(published 08 September, MST)
Whether you have your own vehicle or take public transportation to get around Metro Manila and environs, chances are, you've had to stifle a few curses under your breath these past few weeks.
Last Friday’s traffic jam along the North Luzon Expressway was frustrating, but it was not isolated. To varying degrees, we have experienced similar things in our own journeys, causing us to miss important appointments, cancel meetings with dear friends or family members, or simply waste time.
Car owners may find themselves seated inside their comfortable, air-conditioned vehicles with music of their choice, dry and cozy even when it rains. But they could be more stuck than the rest because they have no option to walk or explore other means once they find themselves trapped. Worse, fuel does not come cheap these days.
Still, those who rely on public transportation do not only have to deal with traffic. When you have to take jeepneys or buses or the UV Express or horrors, the MRT/ LRT, you have to be superhuman in terms of patience and physical endurance.
Sometimes you have to line up for hours or stand in the rain or flood and endure harsh conditions inside the vehicles themselves. Factor in the petty thieves and the gropers and you would be crazy to describe your daily routine as “pleasant”.
In an ideal world, the highlight of our day should be what takes place in our offices, schools, and homes—not the harrowing trip in between.
What we should be reliving in conversation are our professional, academic or domestic challenges and triumphs, not whether we managed to get to our destination at the usual time, and in one piece.
These road woes indeed take much from us, and it’s not just our precious time.
We lose the ability to focus and give our best in our tasks for the day.
We become tired and grumpy, in no mood for meaningful conversation or even silly banter with our loved ones.
We fail to begin and end each day as we should—in meditation and reflection—because we are either in a hurry or plain exhausted.
We lose the ability to plan well for the next day and prioritize the things we have to do.
Clearly, these road issues compromise not only our productivity but our quality of life.
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The transportation secretary, a day after last month’s MRT accident, said that when people take the train, that’s their personal decision.
The secretary, who said his own experience with the notorious rail service was “pleasant,” is wrong. People subject themselves to the indignities of taking the MRT or LRT at rush hour, twice every blessed workday, precisely because they do not have a choice.
If they had their way, the trains would be many and on time. The system would be able to accommodate the sheer number of people who have to use it. It would make perfect sense to take the train, even for government officials, and not in response to some kind of clamor online.
It’s a long way from the Finnish experience. “Helsinki has an ambitious plan for its future. By 2025, the Finnish capital intends to revamp its public transport system to such an extent that private car ownership becomes pointless. The bold initiative is not just about providing more buses, trains, or taxis, but about creating a new transport infrastructure based on cutting-edge technology and a single, affordable payment system.” Reported ZDNet on August 20.
The election is less than two years away. Let’s add mobility to the list of gut issues like poverty, access to education and corruption. A word of caution, though: Voters have to be discerning and be quick to shun those who are simply riding on the #MRTChallenge issue. We need concrete solutions from leaders capable of empathy, and sincerity. That’s where a personal decision can come in.
Another venue for a personal decision: refusing to believe the yarn that all our troubles on the road are brought by a booming economy. In short, our leaders are telling us that we should really be celebrating because we never had it so good—if we make it to the party on time, that is.
A senator remarked that the government is lucky because its people are so patient. So true.