Railway safety

The MRT cars are breaking down more frequently these days.  Is it any indication that they’re worn out even before their lifespan’s over? Regardless, I’m looking at a visualized performance story of rail safety developed by Montague et. al. under the document title Using Circles To Tell The Performance Story posted at Performance Management Network.

Rail Safety Performance Story, Montague et.al. via pmn.net
Rail Safety Performance Story, Montague et.al. via pmn.net

In the ‘Operation’ circle, I’m interested in ‘Inspect & Audit’ and ‘Enforce’ which I’ll return to later.

I ride the MRT when I’m in the Metro especially when I badly need to zip between cities to get to venues on time.  But I totally avoid it on rush hours although  I rode it regularly, for a time, on these hours, when I was newly residing in the area and before I’d scoped the landscape for transport routes and alternative and more convenient transportation.  I stopped using it regularly just after the policy for separate cars for men and women was implemented.  In any case, riding it when it’s almost empty is the ultimate experience of convenience in public transport.  Getting to Makati City from Quezon City and back is a breeze.  I love such times.

But rush hours?  There ought to be a sign put up at the entrances that reads:  Hazardous area. Enter at your own risk.  It is, because with, say, 2000-pound of bodies bearing down against you.(500-pound bodies on each of your four sides), a slightly built person could expire from asphyxiation inside.  And did I say there was no breathing room?  You breathed on the neck, face, or whatever breathing surface there was available to your sides.  It was worse when men rode in the same cars with the women.  During these hours, you shed off your dignity, once you’re (shoved) inside, and hope that it’s merely waiting for you to put it back on once you step out at your stop.

The overloaded cars wiggle and wobble at the weight.  This is not a one off but it’s five days a week for 12 months since after the cars first went into operation.

Filipinos, in general, have a tendency to disregard safety limits (e.g. speed, capacity, distance, etc.).  In fact, there’s a local phrase for it:  pwede pa (roughly: get/go in, there’s still space) frequently used in everyday exchanges and transactions. In a jeepney, say, a passenger would ask, meron pa? (is there still available seat?).  Meron, pwede pa (yes, get in, there’s still space/seat), assures the barker, driver, or conductor.  But the statement’s not entirely reliable because even when it’s known that the vehicle can’t sit one more passenger comfortably, the driver still says it.  The fascinating thing is, most folks believe the assurance even after discovering that the available seat can only accommodate half their butts.  They remain in the jeep, the other half of their butts jutting out.  Or, for those without regard for their lives, they get on top of the vehicle.  I rode in these when I was new in development work and I was sick all the way to the areas (and back to base), not from squeamishness but from the inanely horrific set up.

via commons.wikimedia

This visual isn’t confined to land based transport.  How many ships have capsized in mid-sea due to overloading or simply that they’re past their useful life? How many human lives have been snuffed out as a result?  And how?

Enter now Inspect & Audit and Enforce.

At the MRT stops, I see officers thereabout but no one among them controlling the exuberant flow of human traffic going into the cars. So what are they prowling around the areas for? At one certain stop, I’ve seen them on wooden platforms peering at the rail track, left and right and back. F. Were they the MRT-based counterpart of the MMDA traffic enforcers? And were they doing what I thought they were doing — looking out for the rail cars? But whatever the H for? The cars will come and go even when they’re not peering. Whose paying them to do this strange job anyway?

Public agencies whose duty it is to inspect and audit and enforce rules applicable to public transport fail again and again in the regular and consistent execution of their mandates. (Such gross negligence of duties i.e. regular inspection and consistent enforcement not only is true for public transportation but also for buildings but that’s for another article.)  Worse, there is no significant public demand for these public agencies to do their job and well.  I look at the overloaded jeepneys, human bodies all over them, even in the front, effectively blocking the driver’s view of the road and side mirrors, and I don’t see fun.  I see instead people who take their personal safety too lightly.  I see people who don’t value their own or others’ lives enough. I see drivers and conductors who fail to realize the carelessness of their act which put lives other than their own within the jaws of death or disfigurement.  It’s good to take risks but there’s also such a thing as a stupid risk.

The MRT cars are abused from years of overloading. Can’t the public agencies tell?  And if they can, what is the plan to address the situation?  The expected arrival of new rail cars some time 2016 (originally, 2015) addresses part of the need. There remains however this huge demand gap to fill (accordingly, 500,000-600,000 commuters ride the MRT daily vs. capacity of 350,000).

There’s the supposed expansion of the MRT 3 line.  What’s the latest on this?  Apparently the project is derailed as a result of corruption woes. But these glitches, too common and totally avoidable, when assessed against the urgency of public need, foreshadow prioritization of private enterprise i.e. profit over public interest.


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