Monday, September 7, 2015

A disservice to commuters

published at The Standard, July 6, 2015
In the past few years, the cries of Metro Manila commuters have become louder and more desperate.
I make special mention of the riders of the Metro Rail Transit-3, for which frequent breakdowns, kilometric queues and unreasonable delays have become a daily occurrence.
Then again, what can you do when you have no other choice? As the saying goes, beggars cannot be choosers.
The train is supposed to take passengers to their destinations faster. The MRT was envisioned to be an alternative to traveling along Edsa, traffic on which had become unbearable on certain hours and on certain days.
With what is happening now, however, the train experience is becoming even a worse ride than the on-Edsa travel it sought to free the people from.
Last year, there was a fad called “the MRT challenge” where government officials supposedly shed their VIP habits and braved the MRT coaches to get to know what people go through every day. There was also an online petition that circulated, urging public officials to do the same so they would be able to push good policies to improve the lot of the ordinary passengers.
Whatever the result, nobody else among our officials have pulled this feat recently, when there seems to have been more  frequent breakdowns, longer lines, and  more irate commuters.
And now that the rainy season is beginning, we must brace ourselves for more difficult journeys.
Unfortunately, several politicians have used the MRT issue to lay blame on one another. This is not amusing at all. Regardless of their political affiliations, these officials have been in their posts long enough to observe that the public is suffering and desperate for some action from the government.
The bottomline is, it’s been years, and the situation is still dire. Now what are they going to do about it?
Public transportation is not some handy political tool to use against the enemy. We bristle at the way they trivialize it into a political issue just so they could throw muck at their opponents.  The MRT issue is much too dear to our hearts for that, because it defines our daily routines and allows us to gauge whether this government truly cares as it says it does. 
Because of this, we refuse to take seriously any reference to the commuting inconveniences – nay, danger – that people have to face every day unless real solutions are offered and real effects are felt.
What do we mean? Answer us, please.
Only several trains out of dozens are running. This is the usual reason given on especially difficult days. Where are the other trains and what is being done to bring them back to good condition? Who is doing the work and what is the progress? What is the quality of the work and why does the problem recur?
The infrastructure on stations is equally deplorable. Anybody who has taken the MRT will tell you that it is not just the trains that are problematic. Elevators and escalators are often not working. This is already a disservice to the healthy, prime-of-their life segment of the population. Imagine how much more difficult it is for young children or senior citizens who must not only squeeze themselves into crowded trains; they must also climb several flights of stairs.
New trains are coming. Oh yeah? It is said that new trains have been ordered and are coming early next year. Had the people in charge had the foresight to order them sooner, they would have arrived earlier, too. At any rate, there has to be sufficient communication to the riding public. By how much will the coming batch address the present situation? Is it worth looking forward to?
Rails are broken. Another saying comes to mind. Don’t fix something that is not broken. Conversely, fix something that is. And we mean really fix, not just stop-gap solutions good for a day or a week. Rails are fundamental, not just for convenience but for safety. This is non-negotiable. That overshooting incident last year was a warning – should we push our luck some more?
We are insulted by attempts to use the MRT and other transport woes as campaign issues, debate topics and material for blame games. Commuters are already mired in their daily struggle. We don’t need to hear how bad the situation is because we know. We feel. We experience.
The least officials can do is to make our lives easier before they even open their mouths.

adellechua@gmail.com

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