So near yet so far

Philippine Inquirer columnist Neal H. Cruz wrote an interesting piece yesterday, Move people, not vehicles, in which he makes these points to which I’m adding some thoughts:

1. Many families keep vehicles because our public transport system cannot be relied upon.

Yes, that, and as what I’ve written in an earlier article here, because increasingly the country’s workers, at least those who have that range of income, are able to own cars. Our situation compared to that in developed countries is a hundred years behind; many here are just beginning to know, enjoy, and relish the feel of driving a four wheels and the comfort and convenience it gives its owner. In comparison, people in the developed countries are now at a point where having one more car does not do anything to increase utility for them in fact it would diminish with one more – a principle in economics. They are now looking at other utilities beyond car ownership – vacation in exotic places such as East Asia for one and going green and adopting the basics (from where they would again go through the cycle, it seems). The difference I think is not on country’s people’s morals or values but on timing and events. So that as much as I want to rant about the lines of steel on the streets – do their owners really have to bring these everyday – I try to understand that this country’s working population is just beginning to have properties of their own which is reason to give them a good pat on the shoulder. Property ownership is partly the Filipino’s Dream come true. In other words, car ownership is different from car usage.

Another way to look at this unbelievable traffic in our cities is that our roads and streets have not caught up with the rise in Filipinos’ capacity to own cars which means frequent use of these roads and streets. The present width of roads and streets cannot accommodate increased car ownership, and even if government would’ve liked to widen them they can’t because look at both sides of these roads – there are no buffer zones at all, they have been densely built on. Could the city government of Ortigas for example demand Shangri-la Hotel and Mall to move a mile back from EDSA because the highway will be widened? In this aspect, the lack of foresight on government planners is to blame. I mean if we go over urban development plans of cities like Curritiba we can see that these things – width of roads for one – were thought of as early as 50 years ago and that time the planners projected their thoughts 50 years into the future which is about now. Why this wasn’t so here is not so much as technical incompetence but failure to act on technical expertise put forward, which going further is enmeshed with Filipinos’ collective attitudes of bahala na, saka na, and pwede na that rein in different attitudes of progressive individual Filipinos (this phenomenon is supported by the fact that if you transport Filipinos into another society, say, Western society, these attitudes are readily replaced by their opposites; Filipino immigrants have discovered that they – Filipinos – are not lazy and can in fact follow rules. With that, it can be said the Filipino here merely lacks the environment that would enable his or her better attitudes and capacities to shine through).

Bus, Bonifacio Global City. Source: http://ddidesigndevelopment.com
There are car owners in the Metro who are already taking public transport but their number isn’t a critical mass. If the metropolitan – and other cities like Baguio City – hopes to raise their number, it should start with inducing improvement of quality of public transport vehicles. The decision of car owners to go for public transport has much to do with comfort (the other being service efficiency) and this as measured by cleanliness, sitting of passengers, and the like are not features in the current fleet of metro buses; most of the buses are hand-me-downs from Japan or some place that have despite maintenance reached the end of their utility; bus drivers and conductors take in more than the seating capacities of their units and jam in passengers into the aisles. These for me are indications of the drivers’ and conductors’ ignorance and lack of basic respect for the human being. If the metropolitan wants to look for a standard of passenger comfort, let it look at the buses operated by the Bonifacio Transport Corporation. It should be able to say this is the quality fit for all passengers and be able to stand firm on that – and not be swayed by pwede na – with the bus owners. On their part, bus owners if they want to stay in business should upgrade their fleet and improve their service otherwise the alternative is the non-renewal or non-issuance of their business licenses. This is just and fair; it’s responsible business. Business license application is like applying for an immigrant visa – you have to be able to justify yourself and be qualified to be given one. Otherwise the business community will be glutted with poor and mediocre performers who are liable to demean the public transportation sector.

2. The buses and jeepneys are held up by traffic jams…

Was it in the last quarter of 2012 when a new traffic scheme was adopted in the metro – that of routing buses on to the sides of EDSA which in effect cleared the major lanes for private cars? The policy reflects the importance and priority accorded to private cars. The costs incurred by a bus from rush hour traffic is higher than that of a private car as there are around 50 passengers to a bus. In the use of space, the area occupied by 50 private cars is compacted into that occupied by a bus of 50 passengers. Similarly, the amount of gas consumed by a bus of 50 passengers pales against that of the combined use of the 50 private cars. On a Saturday, with almost no cars on the highway but with the same number of buses, try getting on a bus at Makati CBD and head to Cubao or Pasay – the ride is such a breeze; it only takes under 10 minutes either way. This means it’s the cars. So why the traffic policy?

Increasing car ownership appears to have grown beyond the constraints defined by the number coding scheme on car usage. This combined with the unchanged width of the highway (major CBD thoroughfares should be four lanes each way) render the scheme irrelevant and increasingly useless. The presence of traffic personnel on the highway – at times in the middle of it – at rush hours irritates rather than helps because people on the road who are already stressed by the jam perceive them as in the way.

———

Distance has morphed from a straightforward concept into a complicated multidimensional issue. The pun “so near yet so far” may have become today’s commuter’s mainstay tune while on the road.

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