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Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Yangon Are the Most Congested Cities in Developing Asia

The lack of efficient public transport systems hinders further development.
crowded manila street
A crowded Manila street. Photo via Unsplash user Michael Buillerey

Southeast Asia is a rapidly developing region. And while this could mean economic growth, it has also resulted in problematic effects. According to a new study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), cities in Southeast Asia are some of the most congested ones in the region.

Its development outlook for 2019 shows that out of 278 cities in developing countries in Asia, Manila, Philippines is the most congested. The study compared the ratio of travel times and distances in each city during peak hours and off-peak hours and found that they had an average congestion value of 1.24, which means that it takes 24 percent more time to travel during peak hours than off-peak hours. Manila’s was recorded at 1.5.


The report attributed the cause of urban congestion to the country’s lack of efficient and affordable public transportation. This has affected citizens’ quality of life, impeding the mobility of commuters.

Based on the report, riding public transport in Metro Manila takes three times longer than using a private vehicle; 25 percent of the trips studied could not even be made by public transport.

The congestion has gotten in the way of further development. According to a 2017 study by the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA), the Philippines could lose PHP5.4 billion (approx. $103 million) to traffic daily by 2035 if the situation in Metro Manila does not improve. It previously said that the country loses PHP3.5 billion (approx. $67 million) daily due to the same reason.

The Philppine government is trying to address this by building more infrastructures like linking the north and south expressways, extending the Metro Rail Transport (MRT), and building a subway, but construction has also led to more traffic in certain areas.

Ranked second after Manila is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which has a congestion value of 1.4.

The Malaysian government has invested in more public transportation in recent years. With the completion of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in 2018, more parts of Kuala Lumpur are now connected by rail. Apart from the MRT, other rail services include the Light Rail Transit (LRT), monorail, and KTM Komuter.


Even with all these advancements, the city still has a low ridership of only 40 percent of the population. The government has even proposed laws to address the problem that encourage their residents to use public transportation by replacing the current highway toll system with a congestion fee.

At third place is Yangon, Myanmar. Its congestion value was recorded at 1.38.

The city lacks a rapid mass transport system so residents have no choice but to take packed bus rides in traffic daily. According to data, there are only 4,000 buses for the 7 million residents now living in Yangon.

The country has “six times more taxis than New York” and the number of private vehicles have been increasing due to the lack of public transportation. Myanmar's government has even suggested restricting the entry of private vehicles. To reduce road congestion, the government is cooperating with JICA in improving and extending the reach of the Yangon Bus System, expecting that the project will increase the number of bus passengers.

Others cities in the top 10 include:

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bengaluru, India

Hanoi, Vietnam.

Kolkata, India

Delhi, India

Pune, India

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

The ranking was based on projected trip data from Google Maps. They identified congested areas in the cities and peak hours of traveling to compare.

The ADB explained that congestion makes it hard for workers to get to jobs and forfirms to connect to customers, so the benefits of urbanisation are harder to reap.

ADB’s Director for macroeconomics, economic research, and regional cooperation Abdul Abiad recommended that congested cities should shift to transit-oriented development by increasing investments in public transport infrastructure, which will expand and improve road and rail networks.

Conversion: PHP 1 = $.019

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