneurial spirit and operational expertise of the private sector. In any event, the city seems a long way off from a truly scalable alternative. It will be interesting to see how things evolve as Manila continues to be an important city for Asian economic and population growth.

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