Standing on the edges of jeepneys, “toploading” on provincial buses, cramming in tricycles, squeezing in the rear seats of a “UV Express”: Such have always been the norm for many Filipino commuters that we don’t question it.
Surely there must be laws regulating seating capacities and mandating better service, but the status quo continues simply because there is too much demand for any kind of transport. Because livelihoods are at stake, many Filipinos don’t really think much of the discomfort or the danger.
The normalcy of tedious and uncomfortable commutes notwithstanding, must this always be the case? I know that at this point, even getting the MRT to work is hailed as an “achievement,” but these lowered standards notwithstanding, is quality of life for the 80 percent who use public transport not up for discussion?
One roadblock to quality public transport is the existing regulatory framework — or lack thereof. As urban planner Benjamin de la Peña tells me, the current paradigm is that “public transportation is simply a market… the only regulatory leverage to protect the paying public is control of fares which is why when there are transport strikes — it’s all about the cost of fuel versus the regulated fare price.” There is no attempt to regulate — either in policy or in practice — the welfare of passengers, the quality of their seats, or the space they are entitled to.
This view of transportation as a market is where the “boundary system” comes into play. While jeepney operators have guaranteed income from the “boundary” that drivers give them, the jeepney drivers themselves depend on how many trips they can make and how many passengers they can get from each trip. Thus, they try to get as many as they can, even if it means compressing everyone to a point of discomfort. Thus, they try to stop in every corner — or even in the middle of the road — even if it means causing (more) traffic.
Another obstacle is the widely held view that our transportation woes are simply a traffic problem. Because most of our policymakers travel by private vehicles, they see the slow motion of public utility vehicles — but not what’s happening inside. Most (attempted) solutions, then, are about making vehicles move faster, without necessarily making passengers feel better.
There’s also the undeniable role of mismanagement and sheer incompetence. The fact that the MRT 3 would even deteriorate, and there would be an issue about the compatibility of already-ordered trains (shout out to Sen. Grace Poe, et al.), is ultimately a failure of leadership, one that has compounded existing woes.
To be fair, there are ongoing efforts to make public transport more comfortable: for instance, the increasingly popular P2P bus routes, automated payment collection systems (e.g., Beep), and the newly opened bus terminal in Parañaque. The planned railways for urban areas and the provinces (e.g., the Mindanao Railway Project) should also help make people’s commuting lives easier.
But, as the “stairway to heaven” footbridge in Quezon City illustrates, transport and mobility projects can be implemented without considering their actual users.
It is not okay for people to stand inside buses — or on the edges of jeepneys — just to go to work. It is not okay for people to queue for long hours just to go home, for women to experience harassment, or for PWDs and senior citizens to endure stressful, strenuous effort just to reach transport vehicles. And, no, it is not okay to compel people to avail of more expensive, and at times equally problematic options (e.g., taxis and Grab) just to avoid all of the above.
Getting from point A to B is not enough. We need a public transport system that not only works, but works well for the riding public. Political and economic interests must not be allowed to get in the way of reforms. The man standing on the edge of that jeepney is probably worried about other things, but on his behalf, and of the commuting public, we must nonetheless raise this aspiration and make it government policy: Filipinos deserve nothing less than comfortable, affordable and accessible public transport.
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